Florida’s biggest conservation land buy also opens way for new development

Florida’s biggest-ever land purchase, 74,000 acres of wild land bought by the state for over $350 million, comes with a catch — 17,000 acres of adjoining property will belong to developer Syd Kitson, who plans to build a new city. Some environmental groups applaud the deal: The purchase will preserve as wilderness about 80 percent of the famed Babcock Ranch in the southwest of the state, where gators, turkeys, and wild pigs roam. It will create a corridor for wildlife, including bears and Florida panthers, from Lake Okeechobee nearly to the Gulf of Mexico. Other green groups lament the development stipulation, which clears the way for a new community with 19,500 homes, 6 million square feet of office space, and potential for 50,000 residents. The Sierra Club sued to stop the purchase, worrying that Kitson’s city would spur further development, but dropped the lawsuit when Kitson promised to leave the most sensitive parts of the land undeveloped.