Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida

Be Informed.



On Sunday, Feb. 14, the Gainesville Sun published an editorial giving reasons why the public should accept and affirm the Plum Creek plan.  This writer has always supported the Sun in their good work to protect the environment and especially our wetlands and water resources.  Nathan Crabbe gives some logical reasons for his views, but in this instance we feel  there are even stronger reasons to oppose it.

It is just too hard to agree to so many new residents, wells, demolished trees and wetlands.  This medium has published many words of water and environmental experts outlining the negative impact of this project.

We have also noted the slick (“insidious” is an accurate adjective)  methods used by the PR people of that company.  The old, but not out-dated adage “patting someone on the back with razorblades” comes to mind– before we feel the pain, the damage is done— or even worse,  we don’t even realize we have  been hurt.  And the motive for this ostensible good will is  money for Plum Creek.

Eastside High School Auditorium, 1201 SE 43rd St., Gainesville, 5 pm  Tues. Feb. 16

Eastside High School Auditorium, 1201 SE 43rd St. Gainesville 5 pm  Thurs. Feb. 18

These are meetings held by the Alachua County Commissioners.  Please try to attend and voice your opinion on this important issue.

Here is an important link to Mike Byerly’s reasons, shared by environmentalist Ken Cornell, for opposing Plum Creek.

This letter will follow Mr. Crabbe’s editorial at the end of this post.  Keep reading.

Following is the Sun’s editorial:Scroll

Editorial: Take next step on Envision Alachua


CONSERVE WATER – Turn off the tap as much as possible in every activity such as bathing, cleaning, irrigating, and washing. Click here for more ideas.
Published: Sunday, February 14, 2016 at 6:01 a.m.

Last Modified: Wednesday, February 10, 2016 at 11:05 a.m.

It is a mistake to believe things will stay the same in eastern Alachua County if commissioners just reject Plum Creek’s Envision Alachua sector plan.

Plum Creek is a giant timber company turned real estate trust merging with a similar company, Weyerhaeuser. A background in growing trees means they take a long-term outlook on their land.

If the County Commission votes this week to send Envision Alachua to the state for review, it starts a process that means another commission vote within six months and a complicated permitting process after that. If commissioners rule against sending it, Plum Creek is left with options that might leave our county in worse shape.

The land could be developed under current regulations in a less appealing way than under Envision Alachua, with houses fenced off on five-acre lots with their own wells. Or Plum Creek could help elect new commissioners that will pass whatever it proposes, or circumvent the county through annexation or state legislation.

Plum Creek has been criticized for buying good will through its donations to local groups and extensive community meetings. But having a company that responds to input from residents and helps improve the community, even if its motivations are ultimately driven by profit, is better than the alternative.

The company has negotiated in good faith to reduce Envision Alachua’s environmental impact while keeping its economic potential. While environmental concerns remain, particularly involving wetlands, the plan would mean much more responsible development than what is seen in other parts of Florida.

Plum Creek has agreed to keep 22,800 acres as conservation/preservation land, protecting it from development and improving forestry practices on the timber portion. Development would be allowed on 3,380 acres in a way that encourages job creation before home building and allows people to walk or take transit to work.

Plum Creek estimates three jobs being created for every home. Under the plan, no more than 1,500 homes can be built until at least 1 million square feet of nonresidential development is completed. The county is projected to add 50,000 residents over the next two decades, so quality jobs are needed for new residents as well as those already here.

The University of Florida has expressed interest in putting an agricultural campus on the property, conducting research that attracts companies with a similar focus. The site could be an eastern counterpart to the thriving biotech cluster near the city of Alachua.

Already Plum Creek is seeking companies to locate there and on its land annexed into the city of Hawthorne. While some question the benefits for east Gainesville, it is an actual plan to bring economic benefits to a struggling part of the area rather than just vague promises.

County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson recently added a new wrinkle with his proposal to “re-envision” Plum Creek’s plan with a land swap involving the Tacachale community for developmentally disabled individuals. He should be lauded for coming up with ideas for Tacachale before its possible closure and pursue them as the sector plan process continues.

But for now, he and other commissioners should vote to send the Envision Alachua plan to the state for review. The plan deserves at least that step before commissioners take the more consequential vote for final approval later this year.

Envision Alachua would mean well-planned development that brings jobs to a part of the county desperately needing them. Rejecting it might only lead to haphazard development in eastern Alachua County or cause Plum Creek to turn to a plan or elected officials that don’t provide the same benefits to the economy and environment.Scroll

Commissioner Mike Byerly


    • Plum Creek Sector Plan Application

2016-02-10 12:45:00

​Commissioner Robert Hutchinson has released his views on the Plum Creek Sector Plan application. The full text can be found here, titled “Perspective on Envision Alachua’s Plan”:

This is my reply. These written comments were entered into the public record at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting, so they can now be distributed in accordance with Florida’s “Government in the Sunshine” law.

