Mayor Matt Surrency knows what is at stake for the 1,417 residents of the city of Hawthorne.
He prides himself on being born and raised in Hawthorne. He is a fifth-generation Floridian and most of his family has always lived in the city or in the surrounding area.
“There’s a big concern that the people who live here now, their kids won’t be able to live here because they just cannot financially sustain it. They can’t raise a family,” Surrency said. “We want our kids to be able to stay here.”
The residents may have an answer to some of their questions, now that the Hawthorne City Commission recently voted to annex 1,200 acres of land owned by Plum Creek Timber into the city.
Surrency said the neglected infrastructure and the uncertain economic development are top priorities for Hawthorne right now, and he thinks the Envision Alachua plan fits the city’s goals.
This is the first positive vote the Envision Alachua plan has received in the county. The plan aims to bring economic development to eastern Alachua County by developing thousands of Plum Creek-owned acres.
“I try to tell people that because we have the decision-making power, we can maintain the character of our community,” he said. “We can make sure it fits Hawthorne and not try to make Hawthorne fit it.”
Steve Oelrich, former state senator and former sheriff of Alachua County, said he has heard a lot about developing the east side of Gainesville and Alachua County, but it has mostly been just talk.
“You are all here in a wonderful position now to turn that talk into action,” Oelrich said to the city commission. “Now it’s time for a change.”
Surrency was elected to the city commission in 2009 and was appointed mayor in 2011. Public service is nothing new for the Surrency family; his mother served as mayor, and his grandmother served in the city commission.
“In Hawthorne we have generations of people who are here and have always been here,” Surrency said. “We are basically one big family.”
He said there is an added level of pressure for this reason — most of the residents grew up with him and his family.
“We don’t make a decision from Tallahassee or Washington where we can hide behind a phone or hide behind a desk and not have to answer to people. These people know where we live. They know how to get a hold of us,” Surrency said.
The Alachua County Commission raised concerns regarding the possible impact on the wetlands and the source of funding for needed facilities, but they recently voted not to challenge the annexation.
Stephen Hofstetter, Alachua County environmental program supervisor, said at the city commission meeting the county is worried about the impact the development could have on the environmental resources of the area.
He said wetlands encompass 33 percent of the project area, and development could impact flood and land management for the surrounding unincorporated areas.
Surrency, who has been a strong supporter of the Envision Alachua plan, said there are still going to be more hearings on planning and zoning throughout the process, and he hopes to work with the county commission.
“We can’t sit back and wait to see what happens, we just have to do what is best for Hawthorne and move forward,” Surrency said.