Proposed amendments to the county’s Comprehensive Plan are first considered by the Planning Commission, a citizen advisory board appointed by the Alachua County Commission, before going to the County Commission. After public hearings in November, the Planning Commission over-rode staff objections and voted 4-2 to recommend approval to the County Commission. The staff had recommended DENIAL. The circumstances surrounding the Planning Commission hearings are now raising serious questions about the fairness of the process.
The chair of the Planning Commission is Jennifer Springfield, a local attorney who has been hired by Plum Creek to assist with their development plans. Plum Creek has now annexed a part of their land into the city of Hawthorne, where it will be exempt from the county’s environmental safeguards. Springfield did not recuse herself from the planning commission vote, nor did she disclose her relationship with Plum Creek before voting to approve their application.
Under suspicious circumstances, another member of the Planning Commission was forced to resign just hours prior to the first public hearing. Forrest Eddleton, a planning technician with the City of Gainesville, has served in the “Citizen-at-Large” position for over a year. Following a phone call to Interim Gainesville City Manager Anthony Lyons from an undisclosed source, Eddleton has publicly stated that he was called into Lyons’ office and instructed to resign that afternoon, or lose his job, The City has no policy regarding its employees serving on County advisory committees.
We have since learned that there was a 14 minute phone call between Mr. Lyons and Rose Fagler of Plum Creek, at 12:14 p.m., Less than three hours later, Mr Lyons notified Forrest Eddleton that he must resign from the planning commission that day.
Before any public comment, Jennifer Springfield asked if anyone wanted to make a motion. Eric Drummond made a motion to approve the Plum Creek Application, which was seconded by Evan Pitts.
Eric Drummond and Evan Pitts were attending their first meeting the night of the first Plum Creek hearing.
In her closing, Jennifer Springfield said that what this really came down to was a “dichotomy between those who were visionary and those who were fearful of change.”
Voting in support of the Plum Creek application were Chair Jennifer Springfield (Springfield Law), Eric Drummond (Charles Perry Construction), Evan Pitts (Florida Credit Union), and Susan McQuillan (Watson Realty). Voting against were School Board representative Eileen Roy and Tim Rockwell (EDA Engineers).
The Alachua County Commission has sent a letter to the City of Gainesville complaining about the city interfering with a county process and asking for an explanation.