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Envision Alachua Task Force Focuses on Clarifying Plana��s Benefits

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The Envision Alachua Task Force has worked together for five years a�� and members who initially were strangers with different interests have forged a bond.

Their bond is based on a shared vision of bringing to reality a robust job, research and residential center that revitalizes eastern Alachua County while boosting prosperity throughout the rest of the county.

The task force, assembled by timber and land company Plum Creek but now having an identity of its own, met Thursday (Jan. 20) to strategize for its biggest challenge so far.

That challenge is telling their story at an Alachua County Commission hearing on the Envision Alachua Sector Plan scheduled for Feb. 16 and Feb. 18 at Eastside High School.

The commission will vote on whether to transmit the Envision Alachua Sector Plan to the Florida Department of Community a�� after which the plan would come back to the county for final approval.

Wetlands impact was the biggest issue that people who call him raised, said Task Force member Charles Lee, director of advocacy for Audubon Florida.

a�?The argument assumes every acre of wetland is equivalent,a�? he said. a�?We should change the discussion to whether the wetlands that would be impacted are pristine.a�?

Plum Creek planner Tim Jackson responded that all high quality wetlands in the 52,000-acre Envision Alachua Sector Plan proposal a�� including those with cypress trees a�� would be placed in a preservation easement.

The sector plan calls for affecting no more than 400 acres of wetlands within the 3,380 acres that will developed as job centers a�� with a 50-year build-out.

a�?All of these wetlands have been within a working forest since the early 1900s,a�? Jackson said. a�?Some of them have been planted in pine. They can be offset by restoring wetlands relatively nearby. There will be no net loss in wetland function.a�?

Former Secretary of the Florida Department of Community AffairsA�Steve Seibert recommended emphasizing that a sector plan is fundamentally different than a standard comprehensive plan amendment. a�?Comparing the two is not apple to apples; ita��s apples to oranges,a�? said Seibert, who is the former director of the Department of Economic Opportunity .

The Florida Legislature created the sector plan option as a way to provide a 50-year commitment for creating jobs, improving the quality of life and enhancing conservation of property of 15,000 acres or more, Jackson said.

a�?Sector plans arena��t meant to be consistent with comprehensive plans,a�? he said. a�?Theya��re meant to be a significant improvement.a�?

Task Force member Susan Baird noted that county officials have promised improvements in eastern Alachua County for 40 to 50 years, but little has happened. a�?Ita��s time to give something like this a chance,a�? said Baird, who is a former county commissioner.

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