The controversy over the potential development of Creek Ranch near Lake Hatchineha has taken an unexpected turn.
Owner Harold Baxter has applied for consideration to seek the state’s purchase of a conservation easement over the property.
His application is scheduled to be discussed by the state’s Acquisition and Restoration Council when it meets Dec. 8 in Tallahassee.
The property lies in a corridor that contains thousands of acres of public and private conservation lands north and south of the ranch.
Marian Ryan, conservation chair for Sierra’s Ancient Islands Group, plans to testify in favor of the proposal.
The property has been the subject of intensive public discussion after the longtime cattle ranch was purchased by Baxter, a local developer, and was announced as the site of a housing development and a new high school.
Area residents objected to putting a new high school in what they contend is an important wildlife corridor. There have been documented sightings of Florida panther and Florida black bear nearby.
Residents and at least one area property owner have proposed alternate school sites. School officials are evaluating the proposals.
Obviously, if the conservation easement purchase occurs, the ranch would no longer be available for a school site because the state would have purchased the development rights and school officials would be forced to look elsewhere.