Residents offer input on plans for east Alachua County

The public is invited to learn about and discuss the long-term plans for Plum Creek during the Envision Alachua community workshop on Thursday at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multipurpose Center in Gainesville.

Elizabeth Hamilton / Correspondent
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 10:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 10:41 p.m.

East Gainesville missed out on economic growth as Gainesville spread toward Interstate 75 and businesses have been closing in Hawthorne in recent years, but the people at a community workshop Thursday night looked at the forest in between and saw nothing but opportunity.

The Plum Creek timber company convened the Envision Alachua workshop at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multipurpose Center in Citizens Park on Thursday to take ideas from the community as it develops a master plan for its land.

With 65,000 acres, Plum Creek is the largest private landowner in Alachua County.

Todd Powell, senior director of real estate for Plum Creek, said they are working on a plan that balances the needs for conservation and economic development.

Several speakers said there is a need to provide job opportunities for people at all education levels — "from GED to Ph.D."

"Not everyone is a research scientist," said moderator Daniel Iacofano. "We need drivers, service workers, machine operators …"

Iacofano said there are opportunities for areas that are prepared as manufacturing and agriculture are returning to America's shores.

Rose Fagler, community relations manager for Plum Creek, said U.S. 301 is the main truck route between Jacksonville and Tampa and the adjacent rail line is CSX's main north-south route, presenting opportunities as Jacksonville looks to deepen its port to take advantage of larger ship traffic from the widened Panama Canal.

Hawthorne already has areas zoned for industrial use with infrastructure in place.

Consultant Dale Brill, formerly president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation, said the economic development effort aims to build on 10 years of momentum in Alachua County.

Brill said he and Plum Creek are analyzing which industries are growing locally, trying to match those with resources and research at UF, and develop a marketing plan.

More than 100 people from all parts of the county participated in the workshop.

The crowd broke into six smaller groups to talk about opportunities for the land and came back with numerous ideas that included:

- Developing the area around the State Road 20/U.S. 301 interchange for industry.

- Opening a CSX railroad stop in Hawthorne.

- Promoting outdoor recreation and tourism with camping or a resort.

- Attracting a large manufacturing plant or anchor industry that would draw spinoff businesses.

- Attracting retail and restaurants.

- Preserving an easement that links forests to the north and south of Alachua County.

- Holding college classes in Hawthorne.

- Building in rules to develop with environmentally sustainable practices.

- Preserving the character and history of small towns such as Rochelle, Windsor and Grove Park.

- Developing agriculture industries.

- Providing transportation such as bus service.

- Developing a research park.

- Building affordable housing.

- Including other private landowners in planning so they can take advantage of opportunities.

The community workshop was the first of Phase II of Plum Creek's Envision Alachua process that includes meetings with a task force of 30 volunteers and a new task force of local and state officials to advise Plum Creek on land-use regulations.

After 18 months, Powell said they are at the beginning stages and nothing has been decided. He said Plum Creek is working with Alachua County on a sector plan — a 50-year master plan for large land holdings.

Plum Creek stands to gain continued timber rights on conservation land while the land designed for development becomes more valuable, Powell said.

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