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St. Cloud, FL (Sept. 25, 2020) – The St. Cloud City Council voted Thursday night to purchase Hastings Ranch, a 219 acre park that includes an event facility, green space, and a lake.
“With this vote, the City Council prioritized green space and the environment over houses and highways,” City Manager William Sturgeon said. ““It aligns with our strategy of being smart about our growth, and planning for the future. We have a responsibility to provide recreational areas for the public. The purchase of this land… is necessary. The property meets many needs of the city, including the need for green space, environmental lands and to ensure we have an authentic nature trail for people to enjoy the outdoors.”
The $5.75 million purchase price will be funded through the City’s parks and recreation impact fee fund. Those impact fees are imposed on new development to provide for capital facility improvements made necessary by growth.
The fund will have about $2 million remaining after the purchase, according to City Finance Director Wendy Collazo. She noted that the city has applied for a Florida Communities Trust grant. If that grant is awarded, the money totaling about 60% of the purchase price, would be returned to the parks and rec impact fee fund.
Additionally, the city has applied for a Land and Water Conservation Fund grant, and if it is awarded, “that would actually go above and beyond the yearly cost to maintain Hastings Ranch,” Collazo said.
Parks and Recreation Director Stephanie Holtkamp noted that the purchase will allow the city to expand its trail system, “Chisholm Park is already overcrowded, and parking is consistently a problem there,” she said.
Mayor Nathan Blackwell voiced his support of the purchase.
“I believe Hastings Ranch is an incredible opportunity that we have now, that if we don’t make the decision now it will be gone quickly, and I believe it’ll be gone forever. To me… it just makes incredible financial sense and would be a very poor decision if we turned it down,” Blackwell said. “I think it’s significant that the purchase of this property reduces development growth that’s impacting our city.”
Deputy Mayor Linette Matheny concurred.
“We have a choice tonight: Do we preserve this land as a park? Do we limit growth and protect our community? The funding…comes from the parks and rec fees. It can’t be used for other things. If I have a chance of taking this dedicated funding source to protect this land, to limit growth and protect our small town feel, this is a no-brainer.”
Council Member Dave Askew said he has confidence in the ability of city staff to make it a viable city park and an asset to the residents.
“I have full confidence we can stop 800 houses from going into Hastings Ranch and we can make it into a beautiful park,” Askew said. “We’ve done it before, and I think we can do it again.”
Council Member Chuck Cooper said he had mixed feelings.
“I’m tossed between both sides,” Cooper said. “I would like to have it. But how do we make sure the money is going to be there 10, 15, 20 years down the road?”
Council Member Keith Trace said he has concerns about the timing.
“I’m not in favor of purchasing the property,” Trace said. “It’s the dollars and cents of it. If we get the grant in August, it’s a no-brainer. But right now there’s just that gap between January when we have to close on the property, and August when we get the grant. I’m not against the purchase. To me it’s the timing.”
Council voted 3-2 to make the purchase, with Council Members Chuck Cooper and Keith Trace voting against it.
City Attorney Dan Mantzaris said the anticipated closing date will be the first week of January 2021.