I attended a meeting this evening on a major proposed change to the Alachua County comprehensive plan, spearheaded by Plum Creek through its Envision Alachua initiative. I had hoped to be able to speak to the County Commission, but as the 71st person to sign up it became clear it would not occur tonight. I hope to be able to make comments on Thursday.
16 February 2016
I'm not an expert on these issues, so I doubt anything that I write here will be very profound.
The Envision Alachua initiative has been through an incredible public process, included many revisions and changes, and the proposal is now being considered for transmittal to relevant state agencies for review and approval.
I support the Envision Alachua plan. I believe it to be a viable plan for providing economic growth opportunities and the potential for more geographical economic balance to our community.
I live and work in the wealthiest part of Alachua County. We have some of the best schools, lowest crime, and highest home values, all focused in the western part of the county. This seems unlikely to change, and to some extent the rich will get richer. But what about the rest of the county? I don't believe that my good fortune absolves me of concern for the rest of my community.
What will it take to provide the eastern side of Alachua County with the opportunities enjoyed by those who live in the west? What about communities like Hawthorne, which are clearly dying, if we don't think creatively about future economic growth and development?
In Plum Creek, Alachua County has an interested private landowner that is willing to meet broad requirements to develop lands they own, providing significant conservation lands in exchange for concentrated development. It has been mentioned that the openness and thoroughness of the Envision Alachua initiative is almost unprecedented.
The main controversy is that the proposed development area will exist outside of existing urban clusters, as determined by the current comprehensive plan. Much of the opposition to the proposal is because it is against the rules that the county created as part of its state-mandated comprehensive plan. So Plum Creek is asking the county to amend those rules for the specific sectors it has identified. These sectors are where the development will occur, large areas in currently rural parts of the county.
Other opposition seems to come from concerns that Plum Creek will sell their land to developers once the sector plan is approved. So what? This is the right of a landowner, and just because Plum Creek is large, and a publicly traded company, they have become some kind of corporate boogeyman upon which the fears of some can be projected.
For economic opportunity to balance across the county, we need eastern development to serve as a magnet for jobs, commerce, and families. This plan presents that opportunity. And Plum Creek can't do that independently. Of course they will sell parts of their land to home builders and other entities interested in developing those parcels.
Nothing is guaranteed. I'm a business owner, and although we plan for the long-term, we understand the need to adapt policies and strategies for what actually occurs. They have done a remarkable job of planning, allowing for the real-world adaptation that will be necessary in the future. Much of the opposition of county staff comes from Plum Creek's inability to state with certainty things that can't be adequately foreseen, like transportation and infrastructure needs, not to mention the timing of jobs and commercial activity.
I wish I could post David Coffey's remarks, given at the conclusion of Plum Creek's presentation. He expressed so much of what I feel Envision Alachua represents: definite conservation of land, improved economic opportunity for the most depressed area of the county, and the chance for long-term growth which could provide economic viability for Alachua County for the remainder of my life and much of my children's lives.