The Real Deal Miami

Conservationists take advantage of down market to buy and preserve land

By Dan Weil | August 07, 2008 04:49PM

Conservation groups are snapping up distressed properties from developers, as the real estate bust is making the land affordable for the environmentalists.

This week, for example, the Trust for Public Land closed on a $4.5 million purchase of a half-acre tract in North Bay Village, which sits on Biscayne Bay, just north of Miami Beach.

“The lot was permitted for a 16-story condo building, and we were able to negotiate with the landowners, even though they could build on it immediately,” said Mildred Majoros, project manager for the Trust in Miami.

The owners originally wanted $6 million. “What we are paying is equivalent to the assessment,” Majoros said. And her group worked with the city to pass a $9.2 million bond referendum to allow North Bay Village to buy the property and keep it as open space or recreational land.

It is doing such deals throughout Southeast Florida at a rate about 20 percent higher than a year ago.

And it’s not alone. The Nature Conservancy recently bought more than 85,000 acres of land throughout the state for about $380 million, Keith Fountain, director of Florida land acquisition for the Conservancy, told the Associated Press. That’s up from about 45,000 acres for $260 million during all of 2006.

Florida’s state government also is getting in on the act. It agreed in June to buy 187,000 acres of farmland in the Everglades from the giant U.S. Sugar Corp. for $1.75 billion.

Environmentalists were ecstatic, as for years they blasted sugar companies for dumping water polluted with fertilizer into the Everglades’ marshes.