Collier drops $1 million offer for Loblolly land


Published: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 3:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 4:38 p.m.

Area student apartment magnate Nathan Collier has withdrawn his $1 million offer to buy from the city of Gainesville five acres of Loblolly Woods Nature Park behind his homestead.

In an email sent to city officials Tuesday, Collier said the conditions the city planned to attach to the purchase made it "untenable" for him.

"I continue to believe that selling five acres of land (leaving almost 180 acres) that was donated to the city at no cost for $200,000 per acre would have enabled purchase of several times more land, or acquisition of an iconic property such as Glen Springs, but I accept that the staff and many members of the public did not see the gain in such a proposal," Collier wrote.

The City Commission was scheduled to decide on Sept. 5 whether to deem the property as surplus, which would have allowed the city to put the property up for sale. Collier, who has pursued purchase of the land since 2008, was the only prospective bidder.

The possible sale of conservation land stirred public opposition and a Save Loblolly Woods Facebook page. Tom Ankersen, a member of the group, said residents wanted to protect the oasis of woods and wildlife in the heart of the city. He said his son, who had frequented the trails in the property since he was "old enough to hold up his head," now rides his mountain bike through the woods there.

"It's excellent news obviously," Ankersen said of Collier dropping his offer. "I expect the city won't revisit this anytime soon."

With Collier's offer withdrawn, the Save Loblolly Woods group now will turn its attention to urging the City Commission to put the whole of the park property, which stretches north and south of Northwest Eighth Avenue, on the city's registry of protected places.

Once a property is on the registry, which voters required the Commission to establish in a 2009 referendum that passed with 80 percent support, the city cannot sell it or change its land use without voter approval in a referendum.

Collier owns a large homestead, with two houses wrapped by a tall wood fence, adjacent to the park off Northwest 22nd Terrace and Northwest Eighth Avenue. The land he sought to buy out of the park is to the north and west of his property.

Collier, who has purchased multiple houses near his property, said he wanted to use the piece of Loblolly land as buffer to increase his peace and security. In talks with city staff, he also discussed the possibility of one day building a home for family on the property.

In May, the City Commission voted 4-3 to move toward surplusing the land, with a series of conditions attached to a sale.

Those proposed conditions limited the area to be sold to 4.99 acres or less, set a minimum bid price of $200,000 an acre, put all money from a sale toward the acquisition of environmental properties and sought during negotiations to put a conservation easement on some areas, including where the endangered plant species Godfrey's Privet is growing.

The acreage cap cast uncertainty on whether the land could be built on. The conservation zoning district the land carries allows one home on a minimum of five acres.

A city staff report noted that, if the property were sold and had its zoning changed in the future, it could potentially have more than three homes built per acre.

Staff recommended a conservation easement on the entire property as "an enduring assurance that this property will be conserved in perpetuity."

On Tuesday, Collier declined comment.

Former Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan, who represented Collier before the commission, said he had agreed not to build on the property through a deed restriction. She said he also agreed to pay to build a trail in the park to replace the one that would be lost on the land he sought for purchase. But Hanrahan said Collier had concerns about the conditions attached to a conservation easement, which included inspection of the property.

In an email, Hanrahan described the situation as "a lost opportunity for Gainesville."

"There were several very achievable scenarios in which the city could have used the $1 million he offered for 5 acres (that were donated to the city and not obtained with tax or grant funds) to obtain more conservation land, better conservation land, and/or more critical resources, all within a short distance," Hanrahan wrote. "Any number of these scenarios could have increased the quantity, quality, diversity and/or access to public lands that would benefit a larger number of Gainesville citizens, which is, to my mind, a fair representation of the public interest."

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