Land Use changes move primarily in one direction – once we give development rights away, we almost certainly have to buy them back if we decide later that it wasn’t a good idea.
How Many People?
Wetland impacts: The development of a project of this magnitude will impact thousands of acres of wetlands, leading to fragmentation and loss of important water storage and filtration functions, as well as habitat fragmentation for many listed, wetland dependent species. Many of these wetlands will be turned into stormwater ponds for the sprawling development. Although Plum Creek may well say otherwise, the remaining “protected” isolated and disconnected wetlands will not in any way mitigate or lessen the damage done to wildlife and water quality and quantity.
Water Use: Build out of this development would lead to a huge increase in water use. This increased use will exacerbate the already stressed water supply and lead to additional rationing, restrictions, and price increases to be borne by existing water users. Additionally, the increased pumping of water will lead to more reduction in the aquifer and therefore corresponding reduction in regional spring flows and lake levels.
Water Quality: The Newnans/Lochloosa/Orange Lake watershed is already listed as an impaired and polluted body of water by the State. These headwaters flow into the Ocklawaha River, which is also an impaired body of water. As a result the St. Johns River Water Management District is working on a PLRG (Pollutant Load Reduction Goal) nutrient reduction goal for Phosphorus in these water bodies. The addition of 10,500 residences (20,000 + people) and 15.5 million square feet of commercial, industrial, and manufacturing space will lead to further degradation of the watershed by the increased fertilizer and waste water impacts created in the watershed. In addition the soils that underlie the proposed development areas are high in natural phosphorous making their disturbance an additional source of nutrient loading. Plum Creek has stated that they will use treated waste water for outside irrigation. The reuse of water is a necessity in areas where the natural carrying capacity of the land and water has been exceeded. However, it should be noted that reuse water is high in nutrients and will exacerbate existing water quality issues.
Habitat Loss: The building of this large development will fragment the contiguous habitat corridor that connects Lochlossa Conservation Area with the Austin Cary / Monteocha/GRU timberlands. This wildlife corridor provides an existing, vegetative connection between the Ocala National Forest and the Osceola National Forest/Okefenokee Swamp. Species, some listed, that currently live and traverse this area will no longer have a viable corridor. Species such as the Black Bear that do move through the narrow wetland slough that Plum Creek is proposing to maintain will become known as nuisance bears. Nuisance bears are put down as they raid garbage cans and interact with humans and domesticated animals.
Transportation: I-75 is the major bottleneck for development west of Gainesville, with limited crossings connecting Gainesville and its satellite cities. Newnans Lake will function as a much larger barrier that will require the enlargement of SR 26 and, eventually, SR 20 at build out. These two arteries are the only routes around the lake. Traffic on the east side of Gainesville will become a much bigger issue. Additionally, there is no existing public transit in the area and the project is too far removed from major population centers to be used for most bicycles or pedestrians.
Sprawl: This proposed development, outside of the small portion adjacent to Hawthorne, is not contiguous to any current development. The development from its closest point is still 6 miles to the edge of Gainesville and 8 miles to Main Street in downtown Gainesville and closer to 15 from the center. This proposed development is considered a leap-frog development and meets the state’s definitions of sprawl. Rule 9J-5.003(134), Florida Administrative Code, defines “urban sprawl” as the following:
“Urban sprawl” means urban development or uses which are located in predominantly rural areas, or rural areas interspersed with generally low-intensity or low-density urban uses, and which are characterized by one or more of the following conditions: (a) The premature or poorly planned conversion of rural and to other uses; (b) The creation of areas of urban development or uses which are not functionally related to land uses which predominate the adjacent area; or (c) The creation of areas of urban development or uses which fail to maximize the use of existing public facilities or the use of areas within which public services are currently provided. Urban sprawl is typically manifested in one or more of the following land use or development patterns: Leapfrog or scattered development; ribbon or strip commercial or other development; or large expanses of predominantly low-intensity, low-density, or single-use development.
Demonstration of Need: All projected growth within the county over the next 25 years can easily be accommodated within the already established (mostly approved) growth corridor between Archer and Alachua, including High Springs, Newberry and Jonesville. (See city acreage and population data above.) If this development is successful it may lead to stealing growth from the cities that have spent years planning and improving infrastructure to support it. If it does not steal the growth from other cities, it will instead lead to a huge increase in the number of people residing in the county, resulting in a lowered quality of life for people who appreciate Alachua County in its current form.
30 years of visioning and planning out the window: Since the first visioning exercise in the county with the adoption of its first comprehensive plan the land within this proposal development has been ENVISONED rural/agriculture and conservation. If this development is approved, all that prior VISIONING was a waste of many people’s time and shows the futility of planning for the future ; just let the developers/corporations make the decisions for our County.
