Florida seen as likely to buy Yarborough ranch land in Seminole County

The state appears headed toward a purchase of the 1,314-acre Yarborough ranch near the Econlockhatchee River in east Seminole, county leaders said Tuesday, part of a move to protect it permanently from development under the Florida Forever conservation program.

“All indications are that we will be approved,” County Manager Darren Gray said in updating commissioners regarding the county’s application for the estimated $35 million purchase price. The ranch is considered a key missing piece of a wildlife corridor running the length of the state.

With that news in hand, commissioners dropped a proposal to give the Yarborough family $3.4 million to stave off a sale to developers of the property east of Snow Hill Road and south of Old Mims Road. The money would have been a sort-of down payment for Seminole County to purchase the land itself if the state opted out.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet are expected in March to consider Florida Forever’s recommended list of land purchases for conservation, which includes the Yarborough Ranch property.

“The state is extremely excited about moving forward with purchasing it,” Commissioner Lee Constantine said.

Run as a cattle ranch since the late 19th century, the mostly undeveloped land is dotted with ponds, old-growth forests and wetlands.

About two decades ago, the Yarboroughs were granted the right to build 300 homes on the ranchland in an agreement with the state that also included the purchase of other land the family owned. Recently, the family said it had offers from developers and is ready to sell, but would prefer a preservation deal.

Environmentalists have long said the property should be conserved because it’s one of the last unprotected pieces of a corridor stretching from north Florida to the Everglades that animals — including deer, bears, bobcats, eagles and waterfowl — use to migrate, nest, hunt and breed.

The Yarborough land is surrounded by the Little Big Econ State Forest, the Chuluota Wilderness Area and the Charles H. Bronson Wildlife Management Area.

Conservationists say that adding hundreds of homes in between those protected areas would bring noise, traffic and storm water runoff, disrupting the animals’ patterns.