Good buy: County gets deal on 83-acre purchase

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The county got a great deal on a recent land acquisition adjacent to the newly opened south county recreation center on Oslo Road, paying just $1 million for an 83-acre property that was recently appraised at $1.4 million and once sold for $7 million.

During the real estate boom in the mid-2000s, the acreage was purchased by a developer planning to build up to 178 single-family homes in a community called Coyote Run, but that dream died during the real estate downturn that began in 2007.

The county first noticed the land in late 2013 when the Osprey Marsh stormwater facility was being built. Osprey Marsh is a water purification facility with an algae scrubber that removes harmful nitrogen and phosphorous from canal water before it flows into the Indian River Lagoon. The new land will be used in part to extend the marshy area treated water flows through, enhancing the purification process. It will also be open for hiking and other recreational activities.

County Utilities Director Vincent Burke spotted a “For Sale” sign on the property during construction of Osprey Marsh and made some inquiries. It turned out the parcel was under contract with a new homebuilder, but the cost of building houses there didn’t pencil out and the land went into receivership.

Late last year, the county enlisted the services of Armfield & Wagner, the local firm that had done an appraisal on the property for a private developer in 2011. An updated Armfield & Wagner report showed the current market value of the property to be $1.4 million.

In December, the County Commission approved an agreement to offer a onetime payment of $1 million, contingent on a due diligence investigation. The offer was accepted and the property was purchased.

Plans for public recreation include an educational gazebo, hiking trails, an observation deck, a shallow area in the treatment marsh to attract birds, and a boardwalk. Students will be able see firsthand how water is cleaned as it filters though vegetation such a swamp lettuce which “sucks up the nutrients,” according to County Stormwater Engineer Keith McCully.

Visitors will be able to follow the serpentine route of the water as it winds its way through the filtering vegetation, from canal to canal, until it reaches the South Relief Canal and, finally, the Lagoon.

McCully is designing the cutting-edge water purification project, and the county has obtained a $1.2 million cost-share grant from St. Johns River Water Management District. The pre-design cost estimate for the project is $4.8 million.

McCully led the way on a recent tour of the property, which will be called Osprey Acres, tromping along the pine needle-cushioned path through trees and underbrush.

Aside from the removal of Brazilian Peppers, the pristine, upland part of the parkland will be kept as natural as possible, with land clearing confined to an area where fire has already killed or weakened the trees.

Wildlife on the property includes raccoons, possums, otters, the occasional bobcat and numerous bird species such as owls, hawks, sandpipers and sanderlings. “If I was an otter, I’d sure check out the place,” McCully said.

He pointed across a fence to the algae scrubber operation, then north toward the new, barn-red recreation center, and talked about how the rec center and new stormwater park “next door” will, together, provide exciting recreational opportunities for county residents.

It may also turn out to be an important public education facility, making people more aware of the need to reduce pollution flowing to the lagoon.

The project should be under construction by the end of June 2017, and will take about a year to complete.

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