County plans to revisit trail issue on Tuesday; Haile residents divided


Abby Pace, 9, left, and her sister Allison Pace, 7, take Malichi, left, and Blanch for a walk along the current trail in Haile Plantation on Thursday in Gainesville.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, September 21, 2012 at 6:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 21, 2012 at 6:39 p.m.

Driving down 46th Boulevard, passing sign after sign welcoming you to Haile Plantation's numerous subdivisions, visitors will see two rows of orange-tipped wooden stakes that have divided the neighborhood.

They mark the path of a 2.2-mile section of trail that many residents worry could bring crime into the area while others wonder why their neighbors don't want a new trail to enjoy.

The path would be part of the Archer Braid Trail, which is expected to run from the city of Archer to the University of Florida and eventually connect to the Hawthorne Trail, Transportation Planning Manager Jeff Hays said.

This section would run from Archer Road along 91st Street to 46th Boulevard, also known as Haile Boulevard. From there, it would connect with Tower Road.

The trail is federally funded by the Department of Transportation, with the FDOT overseeing the first phase connecting the city of Archer to Archer Road, Hays said. The portion running from Archer Road to Tower Road, including the Haile section, would cost about $1.2 million.

But opposition from Haile Plantation residents and the homeowners associations that represent them could persuade the Alachua County Commission to ditch the plan.

The commission deadlocked 2-2, with Commissioner Paula DeLaney absent, at a Sept. 4 meeting on whether to approve the Haile portion. It will revisit the issue on Tuesday at a 5 p.m. meeting.

If the commission doesn't approve the trail through Haile, the $750,000 in federal funding to pay for it will be returned for use elsewhere in the district, which includes other counties, Hays said.

Haile Plantation comprises about 2,700 homes, ranging from multimillion-dollar houses to apartments, dispersed among subdivisions where squirrels scamper through front yards and branches draped in moss hang over the roads.

The rows of stakes run parallel along 46th Boulevard by the entrances to these subdivisions and through the grassy swaths between them. Drivers occasionally can glimpse a home between the trees lining the road behind the area where the asphalt trail would go.

Residents have emailed the County Commission to express their support and opposition to the trail. Those opposing it say it would clash with Haile's natural aesthetic and isn't needed since the neighborhood already has several trails, paved and unpaved.

Commissioner Susan Baird, who owns three properties in Haile Plantation, said, "It's going to be a big swath of asphalt, and that's not the look of Haile."

Amelia Barnard, a Haile resident who supports the trail, said it would make it safer for children such as her daughter Raina because they wouldn't have to cross the often-busy 46th Boulevard to ride their bicycles.

Some suggest the county just connect Archer Road straight to Tower Road, a more direct route that would require the addition of a quarter-mile section of trail.

County staff suggest the commission approve adding the quarter-mile piece anyway, which would cost about $140,000. It probably will need to be funded by the county because the area is owned by Gainesville Regional Utilities and likely won't be eligible for federal funding.

Residents opposed to the trail also have cited safety concerns. They worry it would bring strangers into Haile, some of whom could commit crimes in the neighborhood.

"Well, I just don't like a whole bunch of strangers being introduced to the neighborhood," said Lyman Slack, a Haile resident for the past 14 years.

He said the trail would give criminals a way to infiltrate the neighborhood and look for opportunities for crime because they wouldn't stick out like "sore thumbs."

But Barnard said it shouldn't be an issue because Haile Plantation isn't a gated community.

"And frankly, it makes me sick that people in Haile Plantation think that this trail is going to bring some sort of riff-raff through Haile," she said.

Baird said she isn't worried about the trail increasing crime because people could come into the neighborhood and commit crimes right now.

Aside from safety concerns, trail supporters say it would bring more business to the Haile Village Center, which includes restaurants, stores, doctors' offices and more.

Sarah Austin, an employee at Patticakes, a coffee and cupcake shop in the Haile Village Center, said she would be fine with the trail because it would get more people to visit.

Slack, however, said bicyclists might stop for coffee but wouldn't be shopping.

The main homeowners associations in Haile Plantation, including the Haile Plantation Association and Haile Plantation West, have made clear their opposition to the trail running through Haile.

A few residents emailed the commission with concerns that the associations had given the appearance that the entire neighborhood was against the trail when that isn't true.

A neighborhood position statement on the Haile Plantation Association website states residents might need to pay higher homeowners association fees to maintain the trail to the community's standards. It said additional annual maintenance costs would be between $10,000 and $11,000.

Hays said the homeowners associations in Haile Plantation already have chosen to maintain the two county-owned roads along which the trail would run because they want to mow along them more often than the approximately four times a year that the county would mow. The county would handle problems such as cracks in the trail's asphalt or fallen tree branches.

The homeowners associations have mailed homeowners in Haile Plantation a ballot where they can vote whether they want the trail to run through Haile.

Jim Wagner, a Haile resident of about 13 years who supports the trail, said residents are dealing with misinformation on the issue and that the ballot did nothing to clear up those misunderstandings.

It was a lost opportunity, he said, with little time to get accurate information out to residents before they turn in their votes by the Monday deadline.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gvillesun.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/morganwatkins26.

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