Greenway Trojan Horse – Updated

Greenway Trojan Horse – Updated

Tillman and Associates should have played Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi while they rode their Trojan Horse into the Planning and Zoning meeting this week. Not only are they applying to pave 15-acres of paradise with a 500-vehicle parking lot, but it turns out that companies apparently affiliated with On Top of the World have recently bought two adjacent parcels: the 122-acre pasture across the street and the 12-acre horse farm next door to this subject parcel.

Smoke & Mirrors?

Why would companies apparently affiliated with OTOW want to buy a 122-acre pasture on the north side of Highway 484 under the name of SAGE AMICUS LLC and a 12-acre horse farm across the street on the south side of Highway 484 under the name of HORSING AROUND OCALA LLC? Perhaps they are going to become Horse Farms Forever’s newest member? Probably not.

On Top of the World already owns the 5,454-acres of land to the north and west with a flag-access to Highway 484. This massive parcel is part of a legacy Development of Regional Impact approval (“DRI”) with vested development rights. The 122-acre Sage Amicus parcel has a much larger presence on Highway 484 and a Rural Land use and Agricultural zoning, like the surrounding properties. It is not part of the legacy DRI. The 12-acre horse farm, which adjoins the Cross Florida Greenway, also has a Rural Land use and Agricultural zoning.

Is it a coincidence that Tillman & Associates has applied to change the land use on the 15-acre parcel from Rural to Commercial and the zoning from Agricultural to Business on a parcel next door to the 12-acre horse farm? Maybe. Tillman & Associates represents the Brothers Holdings on this application and OTOW on other applications. At the Planning and Zoning public hearing, the Tillman representative stated:

“Also, what we are asking for is the accessibility to the Greenway, an opportunity for citizens through OTOW to be able to come down and utilize the Greenway, the resources that we have that is always being spoken of and encouraged to utilize and what better way to access it through a golf cart, or walking trail, or multimodal trail down to that particular location. So that way we can get the full effect of what the Greenway trails was meant to be for.”

The Application calls for 502 paved stalls for boat and RV storage covering the 15 acre site. That’s more parking than Gainesville Airport. Source: Application for Rezoning.

Westward, Ho!

What would be the implications of changing the land use on the 15-acre parcel to commercial? HUGE! It would set a precedent for all future applications on adjoining parcels to change Rural Land use to Commercial. With a quick look at the map, you don’t need a crystal ball to wonder if there will be a Westward, Ho expansion creating a commercial hub on Highway 484. 

Don’t Know What You’ve Got ’til It’s Gone

The neighbors and the community need to answer the questions:

  • Is this application to change the land use on the 15-acre Brothers Holdings parcel from Rural Land to Commercial part of a Trojan Horse strategy?  
  • Is this application a strategy for a westward commercial expansion on 484? 

The location of this proposed 500-vehicle parking lot is adjacent to the Cross Florida Greenway, a treasured public resource. The parcel is in a FEMA flood zone and in the Secondary Springs Protection Zone.

The professionals at Marion County Growth Services Staff have reviewed the application and recommended denial as it is not compatible with the surrounding properties, is inconsistent with 9 provisions of the comprehensive plan, and is adverse to the public interest.  In addition, the Marion County Planning & Zoning Commission unanimously voted to recommend denial.

Hearing May 21

Horse Farms Forever agrees with the recommendations from Growth Services and the Planning & Zoning Commission that this application should be denied. 

That decision will be made on Tuesday, May 21, at 2:00 pm when the County Commission meets to consider the application. 

If this subject is of interest to you, please join us.  There’s no closer form of democratic governance that attending a public hearing.

Always Watching

We work hard to keep you informed, and to represent our members' interests in preserving our horse farms, farmland and the unique character and culture of Marion County's 193,000 acre Farmland Preservation Area.

Join the herd. Every voice matters.

Cowboys, Cattle and Conservation

Cowboys, Cattle and Conservation

Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson and rancher Jim Strickland spoke to a packed house at Horse Farms Forever’s Spring Speaker Series Event held at Golden Ocala on April 24. Photos by Sean Dowie Photography

Wilton Simpson, Commissioner of Agriculture, Inspires at Spring Speaker Series

Wilton Simpson, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture gave an inspiring speech at Horse Farms Forever’s third annual Spring Speaker Series event held on Wednesday, April 24 at Golden Ocala. Jim Strickland, legendary Florida cowboy and rancher, also spoke passionately about his love of ranching at the event.

Over 125 guests joined us to celebrate Farmland Preservation Month and to create more awareness about conservation programs to promote agriculture and protect farms. Our Presenting Sponsor was Lugano Diamonds and our Program Sponsor was Tasha Osbourne of Premier Sotheby’s International Realty. Many thanks for their generous support!

