Alachua County Forever eyes new property in Lochloosa Creek Flatwoods
"I love headwaters and sand,” Kristen Young said.
To most, this is an odd remark about environmental features. But to Young, the newly elected secretary of the Alachua County Land Conservation Board (LCB), it was good reason for Alachua County to purchase the Lochloosa Creek Flatwoods property, “Sherouse and Flowers.”
Indeed, after two-and-a-half hours of deliberations on Thursday, the board voted to place the property in a pool to be publicly acquired by Alachua County.
Brian Block, board chair, described the LCB as a citizen advisory panel that must approve property before it can be eligible to be purchased through Alachua County Forever (ACF).
ACF is a program that seeks to “acquire, improve, and manage environmentally significant lands that protect water resources, wildlife habitats and natural areas suitable for resource-based recreation.”
The seven board members watched as Ryan Kennelly, senior environmental specialist, delivered a presentation about the property. To gather such information, Kennelly routinely travels to properties that are potential targets for ACF to purchase and evaluates them.
Kennelly examined 10 different natural communities within the property, such as basin swamps and scrubby flatwoods and graded each one. Out of the 10 different natural communities, four were graded “good-fair,” five were graded “good” and one was graded “excellent.”
Kennelly provided a description of the Sherouse and Flowers property, detailing its scope and physical attributes. The 154-acre property consists of 60% wetlands features and 40% uplands.
The property is in good condition, the human impact on the land is relatively light, and it contains a low density of invasive plants, the only two found were cesar weed and climbing fern. This is significant according to Melissa Hill, the new vice chair of the board.
“Intact wetlands are hard to come by,” she said.
The positive condition of this property helped its case in being placed on the priority list, but its major selling point was that it contains the primary headwaters of Little Orange Creek.
The headwaters of a river is the source that the water in the river comes from, making this a valuable water resource for ACF to protect.
While the Little Orange Creek headwaters may have been the primary reason the property was approved for the priority pool, it was not the only one. The Sherouse and Flowers property also provides important spots for birds. In Hill’s words, the land is “significant for folks that fly.”
Not all board members were confident that the property merited putting it in the priority pool. Board member Jason Teisinger said it was “premature to move forward” with the land.
Teisinger was not alone. Young acknowledged that the development potential of the Sherouse and Flowers property was low. She did not see an easy road to turning this land into something like a park or trail. Even so, Young voted to approve the property for priority status, as did every other board member besides Teisinger.
This means the Sherouse and Flowers property is now a prime target for public acquisition by Alachua County. The property would be purchased using Alachua County taxpayer dollars, via the newly implemented infrastructure tax.
The property is currently owned by Joyce Flowers and the heirs of George Sherouse. Their asking price for the property is $475,000.
The tax, approved on Nov. 8, 2022 is a 10-year, full cent tax. Half of that cent is dedicated to public infrastructure, such as park improvements. The other half is used to purchase and improve conservation lands.
Alachua County expects to collect $140 million from the tax to spend on environmental projects over the 10-year period in which the tax is in effect, according to Andi Christman, manager of the Alachua County Office of Land Conservation and Management.
The next LCB meeting is set for Feb. 23, at 5:30 p.m., in the Grace Knight Conference Hall of the Alachua County Administration Building. The public is welcome to attend and comment on current and future environmental projects.