Development plans for Florida Mormon ranch stir controversy

In this Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015, photo, cowboys herd cattle from one pasture to another at the Deseret Ranch in Deseret Ranch, Fla. Over the coming six decades, housing developments will replace citrus trees, and office parks will replace cattle-grazing under a plan being developed by the Mormon church-owned Deseret Ranch located southeast of Orlando. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

DESERET RANCH, Fla. (AP) — A section of one of the nation’s largest ranches could be transformed into new housing developments for half a million Floridians in the coming decades.

Officials in the Orlando suburb of Osceola County have approved a framework for how to develop 133,000 acres belonging to the Mormon-owned Deseret Ranch.

The development would take place on land six times the size of Manhattan. But it represents less than half of the property the Deseret Ranch owns in central Florida.

Opponents say the plan could destroy tens of thousands of acres of important habitat near the headwaters of the St. Johns River and the Kissimmee River.

But other environmentalists say it’s better to have a comprehensive plan rather than breaking off 1,000-acre tracts at a time for piecemeal development.

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