Plum Creek Update
By Scott Camil
The Plum Creek Real Estate Investment Trust continues to pursue extensive new development rights on its rural timberlands in eastern Alachua County. After its initial application to alter the county’s Comprehensive Plan received a strong recommendation of denial from Alachua County staff, Plum Creek withdrew their application and submitted a revised application earlier this year.
County staff has now again recommended denial, on the same bases. Proposed amendments to the Comprehensive Plan are first considered by the Planning Commission, a citizen advisory board appointed by the Alachua County Commission, before going to the County Commission.
After public hearings November 18th and 19th, the Planning Commission voted 4 to 2 to recommend approval to the County Commission, overriding the staff recommendation. The circumstances surrounding the Planning Commission hearings are now raising serious questions about the fairness of the process.
The chair of the Planning Commission is Jennifer Springfield, a local attorney who has been hired by Plum Creek to assist in their ongoing effort to annex a part of their land into the city of Hawthorne, where it will be exempt from the county’s environmental safeguards. Springfield did not recuse herself from the vote, nor did she disclose her relationship with Plum Creek prior to the meeting. Regardless of whether this is a legal conflict of interest, it’s clearly an ethical one.
Another member of the Planning Commission was forced to resign just hours before the first public hearing. Forrest Eddleton, a planner with the City of Gainesville, has served for some time on the Commission in one of its citizen-at-large positions. According to Eddleton, his boss, interim Gainesville City Manager Anthony Lyons, instructed him to either resign or lose his job. Eddleton’s planning experience would have enabled him to effectively evaluate the county staff recommendation.
We were dealt another blow when, on November 23rd, the County Commission voted not to challenge the City of Hawthorne’s annexation of Plum Creek property. You can see what happened for yourself by watching the video, starting at the 2 hour 8 minute mark. Here is the link:
You will see in these last 6 minutes that Hutch votes for Plum Creek. Byerly and Cornell disagree with Hutch and finally Susan Baird thanking Hutch. See what Hutch says about Plum Creek. If this is a sign of what is to come, it appears that Hutch will be trading his old legacy of “environmentalist” for his new legacy as the commissioner who put corporate profits above protecting the community. We need to let Hutch know where we stand on this extremely important issue.
Plum Creek has a national reputation for playing hardball, using money and the political influence it buys to run roughshod over local communities and environmental safeguards. It’s happening now in our county.
Sierra Club thanks Planning Commission members Eileen Roy and Tim Rockwell for voting to protect the public’s interest in a healthy environment, planned growth, and rural communities.
The next stage is the one that really counts: County Commission evening public hearings will start either January 26th or Feb. 9th. Commissioners need to know that the public cares about this issue, and is watching. Please plan to attend at least the first of these hearings, at which the public will speak. In the meantime, we encourage all Sierra Club members to contact their county commissioners directly at email@example.com .