Nathan Collier: Deal is good but limited precedent for conservation


Published: Sunday, July 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 19, 2013 at 8:02 p.m.

I would like to clarify some points and add some perspective about my offer of a $1 million gift to the city of Gainesville in exchange for five acres, approximately 3 percent of the 159 acres of wetlands in the Eighth Avenue corridor.

I like to consider it a gift because the $1 million is 92 percent a gift and 8 percent a purchase, enabling the city to purchase up 20 times comparable acreage, an incredible win for conservation in many folks' minds.

I have lived on this land for 30 years and I unabashedly love it. Coming home to these woods, these towering trees, is like entering an emerald cathedral. Even after all these years I feel nurtured by nature's embrace.

My intent is not to develop this land in any way. I simply want it as a privacy buffer. The land comes with conservation zoning. I do not intend to try to change the conservation zoning and I can't imagine the city ever agreeing.

I like to think I live “lightly on the land” and most of the 4.5 acres that I have now is in the same forested condition is was when I purchased the land over three decades ago.

The remaining 154 acres will remain accessible on the north side from 11th Avenue and an additional amount above the $1 million has been set aside to relocate and improve an existing informal trail, as well for the city to carefully re-locate the Godfrey's privet and milkvine that is of ecological value.

Around 97 percent of this land will still be accessible by anyone, and will have a better trail for biking, walking and enjoying nature. Citizens will also have other nice places to enjoy that the $1 million will enable the city to purchase. I have also agreed to pay closing costs for both sides, which are not insignificant in a sale of this size.

Some are concerned about the precedent of selling conservation land. While I'd like to think that a precedent that allows you to potentially put 20 times more land into conservation is a good precedent, it is also an extremely limited precedent. First, because the city is not likely to face many $1 million, 20-times value opportunities.

Secondly, the main reason this land can be sold is that it was not purchased with public money, but donated to the city without restriction by Phil Emmer in the 1980s. Mr. Emmer is strongly supporting its sale, because he understands just how much the $1 million I have offered could purchase in other conservation or recreation resources.

Most of the lands in the city's conservation inventory could not be sold in this way, because of a combination of grant restrictions, bond covenants or placement on the Registry of Public Places. More than 900 acres of property in the city's conservation portfolio, 11 parks so far, are on this registry, which prevents their sale without extraordinary hurdles. More will be added.

Since 2009, the city has acquired 318 acres of natural land for $3.12 million, which comes out to $9,795 per acre. The $1 million I have offered for this small piece of land equates to 45 percent of all the funds received by the city for natural lands purchased through Wild Spaces, Public Places ($2.24 million). For $1 million, the city could purchase 102 acres at the prices they have paid over the past three years, 20 times more than the five acres I am seeking

Obviously, this land has unique and special value to me. My hope was that my offer would enable the city to acquire so large an additional amount of land that it would be viewed as a laudable public-private conservation partnership, with private funds creating the opportunity to obtain much more land to be set aside for future generations to enjoy.

Nathan S. Collier is principal and chairman of The Collier Companies, a developer, manager and owner of multifamily housing with headquarters in Gainesville.

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