County Commission Raises Environmental Concern Over Plum Creek Project

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As the amendment to annex around 1,200 acres into the city of Hawthorne moves forward, Alachua County staff are raising concerns over the potential impact on the county’s water resources.

The amendment to Alachua County’s Comprehensive Plan is part of a greater project called Envision Alachua, which works to bring economic development to eastern Alachua County.

The proposed amendment would change the designation of the land owned by Plum Creek Timber Company from “Rural/Agriculture” to a new category called “Envision Alachua-Hawthorne Mixed Use” for future land development. 

Right now the land is used primarily for agricultural and residential purposes with a focus on preserving important environmental areas and efficient use of public services, according to the Alachua County Growth Management department.

The change to the new designation would open the possibility of developing up to 2.85 million square feet of industrial space and 150,000 square feet of commercial space, according to the amendment documents.

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The map of Alachua County shows the areas included in the greater Envision Alachua sector plan. The annexation amendment proposed is part of a broader plan to bring economic development to the county. Courtesy of Envision Alachua.

In the report sent to Hawthorne’s leadership on Oct. 13, county staff raised concerns about the possible impact on the conservation of the 448 acres of wetlands that are part of the properties to be annexed.

“The county has what is considered fairly strict regulations for protecting wetlands, and our standards for the county are more strict than the state requires,” said Steve Lachnicht, director of the Alachua County Growth Management department.

He said the wetlands would have less protection once the properties become a part of the city of Hawthorne because minimum state and federal protections would apply.

As the county staff mentioned in the report, the wetlands have a significant impact on the region’s water quality because of their ability to filter drinking waterThey also play an important role in wildlife habitat conservation.

The staff also noted there was a lack of potable water services and no centralized sanitary sewer facility in the area, and said that the city has no timetable for the construction of either. 

Hawthorne resident James Dick expressed his concern during an Oct. 20 County Commission meeting.

Dick said he isn’t opposed to development that is well planned and considers the needs of the people who are already there, but he doesn’t think the plan accomplishes that.

“Please make sure you understand the impact of what you are not just getting yourselves into, but getting all of us who are also taxpayers into,” he said. “You are going to turn a pristine, pure area that has got a lot of impact on our water supply into a living cesspool if you’re not careful.”

The city of Hawthorne has hearings set for Nov. 3 and Nov. 17 to continue the discussion on the implementation of the amendment. Afterward, the County Commission will have to decide how to proceed, Lachnicht said.

“We are recommending that the county considers this a concern,” Lachnicht said. “It is up to the County Commissioners to decide whether or not they want to go to court potentially to challenge the approval. We don’t know yet.”

About Sofia Costas

Sofia is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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