By Kelcee Griffis
Envision Alachua held a task force meeting at the UF Hilton Wednesday night during which members discussed what they said were misconceptions about the Plum Creek plan and looked to provide answers and explanations.
The Plum Creek development plan, already three years in the making, is being proposed by one of the nation’s largest land management companies that owns 65,000 acres in Alachua County. The plan would consolidate conservation areas and allow major employers to settle in the eastern part of the county.
Earlier this week, the Alachua County Commission approved a four-meeting lineup to give residents a chance to learn about and discuss the plan in a county-sponsored forum.
Throughout Wednesday night’s two-and-a-half-hour meeting, Plum Creek advisory council members mentioned and listed rumors they said they’ve been hearing about the plan and offered information to debunk them.
In response to a concern that Plum Creek decision-makers are removed from the area, Jim Kilberg, Atlanta-based senior vice president of real estate, energy and natural resources, emphasized the role of the local advisory council.
“This is not a Seattle decision,” he said, motioning to the U-shaped conference table where more than 20 members sat. “Everyone who will be making the final decision is right here.”
In response to residents’ fears that Plum Creek is a large-scale, big-city developer, Kilberg offered the consolation that Plum Creek is a forestry company.
“The thing that’s wonderful about a forestry company is that it has a forestry culture….salt of the earth, decent people, hardworking, trying to do the hard thing,” he said. “That’s Plum Creek.”
Bill Strassberger, a district engineer with Clay Electric and task force member, said he can understand residents’ concerns about Plum Creek’s intentions, but he isn’t worried.
“For me, the trust factor isn’t there, but to an outsider, I can see that,” he said. “They’ve been a good steward of the land. They’re tree farmers. They’re not going to chop it all down.”
Daniel Iacofano, principal and lead facilitator at MIG Inc., listed numerous other rumors which he said have been flying around and which he said are untrue:
– Plum Creek plans to condemn private land to build Section 8 low-income housing.
– Plum Creek is going to build 15 shopping malls.
– Plum Creek wants to extract oil from the properties via fracking.
“Plum Creek has no such plans,” he said.
Toward the end of the meeting, much of the discussion centered around a supposed assumption that Alachua County growth is already on the track that’s best for the county.
Pierce Jones, an extension program leader with UF/IFAS, said allowing development to stay on its current course will create urban sprawl to the west and neglect the economic needs of the east.
“The demand for the water, the landscape, the trends in the jobs is all wrong,” he said.
He pointed to a photo of people boarding an RTS bus on Second Avenue near the Continuum apartment complex.
“This is right,” he said. “It goes back to very progressive people who made commitments to the roundabouts. The density is there to support mass transit. You are not going to get that the way it’s going in the west.”
Task force member Bobbi Walton said a group has been going door-to-door walking in Windsor telling neighbors that Plum Creek is going to cut down forests behind their houses and kickstart fracking.
“It’s just lies,” she said.
The Business Report could not reach Stand By Our Plan for comment as of publication time, but the organization that opposes Plum Creek development lists its own set of myths, which it says Plum Creek is broadcasting, including:
– There will be 30,000 new jobs
– It’s good for East Gainesville
– Better to go with the Plum Creek now than risk the future
– Conservation land protects the environment
“Under the Comprehensive Plan, even the worst case scenario is preferable to what Plum Creek is asking for,” the website states.