by Melissa Elliott
“Every path begins with passion.”
Though Gainesville’s new(ish) city motto has had its detractors in the past, it does seem to capture the spirit of its citizens. And, with the resounding public and private backlash against Nathan Collier’s bid to purchase a parcel of Loblolly Park, the phrase has never rung so true.
Earlier in May, Collier formally brought that bid to the city commission. The $1 million offer for 5.7 acres of land, lobbied by former Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan, won a 4-3 vote for future consideration by the commission, after three hours of debate. The approved plan would constrain the parcel to 4.99 acres or less, and is completely dependent on the council declaring that portion of Loblolly as surplus before it could be considered for sale.
A surplus of land is a portion of a parcel that is more than the amount needed to support the current highest and best use. However, the surplus, by definition, must have no value apart from the main parcel. In similar instances, surplus land has been declared so by land managers, and not in response to a singular private citizen bidding for a sale of said property.
Save Loblolly Woods, a group formed by residents focused on preserving that portion of the park, started a Facebook page three weeks ago. Within that short time, the page has inspired hundreds of locals to voice their opposition of the sale, and garnered nearly 500 followers. Posts range from personal stories of daily trail hiking, photos of indigenous plants and wild life, to warm remembrances of fort building as children—children who grew to build new forts with their own children. These stories all center around the same area, located off the 3300 block of NW Fifth Avenue. The parcel does indeed have value of its own, apart from the remaining 57.3 acres of the North section of the park. It is not useless, nor indistinguishable from the rest of Loblolly, or rarely used. It is defined, by many, as ecologically valuable and a high priority.
Sandra Friend, a board member of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association, agrees. “The sale of public land is a dangerous precedent to set, no matter the good intentions, when that public land is already is use for the public good.”
The city has yet to put the final vote on its agenda, but that hasn’t stopped concerned residents from checking the commission’s calendar on a weekly basis. Many have expressed a determined excitement for the opportunity to protect a part of Gainesville’s history. Learn more at http://saveloblollywoods.org.