Title: Paradise Lost {Ted Strawn's land
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00052565/00001
 Material Information
Title: Paradise Lost {Ted Strawn's land
Alternate Title: Spear, Kevin. "Paradise Lost {Ted Strawn's land. Florida Magazine
Physical Description: 6p.
Language: English
Creator: Spear, Kevin ( Author )
Publication Date: Nov. 5, 1989
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States of America -- Florida
General Note: Box 5, Folder 5 ( SF LAND ACQUISITION ), Item 12
Funding: Digitized by the Legal Technology Institute in the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00052565
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

Full Text


l'lb state wanted ''Ied2 Strawn's land to protect it..

Ted Stralwnl wanted to sell his land to the state-

to protect it.* Sidney Roche wanted Ted Strawn's

land to develop it.* Guess who won?

ONt'CE NOT LONG A(GO, IN A LAND always willing to talk.
not far away. lited an old man who wanted Toward the end of the courtship, as the
not much more than to reserve his little land's value went up faster than the state's
piece of Florida and to leave a nice inheri- desire to pay, the bureaucrats sweetened
tance to his family, their offers by promising to build a youth
When he looked south toward Orlando, all camp on the land, an idea the man liked.
he could see were rich landowners and their They even suggested naming the land after
laborers paving roads and building cities. him. Theodore Strawn State Preserve.
The old man didn't really want to leave his But the story doesn't have a happy end-
paradise to them. ing. The man sold the land to a develop-
His family had bought the prolwrty, 5,600 er.
acres called Seminole Woods, almost half a What happened? Why didn't the old man
century before. sell to the public? Even more puzzling- Why
He wanted to leave it with an owner who did he sell to one of those landowners to the
would love it as he had loved it. That owner south? Why did he allow the people of Flor-
should be the public, he decided. He wanted ida to lose a little piece of paradise?
his springs and streams and forests, his Did he simply run out of patience with
black bears and tald eagles, to be under the the bureaucracy and sell out for money?
public's watchfil eye. That way the land Two people and a bureaucracy know. The
wouldl remain a special place in Florida. old man, the developer who wooed and won
At least, that's what he told the nice Flor- him and the state's land-buyers. And what
ida bureaucrats who wanted to buy the land they know could help protect other slices of
for the same reason the man wanted to sell paradise from becoming part of Florida's
it. new concrete landscape.
It was a 1)01 hlr tlmidettaking, trying to
ltuy this land. Thousands of people wrote
the tbureaucrats., asking them to please ptre- L, EAVING EAST FRO()M MOUIINT
serve this wildeness. l)ora, State Road ,46 begins to rise and fall
Aid( so the lw.reaucra.ts courtedl the ol over hills that buffer the Wekiva River ba-
man as well as bureaucrats can. For more sin. Beyond the rural communities of Sor-
than 10 \ears t!they talked to the man about rento and Mount Plymouth, only a few
his land. They did appraisals and studies, homes and businesses mark the landscape.
The\ toured the land and talked about how The river's basin starts here.
louch they xavm:ted it. They held meetings, North from the state road, the soil turns
often asking the man to join them. He was sandy and the air smells drier, of pine


