FORT MYERS, FL-If approved by Florida’s governor and cabinet, a land deal would turn 64,000 acres of pristine cattle ranch land northeast of here into 20,000 acres of developed land and 44,000 acres of state-owned or environmentally protected land.

The land is part of the 91,361-acre Babcock Ranch, which sprawls across 81,499 acres of Charlotte County and 9,862 acres in Lee County and is one of the biggest pieces of privately owned property in southwest Florida. Last summer, the Babcock family offered to dedicate and sell about half of the ranch’s property holdings to the counties and state for conservation, in exchange for development rights on nearly 20,000 acres in Charlotte and Lee counties.

Earlier this month, the Florida Forever Acquisition and Restoration Council, which is made up of state agency heads, took the family up on its offer and placed the property on the state’s “A” list of top-priority properties targeted for state acquisition under the $3 billion Florida Forever Plan that was approved by the state’s voters last year.

The “A” list, which comprises about 50 properties, will be presented to Gov. Jeb Bush and his Cabinet on Jan. 29, 2002.

According to the plan, the family would enter into an environmental easement for 34,000 acres. That would mean the 34,000 acres could never be developed or built on. The state would use Florida Forever money to help buy the 10,000-acre Telegraph Swamp, which is also part of the ranch.

The land that would be developed covers the southwest section of the ranch and includes 13,418 acres in Charlotte County and 6,472 acres in Lee. Family members haven’t said what they want to build, according to Kathalyn Gaither, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Appraisals and negotiations are just beginning. Jack Tate of the Charlotte County Property Appraiser’s office tells that it is impossible to give an estimate of the value of the land involved without a formal appraisal because the land value in this area can vary widely, since it is broken into myriads of parcels according to land use and condition.

For example, he said one section of cattle range land, which equals 640 acres, has been assigned a market value of $291,000 or $459 per acre.

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