December 11, 2018

Lee County commissioners vote to end talks to buy 1,500 acres near Babcock Ranch

By: Vicki Parsons - IT

Bill Smith, Fort Myers News-Press

Lee County and the developer of Babcock Ranch have broken off talks over the sale of a 1,500-acre parcel near the sprawling development near the Lee County-Charlotte County line.

Commissioners voted 3-2 to terminate the ongoing negotiations with Babcock Property Holdings on the recommendation of County Manager Roger Desjarlais.

Babcock Property Holdings is a subsidiary of Kitson and Partners LLC, owned by developer Syd Kitson.

“We are unable to reach agreement on the value of property per acre in conversations with Mr. Kitson,” Desjarlais told the commission.

In April, Kitson offered to negotiate the sale of 2,250 acres of Babcock land to the county.

At the time, he said it was to honor a promise that he made to residents during community meetings while zoning changes were considered.

The initial asking price was $23.6 million. Commissioners authorized its staff to begin negotiations in October, and the size of the site offered for sale was reduced to about 1,500 acres.

The price difference in valuation proved to be too great to overcome in the negotiations.

“We would not be able to recommend the purchase if we were, in essence, buying back the density that was allowed by the board during the zoning process,”  Desjarlais said.

Desjarlais held the door open to the possibility of resuming negotiations with Kitson, whom he referred to as a “a man of integrity.” On the manager’s recommendation the county voted to curtail the talks.

Commissioners also left it clear that the door is open to talks in the future.

“We are all very interested in this property and would love to see it in our portfolio,” Commission Chairman Larry Kiker said.

Commissioners did agree to start the process toward buying another parcel adjacent to the Babcock Ranch Preserve in Charlotte County and Lee County’s Bob Janes Preserve.

Work was also authorized to negotiate the purchase of two parcels on Pine Island. The Calusa Land Trust has offered to donate $5,000 toward each parcel, off opposite sides of Stringfellow Road.

The Pine Island Civic Association has also promised to make a donation to the acquisition if the county negotiates the purchase of the property.

One is adjacent to the Buttonwood Preserve, the other, on the Gulf side of the island, is near the Charlotte  Harbor Preserve State Park.