Environment: “Destiny’s death buys time for a Florida frontier and the birth of conservation movements”

Environment: “Destiny’s death buys time for a Florida frontier and the birth of conservation movements”

Photo: Kevin Spear, Orlando Sentinel

“The expanse of wild lands between Central and South Florida was given a second chance for conservation when, in the heart of it, the Destiny development was reincarnated as DeLuca Preserve. This landscape picture here is from the neighboring of Three Lake Wildlife Management Area.

Anthony Pugliese III closed in 2005 on a $137 million purchase of 27,000 acres he called Destiny.

The property at Yeehaw Junction in south Osceola County is surrounded by large preserves and ranches. Destiny would be the first invasion of houses and businesses amid a landscape that connects the best environments of South and Central Florida.

‘It was going to be like a can opener, prying its way for more development into one of the wildest frontiers left in the state of Florida,’ said Carlton Ward Jr., a conservation photographer.

Like many Florida dreams, Destiny collapsed into a heap of recriminations and legal troubles. But its failure opened the door to transformation of the 27,000 acres into DeLuca Preserve.

Pugliese was then a veteran South Florida developer from Delray Beach. His partner was Fred DeLuca, co-founder of Subway restaurants, who was cited by Forbes magazine then as being worth $1.5 billion and the world’s 512th-richest person…

The tract they acquired had been a quarter of the 100,000-acre ranch assembled in the 1930s by Latimer ‘Latt’ Maxcy, who died in the 1970s as a titan among Florida ranchers.

Latt Maxcy Corp. believed the 27,000-acre sale was the region’s largest land deal since Walt Disney bought his kingdom. ‘At this time,’ the corporation said when the deal closed, no details had been ‘released as to the buyer’s plans for the property.’

That would come a year later when Pugliese and DeLuca unveiled their ambitions, including features to attract a quarter-million residents.

Huge risks

They designed the community for canals, waterborne taxis powered by electricity, health clinics for the boomer generation, organic restaurants, a biomedical research center and a biomass energy plant.

Pugliese said the location, the Yeehaw Junction of three major highways, was an ‘aligning of the stars…’

But the proposed development was viewed as an abomination by the Florida Department of Community Affairs. DCA was the state’s vaunted watchdog for growth and development regulations.

There was a reason the per-acre price of the would-be city was relatively cheap at less than $5,000. The land had no development permissions and was far from government services.

DCA sparred with Destiny at every juncture. Then came more resistance to the project.

The housing bubble burst and the Great Recession began in 2007. Proposed developments across Florida bled out…

Destiny’s visionary, Pugliese, was sentenced in 2015 to six months in jail for defrauding DeLuca, who had died of cancer a few months earlier and whose estate took ownership of the land.

‘Yeehaw Junction is rural, almost wilderness and no place for urban development,’ said Thomas Pelham, DCA secretary and vocal foe of Destiny when it was in play.

A University of Florida sign for DeLuca Preserve stands near Yeehaw Junction in south Osceola County and 70 miles south of Orlando…

Hibernating giant

At the least, many environmentalists figured, Destiny’s death bought time to keep one of Florida’s last frontiers alive.


Photo: Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda, Orlando Sentinel

‘I don’t know if I was ecstatic as much as ‘thank God,’’ said Julie Morris [Florida program manager for the National Wildlife Refuge Association and director of the Florida Conservation Group], who grew up on ranch and natural spaces and has worked for government and nonprofit conservation groups.

‘I drive by it all the time and all I could think about for years was, if this goes for development, I think I used the phrase that we might as well pack up and go home,’ Morris said.”

— Kevin Spear, Orlando Sentinel via WUSF 89.7 Public Media

Read more details on new Conservation Science, view maps and understand the people behind the ranch lands and wildlife corridor movements who helped protect and preserve Florida’s scenic beauty.

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“Volusia County to conserve portion of Ormond Scenic Loop – 71,000 signatures were collected in hopes to save land from development”

“Volusia County to conserve portion of Ormond Scenic Loop – 71,000 signatures were collected in hopes to save land from development”

Photo: Molly Reed, WKMG News 6 Orlando
“Residents who had been fighting to stop planned development along a beloved scenic route in Volusia County have won their battle.

The county council on Tuesday voted to buy 36 acres of historic land on the Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail.

‘The public literally rose up and supported this project,’ Founder of Dream Green Volusia Suzanne Scheiber said.

