By Scott Camil
The Alachua County Comprehensive plan is as close as we can get to a political consensus and compromise in our community. The product of many years of citizen advisory committee deliberations, workshops, public hearings, and legal challenges, then formally adopted and continually revised by an elected county commission, it provides a carefully considered blueprint for future growth in the unincorporated areas of our county. It balances the public interest with the rights of property owners by directing growth to appropriate areas and protecting public health, neighborhoods, farms, wetlands, and significant natural areas.
In 2011, Plum Creek created the Envision Alachua Task Force and began working on a plan to develop its lands in eastern Alachua County. This would require massive changes to the county’s comprehensive plan, sparking significant opposition by environmentalists and rural citizens. The Envision Alachua plan is now before the County Commission.
In February, the county held three special meetings on whether to approve the Plum Creek/Weyerhaeuser (PC/W) plan or not. A huge outpouring of citizens wanted to speak on this issue.
Each person got up to three minutes to speak, and more than 200 people gave testimony over a span of three days and more than 11-1/2 hours. Those speakers who support the comprehensive plan outnumbered the pro PC/W plan by more than 3 to 1. These speakers are a cross-section of our community, young, old, students, retired people, urban and rural, a cross-section of backgrounds and income. All of these people have one thing in common, protecting our rural way of life, our environment and the comprehensive plan that protects both.
The PC/W side is primarily made up of special interests, Plum Creek/Weyerhaeuser’s staff, paid consultants, the Chamber of Commerce, Envision Task Force members, the builders association, and a sprinkling of people from groups and organizations that they have given money to. PC/W is having a hard time in Alachua County – they are used to having their way using money, propaganda, manipulation and deception.
In the introduction of their PR book, the first sentence says, “Plum Creek initiated the Envision Alachua planning process in response to a request from Alachua County.” This first sentence is a deception – there was no request by Alachua County.
The deception continues, from their tightly controlled and carefully choreographed meetings trying to manufacture consent, to giving money to worthy causes and organizations in order to buy good will and political influence. They pander to low income folks, feigning concern for wage disparity, while we all know that they don’t really support a true living wage.
They act like they believe their own propaganda. They promise opportunities for east Gainesville, while their own map shows that their land is further away from east Gainesville than existing economic and educational opportunities that are much closer and have public transportation.
They don’t understand our citizens. As much as people hate taxes, our citizens have voted to tax themselves every time there has been initiative on the ballot to raise money in order to invest in our community, buy land, and put it into conservation.
This is the big difference between us. They are motivated by greed and think that they can buy everyone off. They believe that accumulation of wealth is what life is about so have a hard time when coming up against a culture motivated by quality of life, not greed. Our folks can’t be bought.
Our County Commission will decide this issue and PC/W knows this. Since 2012 they have been trying to knock Mike Byerly off the commission. This year, PC/W’s Task Force member, Kevin Thorpe, is going after Mike Byerly’s seat. You might remember that Pastor Thorpe tried to keep Ken Cornell off the county commission. Mike and Ken have been unyielding in the protection of our environment and comprehensive plan.
School Board member Eileen Roy, who also serves on the Planning Commission, voted to recommend that the county not approve PC/W’s plan. She too has an opponent, Juliun Kinsey, another Task Force member.
If PC/W gets its way, they will make lots of money at our expense. If we win, we insure a better future for our kids and grandkids. Please stand up to PC/W. Support our elected representatives who fight for us and our future. D