As new homes and businesses sprout in East Manatee, the Florida Cabinet agreed Wednesday to protect a large rural parcel near Myakka City from future development.
Howze Ranch is a 929-acre piece of property found about a 20-minute drive east of Lakewood Ranch. It rests in the Upper Myakka River Watershed, with of its two tributaries — Ogleby and Bogey creeks — running through it. A Florida panther has been seen on site, as well as a number of gopher tortoises, indigo snakes, burrowing owls and crested caracara.
Without fanfare, the Cabinet— made up of Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — swiftly approved the 43rd conservation easement within the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program as the cabinet meeting came to a close Wednesday afternoon.
The land was bought by the Howze family in 1931, although they began their cattle and timber operations in the area in the mid-1800s. In 1938, they started the Robbins Manufacturing Company, based in Tampa. Today, it's a cow-calf operation with 85 Commercial Crossbred cattle. A quarter of the property has "natural, unaltered floodplains."
The purchase price is $1,503,000, but the state could get a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which could cover a little more than half of the cost.
With a conservation easement, the land is protected in perpetuity from mining, construction of temporary or permanent buildings or any activities that may hurt the natural and historic features of the property.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Florida Forest Service negotiated the deal, and the latter will be in charge of keeping track of the easement.
Thomas Howze, registered agent for Howze Ranch Limited Partnership, wasn't immediately available for comment Wednesday.