Wilton Simpson, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture, has been a champion of agriculture since his election to the Florida Senate in 2012. He spoke about securing the future of farming in the state of Florida by protecting farms and ranches through the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program with conservation easements.

Food is National Security

Commissioner Simpson is a fifth-generation Floridian and he has been a champion of agriculture since his election to the Florida Senate in 2012, where he served for 10 years. He spoke about securing the future of farming in the state of Florida, with programs such as the updated Right to Farm Act, the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program to help protect agricultural land from urban sprawl, the Florida Wildlife Corridor, and the Fresh from Florida program to encourage Florida-grown food.

The most important issue facing agriculture, he said, is to define food and agriculture as a national security issue. 

“We think about oil as a national security issue and our country has strategic supplies of oil just in case there’s a major disruption somewhere in the world,” he said. “But, imagine one week of no food in the grocery stores, or no food for just seven days. There would be total chaos in this country. Now imagine 30 days of no food in the stores and there would be people starving.”

Simpson also said that agriculture is the number-two driver of Florida’s economy, but during the pandemic because tourism was limited, agriculture became the number-one driver of the economy. 

“Agriculture has more than a $130 billion economic impact across our state while providing 2.2 million jobs and local sources of food,” he said.

Rural and Family Lands Protection Program

As a lifelong farmer, who grew up working on his family’s large-scale egg farm, he understands the development pressure that landowners face. He has championed the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program (RFLPP) that protects important agricultural lands through the acquisition of permanent agricultural land conservation easements. 

He successfully secured $300 million in funding for the RFLPP the 2022-2023 fiscal year and he has requested an additional $300 million in funding for the 2024 fiscal year. 

Florida Wildlife Corridor

In 2021, Commissioner Simpson also championed the successful passage of the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, which helps protect the Florida Wildlife Corridor. The Corridor stretches over 18 million acres and generates more than $30 billion in revenue annually and stimulates roughly 100,000 jobs in the state of Florida. Since 2021, more than 160,000 acres have been approved for protection through the RFLPP and the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act. 

He has also supported several agriculture-focused policies in the Florida Senate, including reducing the tax burden on farmers by strengthening Florida’s greenbelt laws and expanding Agritourism throughout Florida.

After the Spring Speaker Series, Wilton Simpson posted on his personal Facebook page, stating:

“Great to be in Ocala last night with my friend Jim Strickland and Horse Farms Forever. They’re working to conserve horse farms to preserve natural pasture land. The horse industry defines so much of the areas character and I’m grateful for the work being done to protect it.” 



Bernie Little, HFF Founder and President, Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, CEO, Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation, Traci Deen, Esq., President and CEO of Conservation Florida, Sara Powell Fennessy, HFF Executive Director, Wilton Simpson, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, Jonathon Rees, Firm Member, Smith, Bryan & Myers

Craig Curry, Marion County Commissioner, Mary Jane Hunt, HFF Founder and Sara Powell Fennessy, HFF Executive Director

Michelle Stone, Marion County Commissioner (center) with Lonny Powell- CEO Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association and Wilton Simpson, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture

Tasha and Michael Osbourne – Many thanks to our Presenting Sponsor Lugano Diamonds and to our Program Sponsor Tasha Osbourne of Premier Sotheby’s International Realty for their generous support!

Rubbish and Debrie, mascots for Marion County’s No Horsin’ Around Campaign to help prevent litter.  

Mary Jane Hunt, Director of the Saint Bernard Foundation, presents gifts of $25,000 each to Sam Smidt, Director of Land Use and Protection Research for the American Farmland Trust, Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, CEO, Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation, (standing with Wilton Simpson and Sara Fennessy), and Traci Deen, Esq., President and CEO of Conservation Florida

Jim Strickland and John S. Rudnianyn, CCIM, ALC. International Property Services Corp

Jason Reynolds, Executive Director, Florida Agriculture Center and Horse Park and Sara Powell Fennessy, HFF Executive Director

Jim Strickland, legendary Florida rancher spoke passionately about the importance of protecting working cattle ranches.

Cattle and Conservation Cowboy – Jim Strickland

Jim Strickland is the Owner of Strickland Ranch and Managing Partner of Blackbeard’s Ranch a 4,530-acre cattle ranch near Myakka River State Park. He has six decades of ranching experience and comes from a family that has been ranching in Florida since 1860. When his father died in the 1970’s, Jim took over the family cattle operations at the age of 17, primarily leasing land for cattle. 

