An environmental back-and-forth over the future of Babcock Ranch took a new twist Wednesday. A coalition of ten environmental groups called on the Sierra Club to halt its challenge of the planned preservation and development of the 91-thousand acre ranch in Charlotte and Lee Counties.
The coalition, which includes Audubon of Florida, urges the Sierra Club to drop its legal objections. It says preservation of part of Babcock Ranch is at-risk if the deal with developer Syd Kitson falls through. The deal calls for Kitson to buy the ranch, then sell 74,000 acres of sensitive land to the state and Lee County. He would build a new city on the rest. Charlotte commissioners agreed to change their growth plan but the Sierra club challenged the changes.
The Babcock family sent a press release Wednesday that says it has an offer from another developer. It says that plan could end the opportunity for public purchase forever. No one representing the family would speak on tape.
However the President of the Peace River Audubon Society, Paul Holmes, says starting fresh may be a good thing.
“There’s only a certain amount of the property that can be built on. Kitson and partners are selling the 74,000 acres back to the state – most of it they’re selling because they can’t build on it. It’s swamp. It’s wildlife. It’s protected. It’s panther habitat. It’s lots of things. So when you have this new developer maybe he can build a small town of 7 thousand houses down in the bottom corner which is acceptable.”
The area is currently zoned for 7,000 residences. The Peace River Audubon Society, based in Punta Gorda, backs the Sierra Club. Holmes says the Kitson deal is being rushed through without enough discussion. Florida has been trying for five years to preserve the ranch to help create a natural corridor for animals connecting Lake Okeechobee to Charlotte Harbor.
Ten environmental groups plan to intervene in a legal challenge by the Sierra Club. They want the club to end its fight against Charlotte County’s growth plan amendments for Babcock Ranch so that developer Syd Kitson can develop part of it.
Audubon of Florida, the Trust for Public Lands, Collier Audubon, the Florida Wildlife Federation and others think the alternative could risk the protection of the 74-thousand acres Kitson plans to sell to the state. The Babcock Florida Company admitted Wednesday it has a back-up offer, which doesn’t include public purchase.
However the Peace River Audubon Society president, Paul Holmes, who supports the Sierra Club’s protest, says Kitson’s way isn’t the only way.
““People have been lulled into this beautiful little greenways with people walking home from the baseball game and buying an ice cream. And quite frankly putting a city twice the size of Naples, 2 ½ the size of Punta Gorda in the corner of a nature reserve is from an environmentalist point of view it’s absolutely stupid.”
Babcock Ranch currently links the wildlife corridor from Charlotte Harbor to Lake Okeechobee. Holmes says State Road 31 will become another Alligator Alley in need of wire fences to keep the wildlife from getting killed. A lawyer for the Sierra Club of Florida says the challenge to scale back the size of the development could take up to ten months.
Thursday, 06 July 2006 01:00