It is one of the largest ranches in the country, 20 times bigger than Manhattan and 10 times bigger than DisneyWorld, one hour away in central Florida. Now plans are underway to convert Deseret Ranch into a massive new city by 2080. The project proposed by the Mormon church, owners of the ranch, may be home to half a million people, the Guardian reports. The plan would create more than 16 communities, with office blocks and high-rise hotels. Officials in 2015 approved development of about half of Deseret's 290,000 acres, with tens of thousands of acres to be preserved as conservation and ranch land. Environmentalists say that is not enough. They are fighting "David and Goliath" style to protect the state's "last remaining wilderness" from the urban sprawl that has transformed much of the Sunshine State, activist Karina Veaudry tells the Guardian.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began buying up ranch land in the area in 1950 for the purposes of food production and has about 40,000 heads of cattle, per the AP. Orchards grow oranges for Tropicana. Founder Joseph Smith imagined small, self-sufficient agrarian cities for his flock, per the Guardian, though the church's vast real estate holdings today—which eclipsed $35 billion in 2012, per Reuters—far exceed that vision. The church owns 1 million acres in several states, plus residential and commercial property like a $1.5 billion shopping mall in Salt Lake City. Debate is sure to continue in Florida since ground won't break on the new project for two decades. (Mormon plans high-tech utopia in Vermont.)