After 5 Hours of Public Comment, Alachua County Delays Plum Creek Vote For A Week

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Hundreds attended a second night of public hearings at Eastside High School's auditorium Thursday night. (Ethan Magoc/WUFT News)
Public comment stretched for five hours at Eastside High School’s auditorium Thursday night. (Ethan Magoc/WUFT News)

With 200-plus citizens interested in speaking about Plum Creek’s Envision Alachua Sector Plan, the Alachua County Commission had to call another recess Thursday night.

By 10:30 p.m., the list of those wishing to address commissioners reached 230. Public comment will resume Thursday at Eastside High School’s auditorium.

“We owe it to people to speak and be heard clearly,” Commissioner Mike Bylerly said.

“If this takes 10 meetings, then it’s going to take 10 meetings.”

There were green shirts, urging the public to “Stand By Our Plan.” There were stickers from the other side, urging the public to say “YES” – to education and to jobs. There was booing, cursing and cheering.

“Please, people, everyone deserves to be heard without being interrupted by that,” Commissioner Robert Hutchinson said more than once to the crowd.

Twenty-one of the first 28 speakers were against the plan. The ratio of those speaking against Envision Alachua versus those in support held throughout the night.

William Elliott said, even though Plum Creek is promising to bring jobs to East Alachua County, nearby counties would be competing for these same jobs.

Maybe so, but Vivian Filer, chair of the board of directors at the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center, said Envision Alachua is not the “Plum Creek plan.”

“The entire community was represented,” she said. “I am into conserving lives and preserving households, because human lives and human beings are just as important as a big black bear. I’m for education, a better lifestyle, conservation – I am for preservation. I am for economic growth.”

Susan Morey, who lives in unincorporated Alachua County, read a letter she wrote to her grandchildren about their time visiting her and her husband.

“It was so quiet that we couldn’t even hear the cars and trucks at Hawthorne Road,” she read. “I hope you remember these days – because things are about to change.”

Scott Camil, of Stand By Our Plan, which supports the existing Alachua County Comprehensive Plan, said the organization raised about $30,000 for opposition to Plum Creek, with $8,000 going toward mailing and spreading the word about Tuesday and Thursday’s hearings.

“We turned out the public,” he said. Camil urged the commission to follow the Alachua County staff’s recommendation not to transmit the plan, which is based on science and fact, he said.

“They work for us,” Camil said.

Lindsay Krieg said the plan is the definition of smart development and an opportunity for the people who need it most.

“We have the best community, we are the most giving and caring, which is what we pat ourselves on the back for,” she said.

“So, if we are truly to take care of all of our citizens, we have to take care of those that are most in need – that is those in eastern Alachua County.”

Kevin Monroe had one thing to say to commissioners: “I ask you to be bold, I ask you to be courageous, I ask you to vote to transmit the plan.”

Still, Maryvonne Devensky, a member of the local Sierra Club, said she moved here four years ago from Palm Beach County, where she saw Florida’s natural landscape turn into Spanish and Victorian homes now sitting in foreclosure. Then there’s the water, she said. “The price of fresh water could be higher than the price of French wine.”

Annette Kennedy drove here from St. Petersburg because she owns a house by Newnans Lake.

“I can see stars at night, we have eagles and deer – it’s my first home,” she said.

“Poverty is a complex issue – and it takes a lot to get out of it. I think you got some really good programs in East Gainesville. I say don’t transmit.”

Wade Swikle came to Gainesville to attend the University of Florida, but said he stayed for his business and because he saw the county’s potential. He compared Plum Creek’s plans to those that made Austin, Tx., an innovative place.

“Gainesville could become a silicone swamp,” he said. He said development would improve the quality of life and encourage students to stay here and thrive after graduation. “Our economy will – it will take off,” he said.

Harvey Ward ended his speech to the commission saying that if we’re serious about jobs for East Gainesville, there’s a plan on the table. He supports Commissioner Hutchinson’s alternative proposed plan, to put jobs where “people actually live,” Ward said.

He said Plum Creek wants to build in Windsor because that’s where they own the land, not where the county needs the jobs.

“They bought swamp land,” he said.

“It’s not the responsibility of the county commission to move heaven and earth for them to develop on it.”

Here is a larger collection of voices throughout the night:

About Briana Erickson

Briana is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing bri.rose561@gmail.com.

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