and palmetto. This land is a Florida spe- clearly enough to deal with an old man
cialty called scrub. lTnderfoot4 a weird who says he just wanted some simple,
kind of lizard called a skink swims slowly i straight answers. "A definite offt'r,"
through sand, hunting insects. Black Strawn often said, was all he wanted.
bears are rarely seen, but looking up, it's
clear where they've been feeding on the
tender tops of oak trees. IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN HIS FOR
The terrain turns swampy within the the taking $12.5 million for the old
countries of Seminole Woods. Wet muck man with sunken blue eyes, scuffed shoes
gives up a spicy, rotting odor. And here and worn trousers.
and there are the stumps of virgin cy- But for his chunk of land 5,600 acres
press trees that loggers cut down more of wilderness the sum was too little,
than a half-century ago. too late.
Farther north, the land heaves itself Behind dimmed eyes, diseased by glau-
out f the swamp into a series of ridges. coma, the canny old cracker listened to
TIhs is high ground, habitat for wildlife four men from the government tll him
and suitable for development. why he should sell his land to the state of
Along one of the ridges is a tree line. Florida. Listening to them was like listen-
-Just within the trees, the land falls away ing to shadows. They came, they went,
sharply. Twenty to 30 feet below glim- different ones returned.
mers water from a sandy-bottomed "They're just feeling me out, trying to
spring, one of dozens on the land. see how low I'll go," Strawn remembers
These are pocket springs, small, pure thinking. "They've got nothing definite."
upwellings of water, forming pools no The rancher and citrus grower has en-
larger than a living room. Their banks tertained a lot of other offers to buy
rise sharply on all sides except where the Seminole Woods, a rough rectangle, 2
spring water escapes in a run, headed for miles by .1 miles som l'fifers for moore
the Wekiva and the St. Johns rivers. Oak money than the developer paid.
and paln trees span overhead. On a broil- Strawn had always said no, waiting on
ing hot day, the springs are shaded para- the state.
dishes, cooled 1by waters rushing up from Seminole Woods is in the path of pro-
the Floridan Aquifer. gress. The beltway to encircle Orlando
The concrete of metropolitan Orlando will someday dump cars off within min-
lies surprisingly nearby. Yet Seminole utes of Seminole Woods. A tall-dollar sub-
"Woods has remained a secret, soothing PHOTO BYDAVIO)POILFi division could nestle nicely among the
place. This is a place to stoop for a Ted Strawn (above) has been a preservationist by instinct. springs and ravines.
drink of spring water, a place to lie The four men facing Strawn across the
back and watch bald eagles the table were banking on
soar. his wanting to protect the
Seminole Woods makes land from that.
visitors wonder why they Before Strawn joined
would want to be anywhere LAKE them, they had gathered at
else. CO the Leesburg construction
No description matches company of C.W. "Chick"
the awe of the real thing, Gregg, chairman of the Lake
even for environmentalists ORANGE COCounty commission. There
who have seen everything was James Gregg, a cousin
twice. of Chick's and a board mem-
Charles Hardee, former 44 ber of the Lake County wa-
director of the state's land ter district, and Joe Hill and
acquisition office, says the John Hankinson, both from
areas most worth saving in the St. Johns River Water
Florida are in the Keys, Mt. Dora 46A Management District. Han-
along the Apalachicola River 7 mN kinson knew old man Strawn
and Bay, and in the Wekiva 7- best he'd been courting
River area. him and his land for years.
"To see Strawn's property Alone that Monday after-
is to be uplifted," he says. noon, May 22, the four
"It seems like another time 46 talked about how much mon-
and place." Hardee figures I ey the state would chip in
he has presided over the and how much could be ex-
state purchase of more than P RY JILL SHR pected from Lake County.
a half-billion dollars worth of land to be springs that feed Black Water Creek, a piece of land, it more thanft'i| l' will They decided the most they could get for
protected. His rapturous appraisal match- running southeast across the land to the succeed. It has spent more than a hialf-bil- Strawn would be $12.5 million. Tops.
es 'that of othk*r hard-bitten agents in the Wekiva River. Few places in Florida can lion dollars in the past two And The four men didn't have the authority
land conservation business. match the amount of high quality water CARL had nev y Ii- to make an actual offer. They just wanted
"It's magical," he says, flowing from Seminole Woods. ranked piece d to find out if the $12.5 million would be
It's also in the middle of the Wekiva For all of those reasons, the state of got away. I l enough to keep Strawn talking.
River basin wilderness, which has become Florida wanted verJ much to preserve Eventually, T raw t When Gregg's secretary led Strawn
increasingly hemmed in by concrete and the springs and the rest of Str 's land. rin out of pat ieI into the office, though, the talk at first
asphalt. Strawn's land lies between the The state decided tEiat nothing short of sold to someone, I wus not of money but of preservation. It
river basin and the vast Ocala National buying the land would do. And in fact, the million more th4l* t was salesmanship. For yearS, the old man
Forest to the north. Develop it, and there state's Conservation and Recreation Florida's landwere had gone on about how h'd like to see
is no link to the forest. The river basin 1Lands (CARI,) program had ranked ott-maneuvered torbi, the land protected. And the state more
becomes a cute park for residential devel- Strawn's lard the mit important to pur- But it didn't Pr- than any other suitor -could guarantee
opment to nibble at. chase in the state. ida which that protection. So the men played on
Ted Strawn's land has 50 or more When the state sets its mind to buying nole Woods d that before talking price.