“I’ve been ranching for 60 years and this is all I’ve ever wanted to do,” said Strickland. “There’s no illustrious history about Strickland Ranch, nor huge financial gains; what there is a love for the woods, cattle and Florida. I’ve been blessed to do what I love.”

His passion for cattle and conservation began at a young age, as he witnessed the development pressure first-hand and had to move his cattle out of many leased pastures and native ranges when they converted to housing developments. 

Jim is a strong advocate for Florida agriculture and land conservation. He is the Vice-Chairman of the Florida Conservation Group, a science-based organization that facilitated the protection of over 35,000 acres of ranches with conservation easements in 2023 and are currently working to protect another 40,000 acres in 2024.

“A ranch is as close to pristine wilderness as you’ll get. How do we compensate ranchers to maintain their land, stay in business and not sell to developers? We have to be able to tell the story of what dirt is worth – not from the standpoint of development rights – but what is the land worth to society, the 22 million people who live in Florida, who depend on that land to filter water, protect wetlands, store carbon, and provide animal habitat,” said Strickland. 

Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area

The Florida Conservation Group worked in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to establish a new 4 million-acre Conservation Area in southwest Florida as the Everglades to Gulf Conservation Area, which will allow USFWS to work with landowners to protect agricultural land with conservation easements.

He was also instrumental in protecting nearly 1,500 acres of Blackbeard’s Ranch with a conservation easement.

Jim has served as President of the Florida Cattleman’s Association, Past Chairman of the Florida Cattleman’s Foundation, and Chairman of the National Cattleman’s Beef Association PAC, the Florida Agriculture Center and Horse Park and is Co-Chair of the Florida Climate Smart Agriculture Work Group.

Jim was named Audubon Florida’s Sustainable Rancher of the year in 2019 and recognized as one of Florida Trend’s 500 Most Influential Business Leaders for 2018 and 2019.

George Isaacs, General Manager, Bridlewood Farm and HFF Director, Sara Powell Fennessy, HFF Executive Director, Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, CEO, Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation, Wilton Simpson, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, Mary Jane Hunt, HFF Founder, Jim Strickland, Florida rancher, Busy Shires, HFF Director of Conservation, Bernie Little, HFF Founder and President

Busy Shires, Director of Conservation, Horse Farms Forever high fives Jim Strickland

Nancy DiMaggio, Volunteer, Horse Farms Forever

Heather Traynham Wright, Ann Louise Drake, Holland and Barbara Drake

Debbie and Jorge Garcia-Bengochea from Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses and HFF Founder Mary Jane Hunt

Thank You To Our Sponsors!

It is the vision and mission of Horse Farms Forever to inspire conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats, to protect soil and water on which they depend, and minimize land use conflicts
in Marion County, Florida.

We are watchful of government and others to preserve and protect horse farms and farmland for future generations - especially in the Farmland Preservation Area. We are neither anti-growth nor anti-development; we encourage urban growth to remain inside the Urban Growth Boundary.

Horse Farms Forever® is a Florida not-for-profit corporation registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a charitable organization and approved as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation by the Internal Revenue Service. Horse Farms Forever® does not have a political mission. Our status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization does not allow us to participate or intervene in political activities. The organization will neither advocate on behalf of political candidates nor advocate for the passage of legislation.


The Lasting Legacy of the Drake Ranch

The Lasting Legacy of the Drake Ranch

The Drake Ranch is a historic ranch that has been passed down through four generations of the Drake family. The Drakes are one of the first pioneering families to settle in Florida in the 1870s. Over 125 years later, they are also one of the first families to protect their land with a conservation easement in Marion County.

James Drake, the patriarch of the Drake family, served as President of the Gulf Railroad Company and built the first railroad line going south of Jacksonville to Eustis, FL in 1871.

Several members of the Drake family settled in the historic district of Ocala and also helped shape Florida’s history as accomplished architects and builders, pioneers of the fern industry, and as community leaders in the real estate, construction, banking, business, and non-profit community.

The third generation of the Drakes in Florida, Trusten P. Drake, Jr., built a large cattle ranch and timber business that encompassed over 22,000 acres. Over the years, parcels of the ranch were placed in a conservation easement or sold to neighboring families, but the Drakes retained ownership of a large portion of the ranch.

Photo Credit: Mark Emery

The fourth generation of the Drake family owns and manages the historic Drake Ranch as a partnership. The legacy of two brothers, Trusty and K have now passed the Drake Ranch to their six children. Trusten (Trusty) Polk Drake, III and his wife Charline had three children, Laura Drake McDonald, Lisa Drake Lancaster, & Robert Polk Drake. George MacKay (K) Drake, Sr. and his first wife Martha Durlene had three children, Ann Louise Drake, George MacKay Drake, Jr., & Trusten Holland Drake.

