Task Force Agrees on Importance of Creating Jobs and Sustainable Development
No matter what, the Hawthorne area is going to be different in the not-so-distant future.
That’s the consensus of the diverse task force that Plum Creek, the dominant landowner in the area, has assembled through the Envision Alachua process. Envision Alachua was formed by Plum Creek to discuss economic, environmental and community opportunities on lands owned by Plum Creek in Alachua County.
After five meetings, task force members have agreed—with some differences—on a series of conclusions, including:
The Hawthorne area should be a focal point of Plum Creek’s development of the 17,000 acres that the company owns in an area bounded by Hawthorne, Waldo, Windsor and Orange Heights.
Development should focus on creating jobs, and many of those jobs should be ones for which people living nearby, including East Gainesville, could qualify.
To be sustainable, development in the area should include school and college campuses that provide educational and cultural anchors.
Hawthorne is facing hard times. The latest blow was the closing of the Georgia-Pacific’s plywood plant, slashing 400 jobs, due to low demand from the construction industry.
Plum Creek bought Georgia-Pacific’s land holdings in Alachua County, but was not involved in the layoffs. It is the largest private landowner in the country, with about 6.7 acres of timberlands. As part of its local evaluation process, Plum Creek has identified lands that may be suitable for uses other than timber, according to the Envision Alachua website.
But despite the area’s economic challenges, accepting development is a hard pill to swallow for members of the Cracker Boys Hunt Club, which leases 14,000 of the 17,000 acres. Club member Mike Dykes says that he has difficulty embracing the plans that the task force is considering, although he appreciates Plum Creek’s efforts to balance conservation and development.
“When I considered the quality of life here, [development of the area] didn’t work for me,” says Dykes, who grew up in the area and has been part of the hunt club’s stewardship of the land for the past 30 years.
Task force member Ed Dix, a developer who grew up in East Gainesville, says he sympathizes with the urge to avoid seeing nature give way to development. He recalls a woods that was cut down as Lincoln Estates expanded. “I saw the woods I used to play in torn down,” he says.
Still, Dix says development is necessary to create opportunities. “My woods provided homes for 500 people who did not have a home.”
Windsor’s Walton, who opposed previous development proposals in the area, says she’s bought into the work of the task force. “This is different,” she says.
Plum Creek is going to great lengths to include stakeholders in the area, both through the task force and through public workshops, says Todd Powell, Plum Creek’s local director of real estate.
Task force members represent:
Hawthorne, Windsor and East Gainesville;
The University of Florida, Santa Fe College and Alachua County Schools;
Alachua County Conservation Trust, Audubon Florida and the Nature Conservancy;
Alachua County Government and the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council;
Business leaders, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Chamber Foundation;
GRU and Shands HealthCare; and
Civic organizations and churches.
Some Type of Development Inevitable
Plum Creek developers note that the Alachua County’s Comprehensive Plan allows one housing unit for five acres on rural land. If that guideline were applied to all 17,000 acres under discussion, Plum Creek would be allowed 3,400 units, Powell says.
“In that case, there would be 3,400 septic tanks and 3,400 wells,” Powell says. “It’s not the best possible picture, and we want to discuss other opportunities.”
The 17,000 acres is more than eight times the size of the University of Florida campus or Haile Plantation, points out Daniel Iacofano, a principal in San Francisco-based MIG, Inc., and the facilitator for Envision Alachua.
“You can pretty much fit in whatever you want and have plenty left over for conservation,” Iacofano says.
Task force members agree that environmental sensitivity of some of the area constrains development, while the existing transportation system creates opportunities for development of other areas. Transportation routes include U.S. 301 and the CSX rail line, which borders Plum Creek’s land for eight miles.
“I can’t imagine industrial development being separated from the rail line,” says task force member Charles Lee, director of advocacy for Audubon Florida.
Educational Institutions Important
The University of Florida will consider placing agricultural research facilities in the area, says task force member Jane Adams, UF’s vice president for university relations.
Task force member Pete Johnson sees a greater presence of educational institutions as essential. “Without a great public education system, the best things aren’t going to happen,” he says. “If you don’t make a life, the kids aren’t going to stay there.”
“Most of the jobs need to be ones that don’t take too long to prepare for,” says task force member Dug Jones, Santa Fe College’s assistant vice president for economic development.
The training opportunities need to feed employees to the new businesses that come to the area, says task force member Rev. Kevin Thorpe, senior pastor of Faith Missionary Baptist Church. “I would hate for us to miss an opportunity that will provide systematic change for generations to come.”
Task Force Lauds Compact Development
Extensive development around Hawthorne would require that the land-use designations be changed, either by amendments to the County’s Comprehensive Plan or by annexation of some land into Hawthorne.
Task force member Rob Brinkman cautions against creating additional small towns that would compete with Hawthorne.
“Annexing land into Hawthorne could revitalize that community instead of impacting it negatively,” says Brinkman, an environmental activist who serves on county and regional advisory committees.
Brent Christensen, president and CEO of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, agrees that development in the area needs to be compact, promoting a sense of community, says task force member. He notes the Research Triangle in North Carolina is spread out and allows little interaction between businesses and organizations there.
Task force member Ed Regan, GRU’s head of strategic planning, also endorses compact development. “Urban amenities are what will make this work,” he says.
The County’s Comprehensive Plan favors compact development, requiring that any development in rural areas that exceeds 24 homes be clustered, says Ken Zeichner, the county’s principal planner for comprehensive planning.
“The vision as translated into the Comprehensive Plan over the past 10 years provides for creativity in the design of new development, including protection of conservation areas,” Zeichner says. The tools available include “transfer of development rights” in environmentally sensitive areas to less sensitive areas.
According to Zeichner, the county would look at any proposal individually and consider not only housing density but also other factors such as the location, the road network, other infrastructure and the availability of fire protection and other public safety services.
Taking the Long View
Envision Alachua provides a rare opportunity to set a solid framework for long-term development.
“They’re not going to drop a bunch of Lego blocks in the area and build it out all at once,” Dix says.
Lee agrees. “We’re not planning for the next three years but for the general balance between development and conservation 50 years from now.
UF Students to Present Projects Jan. 26
When it comes to creating a vision, who better to ask than tomorrow’s leaders?
That’s the conclusion Plum Creek reached in seeking creative ideas for the 17,000 acres of its land in eastern Alachua County that’s part of the Envision Alachua process.
This fall, undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Florida’s College of Design, Construction and Planning worked on concepts for both conserving much of the land and developing part of it.
The students will present their work as part of the Envision Alachua: Models of Innovation series on Jan. 26 from 6:30 to 9pm at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
“The students took an academic exercise and used creative ideas and sound land-use planning concepts to develop some interesting alternative designs,” says Todd Powell, senior director of real estate for Plum Creek’s Florida properties.
“We asked them to research and design strategies to integrate local food into a master-planned community development, but they did much more,” he says. “They came up with land-conservation strategies and unique potential commercial and community features.”
Ideas include integrating vegetable gardens into landscaping, emphasizing alternative energy in buildings and using the county’s agricultural products in innovative ways, Powell says.
The students, who are working with faculty members Martin Gold, Pierce Jones, Mary Padua and Kathleen Rupert, are continuing with their work this semester.