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As bald he question hundreds of acres of citrus.
seems, nobo t the meeting and make deals on small par
L *l L asked Strawn he had a deal cels of land, and string barbed-
in the works already. After all, wire fences.
it just seemed reasonable that Now he needs to keep his
he would volunteer something hand on somebroy's shoulder
Like that especially if he to guide him on unfamiliar
wanted to sell to the state. turf. His white hair goes wild
Asked later if he ever and untended, a contrast to his
thought to tell the negotiators face that shows little emotion.
about another serious offer, Strawn's going-tb-towe
Strawn seemed surprised by clothes are threadbare, he
the question. "No, not that I wears broken sunglasses and
remember. I don't think they he looks forward to free break
ever thought to ask me." fasts from cattle feed sales
After an hour, the old man men. His wife of 60 'ears, Al
seemed interested in further thea, owns a 1965 Ford IT).
talk. The offer was well below Strawn squeezes from hi
his asking price of $14.5 mnil- land about $10,000 a year .,
lion. But Strawn told them selling calves and timber an
he'd think about less if the leasing areas to deer hunters
state built a youth camp) on the On tthe other side of the leader
land. the property tax bill last ye'
As Strawnc stood to leave, wa%. $6,669.30.
Chick Gregg remembers say- Like so many farrmer
ing, "Mr. Strawn, please un- Strawn is land rich and penr
:!. derstand the wheels of govern- poor. His daughter, Pat I)oyle
ment turn so damn slow." says Strawn lives on Social Se
"Oh I know that," Gregg re- curity and the annual income

-: calls Strawn replying. "I don't from his land.
foresee selling this property In the late 1940s, a more ro
this year due to the tax situa- bust Theodore Strawn was fly
tion. You will be the first to ing over east Lake County it
know." search of abandoned railroads
The negotiators were nearly that might have crossties t<
giddy. After the meeting, their salvage. He spotted an old rail
calls would go out to Tallahas- road track that belonged to th:
see and Palatka with news that Wilson Cypress Co., which hac
after years of negotiation, harvested cypress and hard
"i featuring Strawn's land could be in the wood in the area.
bag soon. On July 27, 1950, a Strawe
They were wrong family corporation bough
Unknown to the four men, what would be called Seminoh
Strawn had cut a deal several Woods for $155,100. In 1965
weeks earlier to sell it to Semi- the land passed to Strawn'
Wony-Free" Carpet is more nole County developer Sidney sole ownership.
thanust stain resistant. Its Roche, reportedly for $16 Stewardship of the land ii
totaaly wony-free, million. Strawn had in his bank Strawn's hands has been gen
a $200,000 deposit from tie. He built a network o:
Roche. roads, bridges and culverts an<

A STANI~ TH I"There hasn't been any cleared for pastures. But other,
15 iRASTAN weakness expressed in his than that, he has been a con

d Ju .udan FUSlH [Roche's] desire to own the servationist by preference an,
m 22 con- -A -i--t d"bl we Bar-lfoot luxury In property," Strawn says. "As instinct.
Iry colors. nont our fines Anso V far as I'm concerned, I will live He felt badly about the onm
'reesr tain uurift up to the contract." bear he shot, decades ago. "
t into every -fired mauqyopuLentshad s took a bite and the more
~~opeasethe eye. chewed the bigger it got," he
APLY $26~~ iUSLARY ALONZO SHIFTED AGREE- said. The one deer he shot o;
ably while his long face was the land brought tears fron
2 scratched. "Hey Alonzo, how his wife at the dinner table.
have you been buddy?" Strawn 'The old man would keel
I asked. "Are you my buddy?" trick of every bird that fel