Hover over the photos & use the arrows to click through to view photos from the Drake Ranch.

Photos Courtesy of: Mark Emery

The Drake Ranch now has one of the largest conservation easements of any private land in Marion County. In 2002, two brothers with a deep love of Florida’s wilderness and wildlife, Trusten (Trusty) P. Drake, III & George MacKay (K) Drake, Sr. preserved 5,800 acres of the ranch by placing it in a conservation easement with the Southwest Florida Water Management District where its natural lands would never be developed.

Protecting the legacy of the Drake Ranch was a decision made by the Drake brothers, and whole heartedly embraced by the large extended Drake family who take great pride in knowing that their land will forever be protected. The Drakes hold a deep-rooted love for the land and their commitment to protecting it’s natural beauty has been handed down through the generations.

“The family has a long tradition of responsible stewardship of the land,” said Ann Louise Drake. “We all grew up at the ranch and it’s just such a big part of our family.”

The ranch holds significant conservation value as it protects 6.5 miles on the east side of the scenic Withlacoochee River and is part of the Gum Slough project area that encompasses 23,777 acres. Pristine uplands and primeval wetlands help protect the water quality of the river and provide for wildlife habitat.

Florida Wildife Corridor Includes Drake Ranch

The ranch is also a critical connection in the statewide Florida Wildlife Corridor as it helps connect nearby conservation lands including the Halpata Tastanaki Nature Preserve, Ross Prairie Wildlife Management Area, and the Goethe State Forest.

The Corridor comprises nearly 18 million acres of contiguous wilderness and privately owned working lands crucial to the survival of many of Florida’s species, including the Florida panther. One of the goals of the Corridor is to protect privately owned ranching and fishing lands with conservation easements and since these lands stay in private ownership, they remain in the family and also support large sectors of Florida’s economy.

For the Drake family, the protection of the Drake Ranch was about much more than protecting the unique land and wilderness areas, it was also about protecting a lasting family legacy and a piece of Florida’s history.
Horse Farms Forever thanks the Drake Family for their stewardship and conservation of the Drake Ranch, one of the irreplaceable crown jewels in Marion County. 
The mission of Horse Farms Forever is to inspire the conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats, to protect soil and water on which they depend. 
Horse Farms Forever also helps connect landowners, that are interested in conserving their land, with one of our partner conservation organizations. 

Conserving land is primarily about preventing it from being subdivided. This is accomplished with a conservation easement, which protects natural and agricultural values while keeping land in private ownership. Landowners that protect their land with a conservation easement, may also qualify for powerful financial and tax incentives.

From L to R: Trusten (Trusty) Polk Drake, III and George MacKay (K) Drake, Sr. in the early days of Drake Construction Co. Together, they built several historic and significant buildings for the City of Ocala, (including Ocala City Hall), the College of Central Florida, and the University of Florida.

Trusten Holland Drake & his two sons, Kendall and Dylan Drake, continue the family legacy of building in Central Florida as the Owners of Drake Construction Services, Inc.

The first families to settle in the area were the Drakes and the MacKays in the 1870s. In 1871, James E. Drake, as President of the Gulf Railroad Company, built the first railroad line going south of Jacksonville to Eustis, Florida. George MacKay, Trusten Holland Drake’s Great Grandfather, was an early 1900’s architect and builder, who built several historic landmarks in Ocala including the original Marion County Courthouse.

K Drake, in front of his father’s bulldozer which cleared a lot of the ranch pre-1950. This picture was taken after K restored the tractor around 1990.

From L to R: K and Trusty with their horse Ace. Trusty is on the right holding the lead rope.

L to R: K and Trusty with a wild turkey at the Drake Ranch.

K Drake at home surrounded by some of his favorite flowers, Azaleas and Coral honeysuckle.

Trusty at home on the way to one of his children’s weddings in front of his house with his pet hogs.

Gaiter, Florida is a pioneer town no longer exists, but the Drake family has maintained the old wooden building that was once used as the Post Office for Gaiter as a piece of Florida’s history. The map from the early 1900’s shows the location of Gaiter along the Withlacoochee River.

Always Watching

We work hard to keep you informed, and to represent our members' interests in preserving our horse farms, farmland and the unique character and culture of Marion County's 193,000 acre Farmland Preservation Area.

Join the herd. Every voice matters.

Applications Still Accepted for Land Development Regulation Commission

Applications Still Accepted for Land Development Regulation Commission

Marion County is still accepting applications for the vacancy on the Land Development Regulation Commission (LDRC) until Monday, November 27 at 5:00 PM. The County Commission will make the appointment at the regularly scheduled Commission meeting on Tuesday, December 19.

