News / Events

Farmton conservation lands, plan get county OK


March 21, 2013

The Volusia County Council on Thursday unanimously approved the final touches to an agreement that moves 33,224 acres of land in southern Volusia into conservation.

The council approved a series of nine actions on the Farmton Local Plan, which governs 47,000 acres between Osteen and Oak Hill owned by the Miami Corp., a Chicago-based private family-owned company.

Among the steps, the council approved a conservation management plan to govern future management of 36,974 acres, which includes 1,415 acres the county accepted into ownership for a preserve as well as 31,809 additional acres in conservation easements and covenants. The council also vacated property boundaries for old subdivisions on the land that were never built, commonly known as paper subdivisions.

Years in the making, County Councilwoman Pat Northey said she thought the day "would never come."

"I have been involved with this project for a long time and I believe in it," Northey said. "This is the best project we can do for the wild and rural heart of the county."

The conservation land, together with 9,000 acres the company has already deeded to Brevard County, makes a total of 43,000 acres in conservation.

"This collectively is the largest single private conservation easement transaction in the history of Florida," said Clay Henderson, a former county councilman and one of the attorneys who helped represent the Miami Corp. through the Farmton process. Though Babcock Ranch in Southwest Florida transferred a larger area of private land to conservation, it cost taxpayers $350 million. The Volusia transfer costs the county nothing, and Miami Corp. is legally contracted to pay for maintenance of the land.

The plan has been a real cooperative effort with the county, Barbara Goering, Miami Corp.'s vice president, said Thursday. "We're very, very happy with the results and we're very proud of what we've all accomplished together."

The Farmton Plan, approved by the council last March, is a comprehensive long-term development plan that set aside conservation land in exchange for allowing the property owner to one day develop up to 23,000 homes, and more than 4 million square feet of commercial or industrial space.

The agreement transfers ownership of 1,415 acres of land to Volusia County, which will become known as the Deering Preserve at Deep Creek. Public access to that land will be phased in over the next eight years, county officials said. The agreement calls for passive recreation, including hiking, biking and equestrian trails, that would be accessed via a southerly extension of Pell Road at Maytown-Osteen Road.

Audubon Florida was also given a conservation easement on the land, a policy suggested by a panel of national experts that reviewed the plan several years ago. The agreement gives Audubon oversight and enforcement authority to ensure the property is managed in accordance with the conservation management plan, which was also approved Thursday.

Part of the company's land was already covered by a conservation easement under the terms of a mitigation bank the company operates on the land. The county will hold covenants on part of the land until a master development plan is approved for the entire property, after which the property would be legally transferred to an easement. However, the arrangement also includes a reverter clause, which states that if a future County Council reduces the density of development allowed on the land, the land in the conservation covenant would revert back to the property owner.

One new piece of the plan set up a land swap between the county and the company in a sort of no-man's land area near Interstate 95 in an old paper subdivision called Cape Atlantic Estates.

The county and the company, working independently of each other, have been trying to acquire single lots as they became available. The company will give the county 282 acres it has amassed in the area, while the county will give the company 92 acres it now owns adjacent to property the company owns.