Scheiber’s organization handed out over 600 yard-signs and collected 71,000 signatures in hopes to save the land from development.

‘If you drive the loop today you can see all of the developments, you can see all the traffic and you can see the loss of wildlife habitat,’ she said.

Scheiber was able to get the developer of the plantation oaks subdivision to sell 36 acres to the county for $988,000. The organization raised money to help with that cost, too.

‘We raised collectively with North Florida Land Trust $26,250,’ she said.

On Tuesday, the council voted to do that, after the county ECHO committee approved the land as historic with portions of Old King’s Road running through it.

‘Old Kings Road was built by the British in the 1700s and it was called an engineering treasure and one of the most important roadways in the growth of Florida,’ Dona Butler with the county’s community services said…”

— Molly Reed, WKMG News 6 Orlando
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Land Preservation: “Pinellas County, City Of Dunedin In Lockstep On Douglas Hackworth Property”

Land Preservation: “Pinellas County, City Of Dunedin In Lockstep On Douglas Hackworth Property”

Photo: Sierra Club
“…Pinellas County Government and City of Dunedin officials have announced new developments in the effort to acquire land in North County for environmental preservation and passive recreation.

‘We’re very pleased with the public and private funding commitments we’ve been able to garner thus far for the property, and look forward to working with the estate to preserve the property for future generations,’ said Pinellas County Administrator Barry A. Burton.

‘Our community believes acquisition of this property is an intergenerational imperative,’ said Dunedin City Manager Jennifer K. Bramley. ‘The City of Dunedin looks forward to working with our partners, both public and private, to place a strong offer before the estate.’

County and City officials also announced they will submit a joint application next week to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for a Florida Communities Trust state grant. They hope that the grant, coupled with an ongoing community fundraising effort, would contribute toward the final acquisition and environmental restoration costs for the Douglas-Hackworth property…”

— Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Patch.com
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Greenspace: “Clearwater voters reject bid to redevelop Landings Golf Course”

Greenspace: “Clearwater voters reject bid to redevelop Landings Golf Course”

Photo: Google Earth, Tampa Bay Newspapers
“Landings referendum

Clearwater voters Nov. 3 soundly rejected a bid to transform the Landings Golf Course into a light industrial complex.

Just over 61% of voters (35,464) voted no on a referendum question on whether the city could lease approximately 58 acres of city-owned property across the street from the Clearwater Airpark to Harrod Properties.

The owners of the course currently lease the property from the city for $1,000 a month. City code states that voters must approve the sale of any city-owned property identified as recreation/open space on the comprehensive land use plan…

City economic development officials say redeveloping the underused golf course into an industrial park would’ve brought major financial benefits, including generating $9.735 million for the city during its first 10 years and also creating 3,281 jobs with an average salary of about $47,000.

Council member Kathleen Beckman and many neighbors of the project led the charge against it, claiming it wasn’t compatible with the area and expressed concerns about traffic and the environmental impact of eliminating the green space…

‘Once these 77 acres are gone and they’re not green anymore, they’re gone,’ Beckman said in June.”

— Chris George, Tampa Bay Newspapers
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“A New Vision for the Florida Greenways and Trails System (FGTS)” 2019-2023 Plan and Maps Update

“A New Vision for the Florida Greenways and Trails System (FGTS)” 2019-2023 Plan and Maps Update

Photo: Florida DEP
“The FGTS Plan establishes the vision for implementing a connected statewide system of greenways and trails for recreation, conservation, alternative transportation, healthy lifestyles, a vibrant economy and a high quality of life. The original FGTS Plan was completed in 1998 and adopted by the Florida Legislature in 1999, laying the groundwork for many programs, projects and initiatives that exist today. The updated FGTS Plan and maps guides implementation of the connected statewide trail system from 2019 through 2023.

The Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT) has also updated its statewide opportunity and priority trail maps. Many trails are eligible for certain types of funding if they are on one or both maps.

As part of the update, OGT held 14 public workshops throughout the state to receive input from trail users, local planners and the public. OGT also received hundreds of e-mails and letters and input from the Florida Greenways and Trails Council. The input is helping to shape the direction of trails for years to come! The final versions of the Plan and maps are posted below…”

— Florida DEP
Download Plan (.pdf)
Visit DEP website for more about Florida Greenways and Trails programs

Citizens for a Scenic Florida