Plum Creek is moving from talk to action in planning the future for the 65,000 acres it owns in Alachua County.
After two and a half years of planning through the Envision Alachua process, the timber company submitted a sector plan to Alachua County Government on December 12.
That plan, if adopted by the Alachua County Commission and approved by state government, would set in law Plum Creek’s commitments for the 60,000 acres of the land that are in the unincorporated area of the county. Plum Creek also owns an additional 5,000 acres that are either in the City of Gainesville or the City of Hawthorne.
Representatives of environmental, economic development and education groups that were involved in Envision Alachua demonstrated their strong support for the sector plan at a news conference Thursday (Dec. 19).
Using the sector plan for future planning – with a 50-year perspective – is a better approach than considering smaller projects known at developments of regional impact one-by-one, said Eric Draper, executive director of Audobon Florida.
“It’s much easier to deal with one large landowner than with a DRI,” he said.
Plum Creek has done more than any other land owner in the state to involve stakeholders in planning the future of its property, Draper said.
This involvement has led to Plum Creek committing to environmental measures that far exceed the county’s comprehensive plan require, he said.
For example, the sector plan would create a minimum 2,000 foot buffer along portions of Lochloosa Creek that run through Plum Creek’s property – far wider than what is required by regulation.
Another goal that came through community involvement is to reduce water consumption with developed areas of Plum Creek’s property to 50 percent of typical usage.
If homeowners wanted grass, they would need to “harvest” rainwater for their irrigation, said Tim Jackson, a planner working for Plum Creek noted.
The sector plan is a departure from traditional planning of large developments, putting more emphasis on creating jobs than building homes, Jackson noted. There would be three jobs created for every house built.
Plum Creek will emphasize creating jobs for people living in the Hawthorne area – the location it is targeting for development – and in East Gainesville, Jackson noted.
Santa Fe College is excited about helping prepare nearby residents for jobs, said Dug Jones, the college’s assistant vice president for economic development.
The college will available to create job training for specific employers moving to the Plum Creek land, as it has done for other new employers in Alachua County, Jones said.
In the short run, Santa Fe will help prepare residents of Hawthorne and East Gainesville to fill existing jobs in the community, he added. It is starting community education classes on subjects including computer skills in Hawthorne after the first of the year, and it plans to add for-credit courses in the spring.
Plum Creek’s plans will help meet the “absolute need” to reduce poverty in Alachua County, said Adrian Taylor, who is senior minister of the Springhill Missionary Baptist Church. “We have a tale of two cities, a tale of two worlds, and I’m no longer satisfied with the status quo,” he said.
The Plum Creek sector plan provides ample land for large “advanced manufacturing” plants, while property of this scale doesn’t exist anywhere else in the county, said Taylor, who also is vice president of Innovation Gainesville and regional initiatives for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Audobon’s Draper said that the economic and environment benefits of the proposed development are compatible with each other.
For example, Plum Creek intends to increase the water flow of some wooded areas in which the natural flow has been altered, he noted. “The economic activity from new development could be harnessed for environmental restoration,” he said.