While seemingly sharing the same goals, it appears we’ve arrived at different conclusions regarding Plum Creek. I have my own perspective, but I’m using his comments as a template in order to underscore where our views diverge. This reply is an attempt to understand why they diverge; it’s not a tit-for-tat showdown. I hope it prompts further exchanges among commissioners, something I believe is long overdue.

First, some background. The Alachua County Comprehensive Plan (CP,) is the core public policy document of our county. It outlines where and how growth will unfold in the unincorporated county. With due bureaucratic precision, it is organized around broad foundational Goals, under each of which are more specific Objectives, and finally specific Policies that implement the Goals and Objectives. It also has a map that specifies the “Land Use” designation for every parcel in the unincorporated county. Minor revisions to the “Policies,” intended to more effectively implement the broad “Goals,” are common, as are corresponding tweaks to the map.

Plum Creek wants different rules that would apply only to their land (for now,) that would abandon two of the most foundational components of the entire plan: the growth boundary, and a cluster of enhanced environmental protections for wetlands and significant ecosystems. Plum Creek claims that their proposal is needed because there is no plan for future growth in the eastern part of the county, where all their land happens to be.

The current CP and its implementing regulations took shape over roughly a decade. County staff have recorded some 207 public meetings on the CP during that period, including 60 workshops and 46 public hearings of the Board of County Commissioners and Planning Commission; 58 meetings of more than 15 different citizen advisory committees; 27 Town Meetings, Community Workshops and Public Forums; and (at least) 16 meetings with various stakeholder groups, ranging from the Builders Association of North Central Florida to the Sierra Club.

Countless issue-by-issue compromises were reached during this process, many of them before recommendations ever came to the Board of County Commissioners. In addition, legal challenges and an electoral about-face that brought Lee Pinkoson and Cynthia Chestnut to the Commission led to many more substantial compromises. In the end, a product emerged that everyone on a politically diverse Commission could vote into law, even if we all had hold our noses while doing it.

The CP has remained essentially unchanged over the past decade. It weaves together the common denominator in the often competing public interests of economic growth, social justice, and environmental protection. The county is again growing robustly under its framework, but in a more fiscally prudent and environmentally conscientious direction than previously. In my opinion, it’s the best thing this county has going for it as we grow into an uncertain future.

For what it’s worth, here are some of the accolades our CP has received from those who “do it for a living:”

– 2015 One of 20 plans selected for inclusion in American Planning Association (APA) publication “PAS Essential Info Packet EIP-35.”

– 2012 Better Communities Award, 1000 Friends of Florida

– 2011 Award of Excellence, American Planning Association Florida (Strongest in Livable Built Environment, Harmony with Nature, Interwoven Equity, Healthy Community, Responsible Regionalism, and Characteristics.)

– 2009 Planning Excellence Award, Florida Department of Community Affairs, for Coordinated Land Use and Transportation Planning

Against this, Plum Creek offers the tightly controlled public relations initiative it dubs “Envision Alachua,” and asks that we do it all over on their behalf.

Commissioner Hutchinson appears indifferent to the CP, and equates it dismissively with Plum Creek’s Envision Alachua in his only reference to it: “…both processes were controlled by insiders and delivered outcomes that are unsatisfactory.” He goes on to state that we have “failed to imagine the solution,” and that there has been a “failure to do good planning.” He proposes that we jettison the current plan and embark on an unspecified “other way forward.”

It’s an unfair blanket condemnation that ignores the actual history, throws out an extraordinary amount of good work, and offers nothing concrete in its place. He doesn’t specify how, or why, his process would eject elected “insiders,” and place unelected “outsiders” in control.

I’m one of those “insiders.” I was placed there by the voters of Alachua County to make public policy. I’m not satisfied with the CP, either. However, a modest growth plan is preferable to none at all, and the current CP is as close to an enduring “community consensus” on growth as we’re ever going to get. The alternative is the market-driven free-for-all that has left so many Florida communities unlivable, and that is what Plum Creek really offers.

Specifically, Commissioner Hutchinson lists the three biggest problems he believes our community faces. By inference, the solutions to these problems contained in the CP are the “unacceptable outcomes” mentioned above, though no specifics are cited.

1. “…higher quality jobs, and how to distribute the geography of economic development more equitably.” There is no evidence, or even logical explanation, for the belief that growth on Plum Creek’s land would be different in nature than the growth it would compete with in more suitable parts of the county, and that includes wages. The burden of proof is on Plum Creek, and they’ve offered nothing but advertising. As for “equitable distribution of economic development,” nearly all of the area designated for growth in the CP in the coming decades is closer to East Gainesville than the corresponding Plum Creek land, and isn’t separated from it by miles of lake, swamp, and conservation land. The best hope for East Gainesville is the continuing renaissance of downtown Gainesville, just fifteen blocks away, rather than fifteen miles. And like all sprawl, “Envision Alachua” would undermine urban viability.

2. “How to protect the environment…” This is just bewildering. The CP is fundamentally about this. It’s why it directs growth to existing population centers, mixes land uses, designates areas that are unsuitable for intensive development (like most of Plum Creek’s land,) encourages multimodal transportation, requires clustering of rural development, requires that private development set aside public Open Space, protects wetlands and strategic ecosystems, and so on. How should we improve on this?

