Plum Creek prepares to submit plan to the public

Published: Monday, December 2, 2013 at 11:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 2, 2013 at 11:30 p.m.

With a meeting Monday night in east Gainesville and another planned for Saturday in Hawthorne, Plum Creek is taking its final public workshops to the communities with the most to gain as it prepares to submit a long-term master plan for its 65,000 acres in Alachua County.


If you go

The meeting in Hawthorne Saturday at Shell Elementary starts with registration and refreshments at 10 a.m. and has a community workshop from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

The timber company — the largest private landowner in the county — plans to submit the master plan to county planning staff Dec. 13, starting what could be a nearly year-long process that the company hopes will end in approval from the County Commission toward the end of next year.

More than 60 people at the MLK Community Center on Monday got a glimpse of the plan that Plum Creek and its consultants have been crafting with ideas from a task force of 30 people and meetings attended by nearly 1,500 people over the past 2 years.

The focus of the company’s Envision Alachua process has been on a 17,000-acre Windsor tract between Newnan’s Lake and Hawthorne.

The company is proposing to develop 11,000 acres for commercial and residential use that would include up to 14 million square feet of office, research and development, and advanced manufacturing space, with a goal of creating 30,000 jobs over the 50-year outlook for the plan. The “employment-oriented mixed use” area would also include up to 10,500 homes.

At least 30 percent of the mixed-use area would be set aside for green space, so about 7,500 acres of the 11,000 would be developed.

The proposal puts 23,000 acres in conservation, preventing future development while Plum Creek keeps the timber rights. The company already has 24,000 acres in conservation in the county.

Another 2,300 acres in the Windsor tract would be for agricultural use.

Most of the Windsor property is already zoned agriculture, which would allow one home per five acres. The proposal would further limit that to one home per 40 acres.

In an interview, Tim Jackson, Plum Creek director of real estate, said the agriculture designation would allow more intense uses than the company’s current tree farming operations, such as row crops, blueberries or pecans.

Plum Creek would also create a buffer designated rural land on 340 acres surrounding the town of Windsor. That could include one home per five acres, recreation, conservation, tree farming and roads.

The master plan will be submitted as a rarely used sector plan available for properties of 15,000 acres or more. The plan would go to county planning staff for review before it goes to the county planning commission — an appointed board — for a recommendation to the county commission, which would hold a public hearing to decide whether to submit it to the state for review before a final public meeting by the county commission to consider adopting the plan.

Plum Creek would still have to submit detailed specific area plans for subsectors that show the density and intensity of uses such as the number of buildings and maximum square feet.

The company has emphasized that its first priority is to lure employers to the areas closest to east Gainesville and Hawthorne.

Jackson said economic development consultant Dale Brill has been working with the University of Florida to see what companies UF researchers are working with that they could try to recruit. The example company officials have cited is the potential for a large agribusiness company to work with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences while using the agriculture land for crop research.

After breaking into small groups to collect ideas from the audience, moderators reported hearing several concerns, including that the proposed conservation area in the Windsor tract is narrow. The conservation area includes a strip that runs north and south over Lochloosa Creek varying from 2,000 feet to 1 mile wide, plus a strip that juts to the west to connect to the Newnan’s Lake Conservation Area.

Gerry Dedenbach, a civil engineer, said someone was worried about what the development would do to their rural quality of life after they invested their life savings to live in solitude.

Steve Seibert, a member of the task force, said he heard concern about being able to protect the good things in the plan over time, “so that development doesn’t occur the way it often does in Florida.”

He also heard that some of the communities need economic development now even though it is a long-term plan.

“You’ve got to build some credibility,” he said. “Something needs to occur sooner rather than later.”

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