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. http://www.alachuacounty.us/Depts/BOCC/Position-Statements/Pages/Byerly.aspx.
This letter will follow Mr. Crabbe’s editorial at the end of this post. Keep reading.
Editorial: Take next step on Envision Alachua
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.
Commissioner Mike Byerly