Road impacts: This development will lead to the need for many new roads that will be given to the county after they are built. These roads will then be added to the maintenance list of roads that the county will need to maintain, which it already cannot keep up with (see push for sales tax) because the already, locally, high gas tax does not cover existing maintenance costs. The argument will be made that this development will help the tax base support these new roads. However, all past evidence of prior development in the county shows that new growth has not decreased the existing back log and has instead exacerbated it.
Quality of Life: Among the features that make Gainesville and Alachua County an ideal location to raise a family and bring in high quality jobs are the high quality amenities like bike trails, tree protections and natural areas. This development will surround Gainesville with development in all directions. Ultimately, this will lead to the County and cities being no different than other megalopolis such as Orlando. In these areas, one cannot tell when they have left one jurisdiction and moved into another. Cities and counties that prioritize infill development and protect their greenbelts such as Boulder, Colorado, are considered among the nicest place to live. Currently, Gainesville is compared favorably with such cities, but with a ring-fence of suburbia in all directions will it remain?
Loss of biomass source wood: Now that the biomass plant has been built and is on-line, consideration needs to be paid to where it will get its source materials. The large timberlands within this proposed development area are an obvious source close to the facility. The destruction of these timberlands and conversion to largely residential uses will remove a viable fuel source for the facility that is nearby and will require the source material to be hauled in from greater distances, leading to additional cost in fuel, green house gas emissions, and road wear.
Jobs: The only part of this proposed development that may make sense is for the unemployed people of Hawthorne. The Plum Creek land immediately adjacent to the town should be considered for annexation and developed in a fashion to maximize its proximity to the town, railroads, and major highway, such as US 301. As such, this land would serve as a good pilot project for the entire project. Before granting the changes to all 17,000 acres in the project area, we should have Plum Creek show us their commitment by building the high quality development they are promising on this land.
Other /adjacent development that would expect similar treatment: If this proposal is approved how does the County move forward with the Comprehensive Plan? Is it right to give development rights to one out of town Corporation and deny them to other land owners? The land owners in the area will expect similar treatment in the near future. This development proposal sets a precedent that will be used for every proposed change to the comprehensive plan in the future. Do you want unrestrained growth in your area?
Development promises that come in for modification once the development is approved: Every major development comes back for modification after it is approved. Locally, Springhills is a good example. The development was initially approved in the early 2000s. It has since come back for major modifications multiple times. Often in these large developments promises are made at the onset that are hard to live up to. Thus, the development comes back for multiple changes that in some cases negate the promises made at the beginning. Since all development is now controlled by the local government, those initial promises are lost as politicians and bureaucrats move on or are replaced.
Promises and costs: Plum Creek has promised to bring in good jobs and to make a well planned, high quality development. However, it has not shown how much residences or businesses in the area will cost. Locally, there has been much discussion about the high cost of electricity. Has Plum Creek committed the development to buy its energy from GRU and if so how does it bring in good jobs, when those industrial uses require lots of energy? High Quality = High Cost. What corporations have promised to develop? What has the university committed to build?
Viability of development: Plum Creek makes the claim that their land is a good location for development of big industrial companies, which in turn will bring good paying jobs. However, this location is in fact poor when it is looked at in the larger context of Northeast Florida. It is not near an interstate or a river. US 301 is a known speed trap and runs through multiple jurisdictions that slow traffic down. Thus, Plum Creek relies on the fact that rail is available. However, Duval, Nassau, Columbia, Clay and Baker Counties all have rail available and are closer to I-10 and I-95 rail hubs and Duval’s deep water port. Additionally, most if not all of these jurisdictions have land already approved and waiting for this type of development to take place. The reality is that it will most likely be another approved development sitting on the books waiting for something to happen and most likely move in residential direction. Meanwhile, the possibility of protecting it for future generations will be infinitely more difficult.
Ranchettes: The argument has been made that if Plum Creek does not develop in the fashion it wants that the result will be a bunch of 5 acre ranchettes. This argument and threat is false as shown by the following:
- First, they do not have the development rights they say they do. Of the approximately 60,000 acres they own, the development rights of nearly 24,000 acres have been sold off to state and local entities. Additionally, the current Comprehensive Plan restricts development in strategic ecosystems, wetlands, and floodplains, and also limits the number of times a parcel may be split.
- Second, there is no market for 5 acre ranchettes in this part of the county, which can be easily discerned by the price of land on this side of the county versus the high and dry areas of Jonesville and the western portion of the county.
- Third, no one wants to live on dirt roads (easily discernible by the number of limerock road residences clamoring to be paved), so in order to develop they would have to pave the roads to encourage development, which raises the cost of development (required by county code as well?). This lowers the profit margin to make it an unfeasible development project for the corporation.
Finally, if approved how do we know that Plum Creek will not cut and run, selling all the land to multiple developers who do not share the ENVSION concepts as sold to our community?