Frequently asked Questions about FCT Parks and Open Space Florida Forever Grant Program
1. What is the Florida Forever program?
The Florida Forever program is the state of Florida's newest blueprint for conservation of Florida's unique natural resources. It replaces the highly successful Preservation 2000 Program (P-2000). P-2000 was responsible for the public acquisition and protection of more than 1.25 million acres of land. Florida Forever is more than just an environmental land acquisition mechanism; it encompasses a wider range of goals, including restoration of damaged environmental systems, implementation of local comprehensive plans, increased public access, recreational opportunities, and public lands management and maintenance.
2. Who may submit a grant application to purchase lands under the Trust's Parks and Open Space Florida Forever program?
Local governments and nonprofit environmental organizations may apply for grants from the Trust. Applications are reviewed and ranked once a year (subject to availability of funding). The applicant is required to contact the owner(s) of the project site to obtain a willing seller letter to be submitted as part of the application.
3. Who decides what lands to buy?
Applicants submit a detailed application and the Trust program staff arrive at a preliminary ranking based upon how the project scores in 61 different criteria. The program staff present their findings to the Florida Communities Trust Governing Board at the ranking and selection meeting. The Governing Board determines a final score at the ranking and selection meeting. The Governing Board consists of five members, including the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection (or designee) and four members appointed by the Governor. The four appointed members must represent a former elected official of a metropolitan municipality, the development community, a former elected county official, and a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.
4. Who actually buys the land?
The Recipient or the Trust will take the lead in negotiating with the landowners. If the project site has 11 or more owners, the Recipient will take the lead in negotiating. The Trust's funds are delivered at closing. Once the land is acquired, the local government or nonprofit environmental organization holds title and manages the project site.
5. How much money does the Florida Communities Trust receive from the Florida Forever program to buy land for the Parks and Open Space grant program?
The Florida Communities Trust receives approximately 21 percent from the sale of Florida Forever bonds when funds are appropriated. Future funding from the sale of bonds depends on legislative action, but the Florida Forever Program is scheduled to continue to the year 2020. Several other state agencies also receive Florida Forever funds.
6. Is that enough money to buy all the projects submitted to the Trust for funding?
No, it is not enough money to acquire all the projects on the Florida Communities Trust list in any one year. The estimated market value of the properties submitted in 2008 was $400 million.
7. When can the owner of property in a proposed Trust project first expect to be notified?
Applicants of proposed projects are required to provide a willing owner letter signed by owners of all the parcels within the project boundary as part of the Grant Application. The letter asks the owner for their willingness to accept an offer to purchase property from the Grant Applicant and the Trust.
8. How does the state determine the price it will offer a landowner?
The property is appraised to estimate its fair market value. For land acquisition projects over $1,000,000, the Trust or Grant Recipient hires two private sector, independent appraisers. For projects under this amount, the Trust or Grant Recipient hires one private sector, independent appraiser. The Trust uses appraisal(s) as a basis for negotiations and will not participate in funding a project over the maximum amount established by the appraisals.
9. Must certain appraisers be used for projects funded by the Trust?
Yes. The appraiser(s) hired must be on the Trust's list of approved appraisers. The Trust has adopted the approved appraiser list from the Department of Environmental Protection, Division of State Lands, Bureau of Appraisal.
10. When are appraisals obtained?
After a project has been selected for funding and the Recipient has an executed Grant Agreement with the Trust, the Trust or Recipient will request bids from appraisers to appraise property of willing sellers. The length of time of the appraisal process varies, depending on the size and the complexity of the project.
11. What factors do the appraisers consider when estimating value?
Appraisers look at many factors, including the size and location of the property, zoning issues and economic conditions which help determine the property's highest and best use. Comparable sales information is then used to estimate fair market value.
12. May a property owner accompany appraisers when they make a site visit?
Yes. Appraisers must notify property owners of inspection times and invite owners to accompany them on the inspection. This provides the owner an opportunity to discuss issues of their property with the appraiser.
13. What role can a nonprofit environmental organization play?
Nonprofit environmental organizations are eligible applicants for Florida Communities Trust Parks and Open Space land acquisition grants. Nonprofit organizations, such as the Trust for Public Land and The Nature Conservancy, also sometimes play a role in helping the Grant Recipient acquire land. They may act as intermediaries with owners and may assist them with tax and estate planning issues. They have at times acquired land and sold it to the Grant Recipient once the project was funded. If you would like further information about nonprofits, you should contact organizations such as the following:
The Nature Conservancy
The Trust for Public Land
The Conservation Fund
14. Does being within the boundary of a Florida Communities Trust project affect property value?
No. Changes in property value through government action normally occur as a result of local government decisions involving zoning, development permits or changes in local land use plans. Being within a Florida Communities Trust project boundary should not trigger any such action. If lands contain significant natural or cultural resources, however, various laws, rules and ordinances may affect the use of the property.
15. Does a property owner have to sell?
No. Funds awarded through the Trust may be used only to pay for voluntarily negotiated transactions. If a property owner decides not to sell or refuses an offer to sell, the threat of eminent domain powers may not be used.
16. How can an owner keep his property off the Trust's acquisition list?
If a property owner does not sign a willing owner letter, the Trust does not pursue the acquisition of the property. If the property owner changes their mind, they may write the Florida Communities Trust and ask that they be removed from the acquisition list.
17. Are there other ways to protect land without an owner selling all of their property rights to the state or another public entity?
Yes. Alternate methods are available in some cases, if it is in the best interests of the property owner and the local government. By granting a conservation easement, an owner may protect important resources while also receiving certain tax advantages. A conservation easement allows the owner to retain title to the property along with certain negotiated rights, but protects the natural resource values of the property.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is the state’s lead agency for environmental management and stewardship – protecting our air, water and land. The vision of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is to create strong community partnerships, safeguard Florida’s natural resources and enhance its ecosystems.