While the website with the application link has not been updated yet, the County staff confirmed that the vacancy is still open.

In addition, the County accepts applications for all Advisory Boards at any time of the year, even if there is not a vacancy for an Advisory Board. The County holds submitted applications for 365 days and, if there is a vacancy, the County reaches out to applicants when vacancies occur to make sure they are still interested in serving on the board.

Residents who want to learn about Marion County’s citizen advisory boards may contact the commission office at 352-438-2323 for more information.

Land Development Regulation Commission (1 Full Member – Unexpired Term 11/2024)

Members shall be qualified electors in Marion County, and should be representative of the technical fields related to land development regulations, including the ability to evaluate & recommend specific regulatory standards & criteria. Preferably familiar with the areas of planning, environmental science, agriculture and the development industry.

John and Shirley Rudnianyn Honored with the Acorn Conservation Award

John and Shirley Rudnianyn Honored with the Acorn Conservation Award

Horse Farms Forever® is honored to announce John and Shirley Rudnianyn, as the recipients of the 2023 Acorn Conservation Award, which will be presented at the upcoming Conservation Summit on November 16th at Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.

The Acorn Conservation Award is given to an individual or family who has made a significant contribution to the preservation of land and horse farms in Marion County.

Horse Farms Forever chose John and Shirley as this year’s honorees because of their lifelong love and stewardship of land in Marion County. Their homestead is located at Blitch Plantation, a 4,500-acre farm utilized for timber, cattle, and wildlife.

John and Shirley are deeply connected to their natural surroundings and are dedicated to preserving the beauty and integrity of the land. Visitors who journey through Blitch Plantation often leave with a renewed connection to the environment and a profound understanding of the need for conservation. Their hands-on approach includes reforestation, wildlife habitat restoration, and hosting educational programs aimed at helping others and the next generation of environmental advocates.

They were recently involved in the acquisition of approximately 18,000 acres in the Fort McCoy area and have assembled a team of land specialists to assist in the restoration of the Ft McCoy properties which include foresters, soil and wetland scientists, the Saint Johns River Water Management District, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Ducks Unlimited, and Quail Forever. Management plans include timber, cattle, and variety land enhancements to benefit wildlife which will include sustainable harvesting opportunities for hunters and their families.

“The Ft McCoy properties are really cool. We’ve admired them for over 50 years,” said John. “There is so much wildlife with nearly every major Florida species represented except Florida panthers!”

The Ft McCoy Forest properties are key parcels of land in the Florida Wildlife Corridor which could help connect the Ocala National Forest to Paynes Prairie State Preserve and the Osceola National Forest. John is currently working to try to conserve a large portion of the Ft McCoy properties through several Florida conservation programs

John was also instrumental in protecting the 465-acre Silver Springs Sandhill near Silver Springs State Park, as his family along with the Albright family were landowners of the property. Jim Couillard on behalf of Marion County and Conservation Florida managed a public/private partnership to protect the property in 2017.

“This was the last, large undeveloped property located in Silver Springs and it was entitled for over 1,800 homes. The landowners felt the benefit to Silver Springs and the recreational opportunities for Marion County residents far outweighed the allure of developing homes less than a mile from the main spring,” said John in a Conservation Florida press release.

While John, Shirley, and their family are large landowners in Marion County, they see themselves as land stewards. “In the scheme of things, we’re only here for a short period of time,” he said. “Both Shirley and I love the land and the opportunity to share it with others.”

John and Shirley’s influence reaches far and wide, as they advocate for responsible land management, sustainable practices, and the protection of natural resources. For the Rudnianyn family, working the land is a family tradition, which includes three sons, who are all deeply involved with the family land business as either real estate investment managers, brokers, contractors, or developers.

Please join us in honoring John and Shirley Rudnianyn with the 2023 Acorn Conservation Award.

About John Rudnianyn

John’s parents were Ukrainian immigrants and he grew up on a chicken farm in Summerfield. John attended Lake Weir High School, College of Central Florida, Florida State University, and graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in Real Estate and Urban Planning. One of his first jobs was working on a muck farm. This experience of “working the land” set the seeds for a lifelong love of owning land.

He is a Certified Commercial Investment Member, Accredited Land Consultant, and owns International Property Services. John has structured virtually every type of real estate transaction conceivable in his 55-year career. He specializes in land acquisition, entitlement, marketing and development and has worked with thousands of properties including many within the Farmland Preservation area.

Photos courtesy of Sean M. Dowie