Workshop promotes talk about Plum Creek


Published: Tuesday, September 2, 2014 at 9:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 3, 2014 at 10:05 a.m.

HAWTHORNE — Signs decorated the yards of homes all across the city of Hawthorne, both opposing and supporting a plan to develop the east side of Alachua County. On Tuesday night, the owners of many of those homes filled the auditorium at Hawthorne Middle/High School.

The county held a workshop Tuesday night at the school to allow residents to comment and ask questions about the Plum Creek Timber Co.'s plan for mixed residential and commercial development of about 60,000 acres in eastern Alachua County.

Before the floor opened for public comments, Steve Lachnicht, director of the Alachua County Growth Management Department, gave a presentation outlining some of the key issues with Plum Creek's “Envision Alachua” plan, which would include the development of 10,500 homes and over 15.5 million square feet of nonresidential development.

Lachnicht outlined the goals of the county's development policies and how Plum Creek's application for the development fits in with that.

Among the issues touched upon were conservation of natural resources, preventing sprawl and promoting diverse opportunities in employment.

County staff released a 137-page report Friday with an initial recommendation of rejecting the Envision Alachua plan, but the dialogue is far from over.

Another major issue is that a lot of people don't want a new city springing up next door to them, Lachnicht said. Envision Alachua doesn't adequately provide for protection of natural resources and lacks the needed urban infrastructure, Lachnicht said. The plan is also inconsistent with the county's policy of promoting development in designated urban clusters, he said.

After Lachnicht spoke, the first of several public workshops on the issue saw residents sharing comments, questions and concerns.

Jeff Knee, from the Gainesville Development Review Board, said the emphasis that the county places on development within urban clusters is misguided.

“You should be focusing on the east side, where we need (development),” Knee said.

By allowing Plum Creek to go through with Envision Alachua, the residents of cities like Hawthorne will be able to see some prosperity, several proponents said.

Frank Morey came to the microphone with questions about Plum Creek’s assertions that the development would create new jobs.

“What types of jobs does Plum Creek plan to produce?” he asked.

Morey then asked why housing development would be needed in the first place if the jobs Plum Creek promises to bring to the area are intended for nearby residents who already have housing and infrastructure.

Although many of the residents who spoke made a clear stance for or against the plan, some just wanted more details.

Randy Kaufman asked what kinds of transportation arrangements would be in place for people to get to possible jobs in the new development.

Earnest Ellis said the east side of the county has been left behind while the west side of the county thrives.

“I am struggling to support my family,” Ellis said. “We need more stable jobs with reasonable wages (on the east side).”

Plum Creek offers a unique opportunity to increase the standard of living for the area, and it could also attract more diversity to the communities of eastern Alachua County, Ellis said.

Scot Camil, representing the Stand By Our Plan group, which opposes Envision Alachua, said he supports the county staff’s initial recommendation to deny the application on nearly every basis.

The development will result in a classic case of sprawl and will embody poorly controlled growth, Camil said. Plum Creek’s only real plan is to increase the value of the land it owns, he added.

Throughout the rest of the evening, the debate swung back and forth between those supporting the plan on the basis of bringing jobs to the area, and those opposing it because they said the plan would negatively impact the environment, bring suburban sprawl and ruin what they see as a quiet refuge from overpopulated urban lifestyles.

Envision Alachua will be a big issue moving forward, said County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson.

At this stage, the county is waiting to get more feedback from residents at four workshops, the first of which was Tuesday night.

The county will compile the questions from the workshops and provide written responses grouped by topic on the website for the Alachua County Department of Growth Management.

The next workshop will be held Thursday from 5-8:30 p.m. in the Eastside High School auditorium. Two more will be held and televised from the Alachua County Administration Building in downtown Gainesville on Sept. 16 and Sept. 22.

After the four workshops, county staff will consider the additional information presented at the four sessions and prepare a final report. Then, there will be public hearings with local planning agencies and a recommendation will be made to the Alachua County Commission.

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