9 D. 52i e The ash-white Brahman bull dead on the ground," says
stands eye-to-eye with his own- Chick Gregg, who had hunter
er but weighs a dozen times in Seminole Woods long before'
more. The bull might trample he became a commissioner
a stranger. But Strawn, though "He does love that land."
frail and nearly blind, trusts But land left untouehe,
his buddy completely. won't pay for itself. Strawo
They've been friends longer had always had to work har.
E than Strawn can remember and he was nothing if not prag
and he knows they have little matic. He had the capacity t<
*time left. see the land developed b.
Strawn, 86, used to fly his sodneone who would do it re

NDO: Braun Pkwy. Proniende LONOWOOD: Interior Decor Cen r own floatplane from a lake in sponsibly. It just wasn't his in
i John Young Pkwy.* 293-3010 999 Douglas Avenue 862-6161 his backyard. He used to grow clination.


IN THE MID-1970s, THE STATE'S He learned of Seminole Woods from two lar driveways, the yards adjoin a golf state Department of Natural Resources,
original program to buy and protect sen- of his equipment operators, whom Strawn course, otters play in nearby ponds and CARL draws praise from private groups
sitive land, the Environmentally Endan- hired to clear orange groves killed in the untouched wetlands buffer the Little We- such as The Nature Conservancy and the
gered Lands program, first made acquisi- 1983 and 1985 freezes. In early 1987, the kiva River from the subdivision. Roche Florida Audubon Society.
tion of Seminole Woods a top priority. same year the property was first ranked thinks the way he's handled Alaqua Each year, taxes on mining and real
the late 1970s, state program director a visit, conservationist. nearly $50 million. The state now owns
Harmon Shields was indicted and later Roche's father had been studying gene- In the fall of 1987, he made an offer, more than a half-million acres of land -
convicted for extortion in an unrelated alogy and he latched on to Strawn for Strawn told Roche to wait because he felt an area twice the size of Seminole County
land deal. several hours, talking about area history. he had an obligation to hear out the state. bought by its land-protection pro-
A Until then, state negotiators had been The younger Roche said very little, but "I'd have waited 10 years if necessary grams.
working with figures around $6 million two weeks later he returned alone, to buy Strawn's land," he said. "You're CARL works best at buying bargain-
for Strawn's land. As the disruption of Roche would go back countless times dealing with a man who put his life into priced land, which often means parcels
$ 'J the scandal abated, new people came on after that, to meet Strawn's daughter, to that property and you've got to be com- well removed from the possibility of de-
board who had never heard of Strawn or swim in the springs, to hike. He felt that passionate." velopment or speculation.
his land. When the state finally rediscov- the land was truly special. Roche is a real Regulations require the state to get
j ered the property, the price had doubled. estate developer, but he's also a sixth- two appraisals on any land being consid-
By 1987, Strawn's land was one of the generation Floridian. STRAWN'S PROPERTY ISN'T THE ered. The appraisals are kept secret, and
few unspoiled, privately held tracts re- For Roche, turning a $16-million pur- only example of how the state was outrun the state usually makes offers at less than
maining between rapidly urbanizing Or- chase into profit would require extensive or outgunned in trying to buy land for 90 percent of the appraised value. The
ange and Lake counties and the Wekiva. development. To that end, his vision of preservation. Gone are hopes to save an- strategy works; the average price paid is
Where in the 1970s acquiring Seminole the land and Strawn's vision might not cient pine forests near Miami, a barrier 90 percent of appraisals.
Woods had been desirable, now it seemed match. But compared to the state's effort, island off the coast of Collier County, a "The question is, how do you get the
essential. Roche's bid was neither smothering nor warm spring near Sarasota. most bang for your buck," Brock says.
Gov. Bob Martinez presided over the inattentive. 0. Greg Brock, director of CARL's "Do you want to throw all your money at
death of his proposed services tax in 1987. "Nobody talked to him but me," Roche evaluation section, says last spring he was one project or spread it around? It's a
His popularity hit bottom and he looked says. "I sent no lawyers, no in-house rep- photographing a beach near the Indian double-edged sword."
to environmental issues for rehabilitation. resentatives. My dealings were personal. River when a developer walked up. Property usually comes to the attention
Last year, he gave CARL marching or- I've not been trained in the art of closing. "He said, Take your pictures now be- of CARL because it has a constituency -
ders to purchase Strawn's land. Protec- Closers go for the throat. I'm not a clos- cause it's the last you'll see of it,'" Brock a group of supporters. Getting property
tion of the Wekiva River would be "cheap er. And nobody can pressure Mr. Strawn. says. "He was right. There's a fancy sub- on CARL's acquisition list is very com-
and doable" he said. Acquiring Seminole He's as hard-nosed and stubborn as they division there now." petitive, very political. The selection com-
Woods would be an easy first step. come." Despite the losses, Florida's land- mittee members are the directors of a
One thing Roche did do was take buying programs have notable successes, half-dozen state agencies that deal with
Strawn out to Alaqua, the subdivision of too Wekiwa Springs State Park and land, wildlife and development.
SSIDNEY ROCHE'S BID FOR million-dollar homes he's building in Blue Springs State Park are two in Cen- The more people supporting purchase
Strawn's land began like a light breeze. Seminole County. The homes have circu- tral Florida alone. Managed under the of a particular parcel, the higher its place

