Round 2 with Plum Creek

Plum Creek Timber Corporation has been engaged in a massive two-year public relations campaign with the hope that Alachua County Commissioners will approve a dramatic expansion of its development footprint in eastern Alachua County. SSJ Sierra Club supports the community’s existing vision for our future, created after many years of fair public hearings and citizen input, and currently codified in our Alachua County Comprehensive Plan.

Plum Creek withdrew their original application last year after county staff unequivocally recommended denial. They promised to overhaul their application to address the problems and deficiencies identified by county staff.

Plum Creek resubmitted their application several months ago, and last week, county staff released their new report. Very little in Plum Creek’s application changed, and so very little in the staff report changed: they’re still recommending denial on the same bases as before.

There are only two differences worth noting. First, Plum Creek withdrew some of their land from the application. One chunk of their land is immediately adjacent to the city of Hawthorne, so they are able to annex it into the city, which they are now doing. The county is contesting some aspects of this annexation. Two more chunks of their land in the northern part of the proposed development area were also withdrawn, but could be resubmitted independently in the future.

Second, Plum Creek did some actual mapping of wetlands on some of the land in their application, and shockingly, found that it’s wetter than they thought. They’ve increased the amount of wetland acreage they’re predicting they’ll need to destroy directly: now up to 400 acres, though obviously, indirect effects would be much greater than this. They also modestly expanded the hard-to-develop floodplain area along Lochloosa Creek that will be conserved.

A brief and very readable executive summary of county staff’s report is at the beginning of this link HERE.

In understated fashion, the report concludes: “The Plum Creek application proposes intense mixed-use development on 5,555 acres in a rural area of the County on property that contains extensive wetlands, floodplains, and other protected natural resources. The development as proposed would violate the major tenants of the adopted Comprehensive Plan. This County’s Comprehensive Plan was created through an extensive community visioning process. Controlled, fiscally sound growth and protection of our most valuable resources are major issues of importance to the County’s citizens and these issues inform the majority of the policies in the Plan. The Plum Creek proposal contains policies that would reduce protections and allow intense growth that is incompatible with this rural area of the County.”

Plum Creek’s revised application goes before the Planning Commission on November 18th at 5pm. The Planning Commission is an advisory body appointed by the County Commission. Staff will present their report, then Plum Creek will do likewise (each will probably take about 45 minutes.) The Planning Commission will ask questions, and then the public will speak. If a second meeting is needed, it will be the following evening. Finally, the Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the County Commission: approval, denial, or approval with conditions.

The application then goes to the County Commission, possibly as early as January 26th, but more likely February 9th. We will update when we know for certain. Multiple meetings are likely. The format will be the same as described above for the Planning Commission, and all meetings will start at 5pm.

Please attend all the meetings if you can, but if you can only attend one, make it the first County Commission meeting. We probably don’t need to say it at this point, but will anyway: there’s no issue more crucial to the future of our county than this one, and we need to pack the room, even if you don’t want to speak. Please commit to attend at least one meeting.