SVN Saunders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate founder negotiated Florida’s largest conservation property purchase in more than a decade.

Dean Saunders, the managing director and founder of Lakeland-based SVN Saunders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate, last month negotiated the state’s largest purchase of conservation land in more than a decade.

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection acquired the Bluffs of St. Teresa property for $43 million. The 17,080-acre tract on the Gulf of Mexico, in the state’s Panhandle, features 17 miles of waterfront land and borders the state-owned Bald Point State Park and Tate’s Hell State Forest.

The property also represents one of the largest tracts of undeveloped land in Florida on the Gulf Coast.

As part of the purchase, The Nature Conservancy chipped in $2.25 million and the U.S. Department of Defense, which operates several Air Force bases in the region, contributed $2.19 million.

For the state, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ former deputy chief of staff played key roles, Saunders notes.

“This was a rare opportunity to preserve an absolute gem of a property for posterity for the citizens of Florida,” says Saunders, who was a top aide to former Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles and also served in the Florida House of Representatives from 1992 until 1996.

“The state owns the land on either side of this tract, which is also known as St. James Island, so it just made sense for them to buy this piece, as well.”

Saunders represented Ochlockonee Timberlands LLC, an affiliate of Salt Lake City-based AgReserves, in the transaction. AgReserves is a for-profit arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is more commonly known as the Mormon Church.

AgReserves affiliates acquired a total of 382,000 acres in the panhandle — including the Bluffs of St. Teresa —in early 2014 from The St. Joe Co. for $565 million, according to reports at the time. The land is spread across eight Florida counties.

Florida’s DEP notes in a statement that the “milestone” purchase provides “benefits to climate resilience,” preserves rivers and lakes that are “critical to water quality, quantity and the health of the region’s aquaculture” and safeguards animals’ habitat.

The Bluffs’ deal isn’t the only conservation-rated deal that Saunders, who has been recognized as one of the top land brokers nationwide by the Realtors Land Institute, has done of late. In Polk County, in the 560,000-acre Green Swamp area, he negotiated a conservation easement for 713 acres known as AVT Ranch for $1.1 million.

Since its formation in 1996, Saunders Ralston Dantzler has completed transactions valued in excess of $3 billion.

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