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close to figuring out what Strawn would need to Strawn did his own dealing with Roche and
sell. Negotiators thought they wew.within Hankinson. In truth, the two weren't reaon
months of putting a final deal to, er. If the same playing field in their court. of
Strawn gave any hint he was losing patience, no- Strawn. Roche could make his own decisions.
body read it. Hankinson could make a few, but for most deci-
Roche thought Strawn was playing him to get sions he was a go-between for other people who
a good price front the state. "I thought he was couldn't or wouldn't call shots. Hankinson had CometCaloComdersa
having me stand by as a backup," Roche said. too many loose ends, while Roche was the only rnaonsaimol
For the state, negotiating with Strawn was one tying knots for his bargaining. fatkbriandwthourtcaom laborucan
not easy. The old man did his own dealing. Pro- That's not much consolation for Hankinson, getitadonbefortheholdaysome
posals often needed to be repeated and he often Gregg and the others who worked so hard to try Fromfbrf tofinihed, alyouadd
repeated himself. to put the deal together. t your good Iw
"Maybe there needed to be clearer lines of Greg Brock, of CARL, said the program has 102 E. Atamonte Drive
communication, clearer lines of authority," Han- neither enough money nor enough people to (It. 436 between 14 & 17-921
kinson says. "People liked to be stroked. Maybe court all of the Ted Strawns in Florida Attamonwe Sprlngs* 767-0789
there was too nuch talking and not enough "It boggles my mind," Brock says. "Here was ~. ka T at.Su.j
stroking." an opportunity for a sizable profit and to help
And then in late April, Strawn went to Roche the state and to have his name recorded for all 60% below retail prices!
with a remarkably unemotional message, of perpetuity."
"I think I'll go with you," he said. An agree- Roche won't say what his plans are for Semi-
ment was drawn up with the deal to be finalized nole Woods. Of the 5,600 acres of he's contracted IR4 x
this January. to buy from Strawn, nearly 4,000 aeres are wet- Decorative Fabrics
Strawn didn't tell the state negotiators be- lands and couldn't be developed under current
cause Roche didn't want an announcement until state law. Of the remaining area, maybe 1,000 -
the signatures were on paper, acres are buildable.
Months later, on a Saturday morning over Lake County doesn't yet have a market strong
grits, eggs and bacon at Hunter's Restaurant in enough for his type of upscale living, he says. But
DeLand, Strawn explained that he finally be- there's no hurry, the market will come.
came unimpressed with how the state regarded And the deal could still unravel somehow.
the value of his land. Plenty of people would like to see that happen.
The state may mean well, he said, but it When he learned about Roche's deal, Gregg
doesn't always do a great job of protecting land. climbed into his twin-engine plane and flew to
Nobody. Strawn finally decided, pays more at- Tallahassee to persuade Gov. Martinez to take
tention to a piece of property than a homeowner. Strawn's land through condemnation. The gover-
"Mr. Roche met my asking price," Strawn ex- nor's response, Gregg says, was lukewarm.
plained. "I had no alternative but to accept it or Lake County officials who wanted Strawn's
refuse it." land in state hands badly enough to offer several
A short while later, Strawn sent his buddy million dollars toward the purchase in a year
