Plum Creek’s elaborate public relations campaign has naturally framed their proposal in the best possible light, and created a number of misconceptions along the way.
Myth: There will be 30,000 new jobs
While completely unsubstantiated, their biggest selling point has been the enticing promise of 30,000 new jobs over the next 50 years. It’s highly risky attempting to predict even five years into the future, and Plum Creek won’t actually create any of these jobs themselves. More importantly, growth and its demand for new homes and jobs is relatively fixed. So, it’s more accurate to say that Plum Creek’s new city would displace 30,000 jobs that would otherwise accompany expected growth in and around the county’s nine municipalities, with whom Plum Creek would be in direct competition.
Only one aspect of Plum Creek’s proposal is potentially unique enough to lure more people and business to Alachua County than what we’d expect anyway: large, contiguous chunks of land required by major factories or warehouses. Plum Creek asserts that we lack such parcels, and so could be missing out on the relatively high-paying, blue-collar jobs that every community increasingly covets. If analysis shows this to be true, Stand By Our Plan would support appropriate amendments to the Comprehensive Plan that would make such land available for industrial development near the city of Hawthorne, the only part of Plum Creek’s holdings close to a city.
Plum Creek has stated that this land, close to rail and state and federal highways, is their top priority. It is relatively dry, and contains no strategic ecosystems. There is no justification for giving away 50 years worth of development rights in other parts of the county in order achieve this goal, and any suggestion by Plum Creek that their proposal is “all or nothing” should be rejected by the community.
Myth: It’s good for East Gainesville
Recognizing political opportunity, Plum Creek has worked hard to link their proposal to the prospect of benefits to economically challenged East Gainesville. They’ve offered absolutely no justification for this idea, other than that “East Gainesville” and “East Alachua County” both contain the word “east.” While the burden of proof here lies with Plum Creek, consider that the very closest boundary of Plum Creek’s land is further from East Gainesville than I-75, and most of it is further away than the Town of Tioga development in Jonesville. If all the growth along the I-75 corridor and everything in between hasn’t helped East Gainesville, then how would Plum Creek’s city in the swamp, with its own schools and grocery stores on the other side of Newnan’s Lake? By far the best hope for East Gainesville lies with the continuing revival of nearby downtown Gainesville, the benefits of which are gradually spreading in all directions. Plum Creek’s sprawl would undercut the progress being made in downtown Gainesville, as the Oaks Mall and I-75 to the west once did.
Myth: Better to go with the Plum Creek now than risk the future
Plum Creek has aggressively courted the environmental community with variations on the following argument:
Over the next fifty years, all of Alachua County will be built out. We can’t rely on the state or future county commissions to honor the protections in the existing Comprehensive Plan, so better to cut a deal with PC now that permanently gains better protections than we might otherwise expect. Their proposal would tie up a substantial majority of their land through “conservation easements,” and though it also allows for a huge intensification of development rights on the remainder, it’s still better than the alternative.
But what is this indeterminate, and therefore worrisome, alternative, and how would Plum Creek’s proposal be better? Realistically, what’s the worst that could happen?
Under the Comprehensive Plan, even the worst case scenario is preferable to what Plum Creek is asking for. Over a third of Plum Creek’s land is already permanently protected from development, because the former owner of the land sold the development rights to the state of Florida. Of what remains, between a third and a half is protected wetlands and their associated buffers. By their own analysis, over half their land is within the 100-year floodplain. Almost all of Plum Creek’s uplands are in county designated strategic ecosystems, so the Comprehensive Plan would require that half be permanently protected. The large majority of their land is legally or economically unsuitable for development, so their proposal is to transfer all the theoretical development rights from the undevelopable parts to the area that is marginally developable, and strip away Comprehensive Plan environmental protections from that area to allow more intensive development. Even if some parcels along roadways were to be sold and developed individually into smaller subdivisions, the Comprehensive Plan would still protect all wetlands and require clustering on half the land, and the sum total potential of this kind of piecemeal development is substantially less than what Plum Creek is asking for.
Then there’s the doomsday future scenario being used to scare environmentalists into supporting Plum Creek: all wetland protections abolished, all local control of growth pre-empted by the state, no more land conservation initiatives, and market conditions that support wall-to-wall development of eastern Alachua County. But is it really wise to base our public policy on this most extreme possibility? Is this even a future worth fighting for?
Myth: Conservation land protects the environment
Environmentalists should also be concerned about what Plum Creek means when it promises to place a third of its land into “conservation.” Under Plum Creek’s definition of that word, they’d be allowed to continue their particularly harsh form of monoculture tree farming, with roads, utilities, and stormwater facilities mixed in. What is being gained for the environment from this kind of “conservation?”
By far, the most critical need for the preservation of biological diversity is adequate habitat areas, and corridors that allow free movement between them. Global climate change will particularly necessitate north-south corridors, and the best one in Alachua County is straddled by Plum Creek’s proposed development. Even if their “conservation” land had any ecological value, it would be badly fragmented by subdivisions, roads, utilities, lights, invasive plants, barking dogs, and feral cats.
Stand By Our Plan believes that our Comprehensive Plan, combined with public land conservation programs — not Plum Crek — offers the best hope for meaningful long-term protection of biological diversity in Alachua County.
Myth: If the development is approved, 87% of the land will be conserved
Plum Creek has widely circulated their promise to permanently conserve 87 percent of their land if the county approves their development. Some environmentalists think that’s a good deal, even if it is sprawl. How can they afford to be so generous with their land? Because they aren’t. Here’s the math.
Over a third of their 60,000 acres is already permanently conserved, because the former owner sold the development rights to the state before Plum Creek bought it. Of the remainder, between and third and a half is wetland, and over half is within the 100-year flood zone (by Plum Creek’s own analysis.) So only about a third of their land is theoretically developable to begin with.
Of that third, the Compehensive Plan would require development to cluster on the least environmentally-sensitive half, and permanently conserve the other half. We’re down to a sixth.
Lastly, Plum Creek pads their total by counting “green space” within the developed area, like buffers, stormwater facilities, and public commons. It’s sort of like claiming that 75% of a suburban subdivision is “conservation,” because that’s how much room is taken up by yards, rather than building footprints.
So how much land would Plum Creek have to conserve anyway if they developed under the Comprehensive Plan? About 87 percent. Plum Creek isn’t giving up anything.