Hillsborough moves to sell land to developers

05/06/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Hillsborough County Commissioners today heard about a bold proposal by private developers to purchase much of county-owned Cone Ranch, north of Plant City.

The county purchased the 12,000 acres two decades ago and has transferred control of it to its water department.

County Chairman Ken Hagen brought the issue to the Board. He emphasized that he wants to make sure the area is not used for commercial development, and said after researching the proposal that he thinks it could work.

The group attempting to purchase Cone Ranch calls itself the Florida Conservation and Environmental Group. It is comprised of a group of Republicans led by attorney Todd Jones, a former staff member for former Mississippi Republican Sen. Trent Lott.

ELAPP is the County’s environmental land acquisition program.

Speaking for the group however was Keith Fountain, with the Nature Conservancy of Florida. He says his group doesn’t consider Cone Ranch to be unprotected lands because it was not purchased by a public source for long-term perpetual management for conservation.

Commissioner Kan Hagen said the next step should be for commissioners to create an enivromental advisory panel to consider all the implications of the proposal.

Commissioner Mark Sharpe said he had a lot of concerns about the proposal, but felt like it might work.

Commissioner Jim Norman said environmentalists should not be the only members of the Task Force that will analyze the Cone Ranch proposal.

During the public hearing portion of the meeting, some citizens said they would prefer the county not engage in business with the new group.

Pam Clouston read aloud a letter from environmental activist Mariella Smith, who wasn’t at the meeting.

The Board voted 7-0 to move forward with a panel reviewing the proposal by Florida Conservation and Environmental Group .

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