3. “How to accommodate the future growth that does not subsidize the patterns of development which are inefficient, costly, and ugly…” In other words, how to contain SPRAWL. This is likewise bewildering. Envision Alachua is the very definition of sprawl; it’s why so many people are opposed to it. It’s why we have a CP, which, if nothing else, seeks to contain sprawl. How should we improve on this?

Our Comprehensive Plan was designed to address all three of these problems, and does so far more effectively than Plum Creek’s proposal. At a minimum, constructive criticism should be accompanied by specific suggestions for improvement. Chances are, any such suggestions were thoroughly considered during the lengthy adoption process.

Commissioner Hutchinson states, “I had hoped for a serious economic analysis by Plum Creek and/or the County….” It’s unclear why this hope would exist. Plum Creek can’t do a serious economic analysis, since they have no idea what form their developments will ultimately take. The market, along with the individual future buyers of their land parcels, each with their own ambitions, will determine that. Moreover, it isn’t the County’s place to conduct economic analyses on private sector business plans.

Commissioner Hutchinson also states that “It would have been better from the outset to delineate a larger area in the eastern county and to plan for the entire area…” This is a common Plum Creek refrain. The CP encompasses, and plans for, the entire county. A core principle of the CP is to direct growth to population centers and their peripheries, to combat sprawl, and for a host of other good reasons. In the eastern county, the areas designated for growth are eastern Gainesville, and the towns of Hawthorne, Micanopy, Waldo, and Melrose. Land designated for growth of all kinds already greatly exceeds market demand.

Which brings us to the essence of the Plum Creek issue: their place in our plan doesn’t maximize value for their shareholders, so they’ve proposed a new plan that does. To the extent that future Jacksonville expansion brings growth to the eastern half of our county, as Plum Creek is banking on, their land would be in direct competition with the more appropriate areas designated for growth by the CP. Plum Creek has no ability to make such growth happen, as they promise; rather, they can see what the future holds, and they’re getting ready for it. The real question for our county: when growth comes to the eastern half of our county, where is the best place for it? Which brings us back to the CP…

Commissioner Hutchinson bemoans the inability of Plum Creek to “…overcome the skepticism that this effort is primarily one of creating speculative real estate value through marketing to our community leaders.” Perhaps people got that skepticism from Plum Creek CEO Rick Holley, who bluntly outlined their intentions to investors in a recent interview:

“One of the key incentives for the company over the past several years has been the entitlement of our most valuable development properties. Through the pursuit of these entitlements, we change the very nature of these assets and create long term value for shareholders. We do not intend to pursue vertical development [construction], or invest a significant amount of capital [infrastructure] into these properties. Rather, our strategy is to spend time and effort to move these properties up the value chain through entitlement and capture that value [sell.]”

Their intentions are clear. The donations to local charities won’t continue forever. The friendly locals hired to shepherd this proposal through the process won’t be making the decisions.

Commissioner Hutchinson pins hope on persuading Plum Creek to change the environmentally destructive way they manage their timberlands, in exchange for granting them entitlements. “…Plum Creek has proposed important changes to their local forestry practices if the Envision Alachua plan moves forward.” No, they haven’t. I have bluntly posed this question to them several times, and did so again two weeks ago. I was given an equally blunt answer: it’s not on the table. I believe them.

He correctly criticizes Plum Creek’s refusal to specify how public infrastructure and services would be provided to their new city, or how it will be paid for. For the reasons outlined above, they can’t do that. However, the CP they want us to abandon offers an appropriate context and process for planning and allocating needs and costs for new development.

Commissioner Hutchinson also outlines an ambitious redevelopment scenario for Tacachale and other lands along the Waldo Road corridor that has left many people scratching their heads. It’s not that this vision isn’t worthy of consideration; it just that it has nothing whatsoever to do with Plum Creek. They aren’t going to use the hypothetical proceeds from selling their land to the state to do philanthropic work in east Gainesville. They’ve already made that perfectly clear.

The end game for Plum Creek problem is to buy their most environmentally significant lands, while allowing development in due course on their lands that are suitable for development, such as parcels adjacent to Hawthorne and along the US 301/CSX rail corridor. The problem is that the area Plum Creek designates for the most intense development is firmly astride what is arguably the most environmentally critical unprotected land in the county. On top of that, why would we precede future land negotiations by dramatically increasing the market value of the very lands we want to acquire with one short-sighted vote?

While many grim possible futures can be imagined, the best we can do now is develop a good land use plan, stick with it, and leave our children with as many open options as we can, so that they can navigate safely through what will undoubtedly be more challenging times than ours. That’s the way forward. It isn’t dramatic.

In the meantime, PC is moving ahead with development of their Hawthorne parcels. As tempting as it is for current elected officials to get their hands on the future, why rush to give away fifty years of development rights, when we don’t know what next year holds? Let’s see what they do in Hawthorne.

Mike Byerly

Alachua County Commissioner

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