18 Hours of Public Meetings Later, Alachua County Commissioners Vote Against Plum Creek’s Plan

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Plum Creek’s plan for development in eastern Alachua County will not go to the state for review, the county’s elected officials decided in a 3-2 vote on Tuesday night.

At least not in its current form, it won’t.

After more than an hour of county commissioners asking questions of county employees and Plum Creek representatives, commissioner Robert Hutchinson presented his alternative: build some of what the company suggests, but build it in a different spot.

Here’s how the five-man commission decided against transmitting the Envision Alachua plan that Plum Creek had put forward.

  • Commissioner Mike Byerly made a motion to deny transmittal.
  • Commissioner Charles Chestnut IV made a motion to  transmit.
  • Byerly asked Hutchinson to finally show his cards and indicate whether his alternate plan involving the redevelopment of Tacachale was a condition of transmitting or not transmitting.
  • After hearing from county attorney Michele Lieberman that making Tacachale an informal part of transmittal would be a poor decision, Hutchinson turned over his chairman’s gavel to commissioner Ken Cornell as he said, “I’m going to make a decision to not transmit this, and furthermore to instruct staff that they should schedule a workshop for the commission.”
  • Cornell and Byerly supported Hutchinson’s motion; Chestnut and Lee Pinkoson voted against it.

Plum Creek (which recently merged with and is now known as Weyerhaeuser) is invited to that public workshop to discuss the Tacachale plan, which has not yet been scheduled.

That action followed three-plus hours of passionate debate among the commissioners. Mike Byerly, who helped launch the Stand By Our Plan organization that stood in opposition to Plum Creek, was the first to make a statement after the commission finished questioning company representatives and county staff.

“I think this is the second-most important vote I’ll ever make,” Byerly said, signaling the beginning of his hourlong string of scathing comments about Plum Creek’s proposed changes to the county’s comprehensive plan, whose 2003 revision was his most important vote, he said.

Byerly accused Plum Creek of “manipulating” the county’s planning commission and said Santa Fe College and University of Florida officials “embarrassed themselves” by making last-minute endorsements.

Chestnut and Pinkoson, who pushed for a vote of transmittal until the end of the night, made separate rebuttals — both focused on jobs; Plum Creek projected its development will create 30,000 new jobs over 50 years.

"This is a serious issue to me," Chestnut said. (Photos by Ethan Magoc/WUFT News)
“This is a serious issue to me,” Chestnut said. Byerly listens, at left. (Photos by Ethan Magoc/WUFT News)

Cornell, who teamed with Byerly to vote against transmittal, made this his central point:

Ken Cornell 002
County commissioner Ken Cornell.

Pinkoson then attacked Byerly’s constant votes against development and growth.

Byerly’s response: his vote against the 2003 revision was a vote against a lawsuit settlement that finalized the county’s comprehensive plan, not an overall objection to the plan by which he so stridently stands.

Throughout the night, all five commissioners were interrupted by members of the public, who offered more than 10 hours of comment during three separate February meetings. The continued outbursts caused Chestnut to call for the sheriff’s deputies on hand to escort out anyone who interrupted him, and Pinkoson engaged in multiple stare downs from the dais.

"Are y'all done?" Pinkoson asks a member of Stand By Our Plan who interrupted him. (Ethan Magoc/WUFT News)
“Are y’all done?” Pinkoson asks a member of Stand By Our Plan who interrupted him.

Scott Camil, a leader of Stand By Our Plan, wished his part of the crowd — dressed mostly in bright green — had been more reserved.

“I’m a little disappointed that there were some outbursts that were uncalled for,” he said afterward. “Anytime someone wearing our colors does that, it embarrasses me. But this is a very emotional issue.”

Camil said the group spent more than $30,000 from January 2014 through Tuesday night, and he alleged Plum Creek spent millions of dollars on public relations, lobbying, and charitable giving in Alachua County. “I think we got more bang for the buck than they did,” he said.

Company representatives declined to speak immediately after the vote, instead releasing this statement from Todd Powell, general manager of Weyerhaeuser’s real estate:

“We are disappointed for the Envision Alachua Task Force and the community as we will have to keep waiting for opportunity to reach East Alachua county. Our team wakes up every day focused on how quickly we can bring jobs to the east side of our county, so this delay compounds the issues now facing our neighbors.

“We have always been willing to sit down with the community to develop win-win solutions but we have been told that any such action on Tacachale, even if possible, would be many, many years away. Even the potential county fairground swap, which is on land the county already owns, is at least five years from a potential exchange.”

Former county commissioner Susan Baird decried the county’s decision not to send Envision Alachua to Tallahassee for review.

“It’s really more of kicking the can down the road,” she said, adding with sarcasm: “Let’s have some more meetings to talk about how we can work on this and get it through.”

About Ethan Magoc

Ethan is a journalist at WUFT News. He's a Pennsylvania native who found a home reporting Florida's stories. Reach him by emailing emagoc@wuft.org or calling 352-294-1525.

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