Their city accepted a big development opportunity from Plum Creek Timber Company.
That’s fine, Hawthorne residents said in a city hall meeting Tuesday night, but they want to make sure homeowners and the environment are taken into consideration during that development.
In December, the Alachua County Commission opted not to open a legal challenge against Hawthorne’s annexation of Plum Creek’s lands. The compromise was a workshop meeting at city hall. About 30 people attended Tuesday, including the city commission, Mayor Matthew Surrency and Plum Creek representative Tim Jackson.
Chris Dougherty, a city planning consultant, mediated the gathering. County commission chair Robert Hutchinson wrote a letter to the city requesting the city and Plum Creek address wetland protection, designate conservation areas and specify buffers in between developing areas and wetlands.
0Images displayed wetland zones designated for conservation and protection. Not every resident believes the city’s promise to protect these areas.
“There’s no preservation involved in any of this — period,” Katy Davis, 48, said. “There’s a difference between conservation and preservation and restoration, and most people don’t realize it. Conservation only means that they keep doing what they are doing with the land which is grow modified pine trees. They’re designed to not grow very big. They go straight into a biomass burner or they go straight into wood pellets.”
As an unemployed welder, Davis was not convinced that the landowner’s plans would be beneficial to the community.
“They haven’t deviated from certain treatments of communities in ways in which they promised jobs to people that really need them,” she said.
Hawthorne native Lori Wiggins, 54, said she was worried about her brother’s organic farm being contaminated if there are not sustainable buffers put in place to protect the farm. As a seller to local residents and business, the farm could be in danger of not being able to produce organic crops.
“They have invested their whole life and money into this,” Wiggins said. “It’s really, really important that you guys pay attention to that land.”
The city code requires a minimum buffer of 35 feet on the wetlands to maintain natural functions. The commission compared wetland regulations in neighboring areas including Gainesville, which has a requirement of an average 50-foot-buffer and a minimum required 35-foot-buffer.
Surrency said Hawthorne could mimic Gainesville by adding a 50-foot buffer average. That would increase the buffer between development and wetlands in certain areas.
Commissioner Tommie Howard said he agreed with adding the 50-foot buffer.
Jackson provided an explanation of the land use plan. The plan included protection of wetland systems, residential additions and improved road connections. He said road connections could impact wetlands.
Michael Dennis, a wetland biologist, was available to answer questions on plans to conserve and preserve the land. When asked how successful his plans were in the past, the biologist said he “had been doing this for 35 years.”
He said there are opportunities to preserve some wetlands and restore some in designated zones. Plans also include ways to accommodate wildlife now living in the wetlands.
Plum Creek will take Tuesday night’s recommendations, revise the plan, submit it next month to the city’s planning and zoning board, who will then decide if the wetland buffers and other modifications are adequate.
It could be three months before the full plan goes before city commission. Hawthorne city manager Ellen Vause estimated Plum Creek’s total compensation to the city for staff time and materials on this annexation project at upwards of $10,000.