By Chris Eversole
All along, Plum Creek has been saying whatever it does with its 64,000 acres in Alachua County would be big. The reality hit home at its latest Envision Alachua Task Force meeting June 25.
Over the next 25 years or so, there could be 24,000 to 36,000 jobs created and 10,000 homes, condos and apartments built in the Hawthorne area under the general outline of a master plan company consultants unveiled.
A total of 10 million square feet of manufacturing, educational, research, office and retail space could be created.
The master plan envisions an “economic development corridor” stretching along Hawthorne Road into Gainesville.
Plum Creek will achieve all this while keeping about 80 percent of its land in the county in conservation.
“It will a place like no other—one of the first places in the world to have all these cool things connected,” said Fred Merrill, the principal of Sasaki Associates, a Massachusetts-based firm that has planned similar projects in the United States and abroad, including one associated with the Beijing Olympics.
All the task force members present—from longtime residents of the Hawthorne and Windsor area to people involved in statewide planning—endorsed the latest rendition of the project.
Rob Brinkman, a longtime area environmental advocate, voiced a concern that others echoed. “I struggle to convince people that this isn’t going to be another old-line development, like Haile Plantation or Disney’s community of Celebration,” he said.
Task force members agreed that they need to carry the message about the benefits of the project, including testifying on its behalf when it eventually goes before the county commission for sector plan approval.
At the top of the list of benefits is that the project puts more emphasis on jobs than on housing while safeguarding the environment. The land conservation will be possible because the homes and other parts of the community will be developed densely and people will have many of the stores and services they need close to home.
Providing jobs for area residents who don’t go to college is important—which is 70 percent of students, noted David Edwards, director of career and technical education for Alachua County Schools.
The master plan that’s being developed with the help of the task force will provide jobs and job training for everyone—from GED to the PhD, task force members are fond of saying.
“There won’t be a single soul left out,” said Windsor community leader Bobbi Walton.