Plum Creek project is moving foward
Published: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 26, 2009 at 11:42 p.m.
Plum Creek, a 1,700-acre housing development proposed for north Gainesville on U.S. 441, received the necessary land-use changes Monday night to move forward with development of 1,800 homes.
In comparison, the already completed Haile Plantation development is roughly 2,600 homes on about 1,700 acres.
Despite concerns raised by the local chapter of the Sierra Club about the density of the Plum Creek development in an environmentally sensitive area, commissioners approved the proposal unanimously.
"This property is not important because it is pristine, it is important because it forms the headwaters of several major creeks," said Rob Brinkman, the head of the local Sierra Club. "We're having enough problems with surface water already. The last thing we need to be doing is impacting (creeks) where they start."
Although Brinkman was critical of the size of the development, he praised the developer, Plum Creek Timber Company Inc., for its concessions that would lessen the environmental impact.
The Florida Department of Community Affairs raised concerns over a number of the development's impacts, not only on the environment, but also on traffic and sprawl.
"It's going to be a much better plan as a result," said Todd Powell, director of development for Plum Creek, of the changes in the final plan. "It's part of the growth management plan in Florida. This is just an example of how it's supposed to work."
Plum Creek is the largest private land owner in the United States and owns huge tracts in Alachua County for forestry harvesting.
The 1,700-acre area that is now ripe for development straddles U.S. 441 on the very northern limits of the city of Gainesville - in fact part of the land was annexed only recently.
Powell said to combat sprawl concerns Plum Creek modified the urban community center to be larger and more dense. This area will be on 90 acres and will include a maximum of 100,000 square feet of retail in addition to 668 residential units.
The other parts of the land will be a mixture of wetlands preserved through conservation dedication, low-density housing and single-family housing.
Meanwhile, another development, at the same stage in the land-use changing process, was continued while the applicant awaits the possible adoption of a more favorable airport-noise zone map.
The long-debated and controversial Hatchet Creek development proved to still be just that Monday night after a series of public hearings since October 2007.
"We really are reliving the same thing over and over," Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan said, concluding her argument that the petition should be extended and not denied. "I'm sorry I'm just getting worn out."
Located on about 500 acres, Hatchet Creek would have a maximum of 1,500 homes and 500 assisted-living facility beds.
Although questions also have been raised about the wetlands and creek headwaters on the Hatchet Creek parcel, the main controversy has been the potential impact of airport noise on the development.
At one point Monday night, when things were looking unfavorable for the New York-based developer, Robert Simensky, his attorney asked to withdraw the land-use petition.
"It is with regret that I have just e-mailed and asked Mr. Simensky and he has authorized me to withdraw the application at this time," said Linda Shelley with the law firm Fowler White Boggs. "That is a very difficult thing for the applicant because it will be a do-over for a number of public hearings."
Hanrahan persuaded Shelley to not withdraw the petition and then the commission voted 4-3 to extend the petition, with Hanrahan and Commissioners Scherwin Henry, Jack Donovan and Jeanna Mastrodicasa in favor.
Commissioners Thomas Hawkins, Craig Lowe and Lauren Poe voted against the motion for an extension, voicing support of denying the application.
"The potential of transforming this particular area will bring about a substantive and significant change to the east Gainesville community," Henry said. "The applicant does have rights to just put homes out there ... but he wants to bring a quality development to this area."
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