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ORLANDO-Orange County elected officials have signed off on a year-long deal to buy a 1,334-acre portion (about two square miles) of rancher Steve Holland’s 5,254-acre Holland Ranch, five miles south of Lake Hart and about 12 miles west of Walt Disney World’s 30,000-acre compound at Lake Buena Vista, FL.

The $3.75 million price equates to $2,811 per acre or six cents per sf. Holland had asked for $4 million or $3,048 per acre (seven cents per sf).

The dirt is important to the county because it houses rare plants, endangered wildlife species and is the last remaining buffer between the headwaters of the 36-mile Econlockhatchee River and a slew of new commercial, residential, hotel and retail projects surfacing or coming off the drawing boards near Orlando International Airport.

The St. Johns Water Management District had previously planned to partner with the county in buying 2,600 acres for $7.5 million or $2,857 per acre (6.5 cents per sf). But the state agency backed out of the deal after contending the main road to the property didn’t meet its standard.

Orange County commissioner and Clarence Hoenstine and county chairman Rich Crotty negotiated the initial deal and got Holland to promise the unsold 3,920-acre portion (about six square miles) of the ranch would be sold in individual parcels to a licensed commercial land mitigation bank.

The bank, in turn, receives a negotiated fee from developers who pay to replace wetlands they have destroyed on projects in other areas of the state. The land mitigation plan is unique to Florida and helps conserve environmentally sensitive tracts.

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