July 30, 2007

Keys Land Buys Go to Cabinet: Five Parcels to Wrap into Florida Forever

By Kevin Wadlow, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon

Jul. 28--State officials seek to spend $2 million to buy 9.4 acres of Florida Keys land for conservation.

Five parcels proposed for purchase go before Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Cabinet for approval Tuesday in Tallahassee.

Four of the properties lie in the Lower Keys, one is within Marathon city limits. Two of the parcels have been in the same ownership for more than six decades.

All are listed for purchase as part of the Florida Keys Ecosystem project in the Florida Forever preservation program.

The largest property is a 5.85-acre tract near mile marker 20 on Sugarloaf Key, being acquired from George and Christine Lark.

The Larks bought the property in 2003 as part of a $2.8 million purchase of 14 acres. The Larks will retain ownership of nine acres that include four buildings.

The Sugarloaf Key property being acquired by the state is zoned for residential use, with some waterfront. The purchase price of $747,900 is 10 percent below a state appraisal.

Also proposed for purchase:

-- The Neff Trust property in the Crain's subdivision area of Grassy Key. Trustees are Thomas and Jayne Neff.

The 1.36-acre property, purchased for $130 in 1944, will be sold to the state for $382,000.

Eight lots that have building-permit allocations were priced at $37,000 each. A partially submerged lot is assessed at $7,000.

Other lots described by the state as undevelopable wetlands will be acquired for a settlement price of $1,000 each.

Marathon city staff will administer the area, which is zoned Native.

-- The Donald S. Pinder Estate property in the Rainbow Beach Subdivision on Big Torch Key.

The property, about two-thirds of an acre, will sell for $270,000. The site was purchased for $419 in 1945 by Donald Pinder. The area includes native and residential zoning.

-- The George and Marie Rita Schmidt property, also in the Rainbow Beach Subdivision on Big Torch.

Acquired in 1960 for $800, the eight lots cover about nine-tenths of an acre. The area, selling for $360,000, includes native and residential zoning.

-- The Harvey and Florence Cohen property, near mile marker 10 on Big Coppitt Key.

A $250,000 price includes six-tenths of an acre with Improved Subdivision zoning. The Cohens paid $15,000 for the property in 1980.

The Florida Keys Ecosystem project aims to protect "the unique pine rocklands and hardwood hammocks of the Florida Keys ...[that] are being lost to the rapid development of the islands," according to a state description.

Undeveloped lands include rare plants and habitat for threatened and endangered animal species, the report notes. Preservation of Keys land also helps maintain local waters that provide recreational and commercial fishing.

With 5,288 acres now under state ownership or contract, nearly half the 11,854 acres targeted for preservation under the Florida Keys Ecosystem project have been acquired.

Originally created as the Florida Keys Flyways - a program seeking to buy relatively large tracts of undeveloped Keys land so migrating birds would have a place to feed and rest - the effort was renamed after other Monroe County conservation programs were rolled into it.

Some of the lands could be used for rest areas on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, a hiking-and-biking project, or for a state paddling trail, if found suitable.

Staff with Monroe County or the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will oversee most of the sites.


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Copyright (c) 2007, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon

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