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County Commissioners Pitch Ideas, Future Ownership For Camp McConnell

Attempting to sell 212 acres of county land can be a challenge: it should remain public, it should be for recreation and it should receive proper care.

Alachua County Board of Commissioners decided at the regular meeting yesterday that it intends to sell Camp McConnell to a group that is most likely to use the property to benefit the residents of Alachua County. The board exchanged ideas that include selling the former YMCA camp to a government agency or a private organization, either for profit or not-for-profit.

Before the motion to sell the camp was reached, commissioners discussed a variety of ideas and goals for the 212 acres. Yet they were consistent in wanting to preserve the camp for the people.

“Part of what sold me on this proposal in the first place was the idea that -- what is a relatively special area -- is that we protect what is special there,” Commissioner Mike Byerly said.

The board unanimously agreed to go forward with the motion of selling the camp with the idea of making it accessible to both children and adults.

Charlie Houder, the director of the Department of Parks and Conservation Lands, proposed selling only 90 acres in the south area of the camp. The county would keep the remaining 122 acres.

After the land was purchased by Alachua County last June, a Request for Information invited the community to propose how the land should be used, but only three proposals were submitted. Though the initial intention of the land purchase was unclear, there was always the idea that it might be sold, Houder said.

“We really put out the option of possibly selling the property,” he said. “That’s been something that the board has considered since day one with the reservation of a conservation of the property. It could be sold either in whole or in part.”

In the motion that Commissioner Robert Hutchinson drafted, selling the land will reimburse the Wild Spaces Public Places fund.

“If someone comes in and says, ‘I’ll give you half-a-million bucks for the property,’ we may decide that’s the best proposal but not that it’s in our best interest to give it to them,” Hutchinson said.

The motion assures that, if the buyer goes bankrupt and tries to flip the property, the county will have the rights to get it back, he said.

The county also plans to rank the potential purchasers based on several factors. Those factors include purchase price and terms, recreational and educational benefits, property management, and the stewardship of national resources, among others, he said.

“I don’t think we should simply be looking at the price that somebody is willing to offer,” Hutchinson said. “We should be looking at the ultimate benefit.”

Rennee is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.