Nathan Collier offers city $1 million for nature park land near his house
Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 5:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 5:20 p.m.
Gainesville apartment magnate Nathan Collier has made the city a $1 million offer.
Citing privacy and safety concerns, Collier has offered that much to purchase a 5.7-acre piece of Loblolly Woods North Nature Park that backs up to his house.
Collier's representatives, who include former Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan, say carving out that slice will have little overall impact on Loblolly North, which covers some 63 acres north of Northwest Eighth Avenue and a short distance west of Northwest 22nd Terrace.
During a discussion of the offer at a Monday afternoon meeting of the City Commission's Recreation, Cultural Affairs and Public Works Committee, Collier's representatives also maintained that the $1 million would bring a significant windfall -- an appraiser hired by Collier valued the property at $75,000 -- that the city could put toward the purchase of other conservation lands.
More than a dozen residents and representatives of environmental organizations attended the meeting and almost all of them came in opposition. Their concerns included the precedent of city commissioners selling off conservation property whenever a large sum of money is dangled in front of them.
"The community isn't saying let's sell the land," environmentalist Francine Robinson said. "The community is saying let's keep the land for ourselves and generations to come."
Beyond that, there was the argument that, if the city chooses to sell the land, the money needs to be earmarked for conservation purchases.
There was also uncertainty whether the property, if sold, would be fenced off -- an eight-foot-high fence wraps Collier's property now -- or possibly built on. With its current conservation zoning designation and 5.7-acre size, one home could legally go on the land.
Arthur Stockwell, another Collier representative, said Collier has had issues with individuals coming to his fence and looking into his home. Because of that, he wants to move his fence line farther out, Stockwell said.
At one point during the meeting, a frustrated opponent of the sale offer said that, if Collier wants to be a part of the community, "he doesn't need a fortress with a moat."
Collier's homestead is bounded by Northwest Eighth Avenue and Northwest 22nd Terrace and, to the west, the park land in question. Residents who use the park say that area is well-traveled by those who come to the park to walk their dogs.
Nearby resident Sal Locascio, who fought a successful battle in the late '90s to prohibit paved trails in the Hogtown Creek Greenway, countered that the area of the park near Collier's home should be off limits to the public because it is away from the city's trail system.
"The city is in fact intruding into his backyard," Locascio said of Collier.
Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Director Steve Phillips said because that area is away from the city's established trail system, city staff does "not encourage" its use by visitors to the nature park.
As it stands, the three city commissioners on the Recreation, Cultural Affairs and Public Works Committee -- Susan Bottcher, Todd Chase and Thomas Hawkins -- unanimously voted to forward the issue to the full City Commission with no recommendation for or against it.
Bottcher said the money from the sale could go into other park priorities, like the continued development of the city's recreational trail system. Still, after hearing public input, she said, at this point, that she would oppose the sale.
"It's easy to be tempted by a big fat check with a lot of zeroes on it," she said.
Hawkins said he rejected the notion that the city would be setting a precedent with a sale and each decision is made on a case by case basis. He said $1 million could be a significant boost to the city's conservation land acquisition fund.
Chase said the sale would not "fundamentally change the use of the land" or the park and could raise money for the city's parks department.
Collier's offer is headed to the full Commission for discussion at the same time that staff is drafting a proposed policy for the disposal of conservation lands that are declared surplus. Under the policy, any such land would have to be put out for bid and the money raised from a sale would have to go back into the park system -- for construction, maintenance or other conservation purchases.
As it stands, the city puts general fund monies toward greenspace acquisition on an annual basis but has spent or allocated all the approximately $2.6 million the Wild Spaces and Public Places voter-approved sales tax raised for the purchase of environmentally sensitive lands, Phillips said.
The full City Commission is not expected to discuss Collier's offer until next year.
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.