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An Explanation of Plum Creek's Plans In Alachua County

The Alachua County Planning Commission recommended Thursday night the adoption of an amendment to the Envision Alachua Sector Plan/Comprehensive Plan.

Plum Creek submitted the amendment to the plan.

But what does any of this mean for you?

What is Plum Creek?

Not a creek anywhere near here.

Plum Creek is one of the largest land owners in America. The company owns timber land, and its primary business is growing trees and selling them to make things like paper.

The company merged this month with Weyerhaeuser, another timber company, which is on board with the proposed amendment in Alachua County.

The merged company will boast more than 13 million acres — an area equivalent to about 35 percent of Florida.

What is this county plan exactly?

The county has an adopted comprehensive plan created in 1985 that requires updating every ten years. As the county says:

The Comprehensive Plan directly and indirectly influences all aspects of daily life, including where people live, work, eat, shop, conduct business, what activities and natural areas are available to visit and enjoy, and how you are able to get to and from these places.

In other words, it's a big deal.

Plum Creek wants to amend this plan. Why? And why now?

The property where the timber is located is designated as rural agriculture on the county land-use map, and the company also has preservation properties.

It wants to use this land for mixed-use development, but in order to do this, policies in the county comprehensive plan must be amended to allow development in that rural area.

The timing doesn't have anything to do with the 10-year comprehensive plan cycle; the company has been working with the county for two years before it reached the planning commission Thursday night.

Plum Creek also applied to a sector plan — a special planning provision for those who own at least 15,000 acres.

If this gets approved, what will Plum Creek do with the land? How much land are we talking about?

Some of the land will be used for conservation – about 40,000 acres. Around 5,500 acres will be used for mixed-use development in two different places.

One will be along State Road 20 and County Road 234 and the other will be on State Road 301 and County Road 1474. Between these two places, they will place 8,700 housing units and 11.2 million square feet of non-residential land use. The non-residential use of the land ranges from things such as retail, industrial use, commercial use, large-scale manufacturing use and job centers.

That's an area equivalent to about 11 Oaks Malls, noted Steve Lachnicht, director of Alachua County Department of Growth Management.

The plan seeks to create job growth and development for Alachua County, as well as continued conservation. County officials want to provide growth for the city while ensuring that land designated for conservation will never be built upon.

“The conservation is a win for everyone. The jobs are a win; particularly we’ve had a lot of focus on east Gainesville as we’ve begun to discover the challenges of east Gainesville,” said April Salter, spokeswoman for Plum Creek.

Plum Creek officials suggest the revised plan would help create more jobs and other economic activity in east Gainesville.

Salter said she is also hoping the plan creates more jobs to retain students graduating from the University of Florida.

Eileen Roy, the vice chair of Alachua County Public Schools, said that she disagrees with the plan. She said that there really is no guarantee that jobs will be produced.

"Whether it’s Weyerhaeuser or Plum Creek who owns the property, all the promises depend on whether they can find a developer and what that developer decides to do," Roy said.

So what's next?

Now that the amendment has been recommend for adoption by the county commission in late January or in February, the county commission will have a public hearing for the transmittal of this amendment.

This means that the plan will be sent to the state for review.

The state will return its review, and depending on the outcome, it could go back to the county commission for final adoption.

Updated, March 2016: This was the county commission's decision. In simple terms, the Envision Alachua plan is not happening for now.

Michaela is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.