BY MARCY SHORTUSE – Just across the little bridge by the Fishery is a 91-acre piece of land that for many of us is a piece of old Florida eye candy. You’ll recognize the parcel I mean by mentioning the cows and the long driveway that leads to a little farmhouse, right on the other side of the mobile park next to Ingman Marine. When a for sale sign appeared in the field next to the road a few months ago, my stomach dropped to my feet.
In 1978 my family came to this area. The drive from Englewood to Boca Grande on Placida Road seemed forever long, because it was nothing but oranges and cattle from the old Food Lion (the empty grocery store next to Prime Time) to the old sign that used to stand at the junction of Placida Road and the Boca Grande Causeway. Thunderation was tucked back in there on the east side of Placida Road headed south just before you came to the island, and I was lucky enough to explore it before it was all fenced off by developers. In that area of the Cape Haze Peninsula there was all kinds of wildlife, from pigs to river otters to bobcats and more.
Boy, have things changed since then.
One of the best things about living in South Gulf Cove is that I can get out on Gasparilla Road and drive the back half of the Cape Haze Peninsula through land that still looks very much like it used to. When I get to the property I’m talking about I always look for Pearl – the handsome white cow with horns – and Granny – the roan cow with white spots. I always dream of how happy I would be if I could buy that property one day.
The current owner is a conservation-minded man who cleared that land of all the non-native vegetation himself with one goal – to keep it “old Florida.” He and just a couple of other people worked that land to get it to where it is today … an iconic representation of what the Peninsula used to look like.
But things happen, and the 91-acre property is now for sale. It was bad enough to hear that it was for sale, but
it was worse when I heard that more than one potential buyer was thinking about putting a high-end RV resort on the land. This land was in the hands of an old Florida family for generations prior to its sale to the current owner, and the thought of it being casually wiped into oblivion so it can become another resort, or small housing development, or RV park, makes my heart hurt. But as much as I play the lottery, I still haven’t purchased that winning ticket … so I don’t have much I can do about that.
What I can do is explain to you all what could be done with that property to save it.
You see, of the 91 acres, 50 acres are wetlands. 40 acres are agricultural and one acre (where the house and driveway are) is residential. On the tax rolls it is listed as three separate properties. It was broken up that way for a reason, because on the environmentally-sensitive parts of the parcel, the taxes are only about $12 an acre. In total, the tax bill is about $6,500, with the highest chunk of the three obviously being the part with the house, fence and driveway. Part of the agricultural parcel is wetlands, but not all. There is plenty of room to put up barns or outbuildings, or even a small house or two along the canal.
The most logical way to preserve the beauty of that land would be for someone to buy it and donate its use to a 501(c)3 organization … and there are plenty of those around here. The buyer could still live on the property and use it to do anything from raising livestock, keeping cattle there, allowing beekeepers to place their beehives there, to raise quail, have a nursery for native plants, plant bamboo … the list goes on. There’s even a potable water line that runs along the property that could be used for watering.
The best part is, the new owner could buy the land, donate it as a conservation easement, and get money back through having a new appraisal done after that. For instance, if someone were to buy the land for the asking price – $2.75 million – then donate it to a conservation organization and later have it re-appraised, it would probably end up valued at somewhere around $550,000. Maybe even less than that. Then the new owner could subtract that from the selling price and claim the difference as a tax deduction. You could get that deduction back, I believe, all in one year or over a course of several years. You would get a large chunk of money back, still have access and use of the land, but it would be frozen in conservation status and couldn’t be developed.
This would be an incredible legacy to give to the people of Gasparilla Island, and the people who live on the Cape Haze Peninsula. Whether a group of people got together to purchase it, or a single concerned citizen bought it to put it in a land trust (and possibly named after a family member), it would be allowed to continue to be a reminder of Florida as it used to be.
There are enormously positive environmental factors involved with this land, if it falls into the hands of the right people. It is the opportunity of a lifetime, in fact, not just for the right buyer, but the animals and plants that call it home. This serene property could remain a memorial to what our piece of paradise once was before condominiums and gated communities blotted out the landscape. It should not be developed; it would be a travesty.
Can you help to create a legacy? Marcy Shortuse is the editor of the Boca Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.