Alonzo to market. when the commission passed a record tax in-
crease are so upset they have said privately
they are looking for ways to discourage Roche
SO IS THAT WHAT IT ALL BOILED DOWN from developing it.
to Strawn running out of time and getting the In the end, the negotiators felt like Strawn
best price he could? had made them look foolish especially after
That's one way of thinking about what hap- the May meeting. They had taken the bait and
opened to Seminole Woods. Maybe, instead of us- were cut loose with the taste of the hook still in
ing Roche to get a good price out of the state, their mouths.
Strawn used the state to get a good price from The CARL folks may turn around and negoti-
Roche. ate to buy the land from Roche which would
If conservation had been Strawn's main con- protect it, but would also provide a vivid illustra- It doesn't matter how young
cern, he could have taken whatever the state of- tion of the cost of not getting it right the first old you are. With the proper h
fered, along with the youth camp, and the deal time. Marie Scott &
would have been done. In 10 to 15 years, CARL might not be needed
But there's another way the deal could have anymore. The environmentally sensitive lands Company, you'll
been done. Strawn says he would have sold to left today will be gone, either protected or devel- look great. And
the state for $12.5 million and the youth camp oped. CARL agents say more money and clearer
if the state had actually put that firm offer on direction would come in handy now, while land you'll feel great, too!
the table. remains available. Our stylists are
"John [Hankinson] just wanted to feel me A freer rein might help, too. experts at watching
out," says Strawn about the negotiations. "And I George Willson, director of land acquisition in expers at matching
left a pretty clear impression I couldn't donate The Nature Conservancy office in Tallahassee, hairstyles to life-
my land." says CARL has good people working with a lot styles and to person-
But it wasn't Strawn's job to figure out a way of bureaucratic layers that don't always give
to sell his land to the state. It was the state's job them the flexibility they need. alities.
to figure out a way to buy Strawn's land. Strawn, of course, has been criticized by Call today and start
CARL does make deals, lots of them. The public officials, conservation groups, private citi-
deals that go down quickest are made with land- zens for squeezing out a couple extra million looking great
owners who either are experienced real estate dollars at the expense of protecting the land he again-You'll feel
brokers or who hire somebody who is. says he loves.
That happened with 3,334 acres of the BMK Hankinson, for one, is philosophic. the difference.
Ranch south of Strawn's-land. The property "If a guy wants to be charitable, that's fine," Tel phone
mostly valuable uplands prime for development Hankinson said. "But to say he is a lesser citizen Ie pho e:
was ranked No. 3 on the CARL priority list because he wouldn't sell at a charitable price, I
and was bought for $12.5 million in little more couldn't go along with that." I I 7
than a year. The owners used the services of 701 E. Altamc
Bruce McKievei, a Tallahassee real estate Kevin Spear covers environmental issues for B ST
broker with years of experience in state deals. The Orlando Sentinel in Lake County. pOAltamonte

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