by Homer Jack Moore
Like many rural communities, Micanopy is rimmed by rural blight. Bombed-out vacant buildings are especially prevalent at the I-75 exit.
The only building there that was ever successfully repurposed was an old Stuckey’s store, now the Cafe Risque, an escape place for lonely men who come to be titillated by naked girls.
Yet right across town on the other side, the minions in service to the multibillion-dollar Dollar General Corporation are warming up the heavy equipment to rip up trees at the corner of an Alachua County Scenic Road, and make way for a convenience store. You would have thought that one of those already distressed properties would have been cheaper and more suitable. But, no.
Dollar General typically leases a property, sucks the life out of it, and then absconds. In the meantime the DG Corp is a notoriously poor tenant and poor neighbor; DG makes no effort to maintain the property or even to pick up the trash and litter scattered about on its premises.
The prognosis in the short term becomes that of yet another trashed-out convenience store on the highway, and in the long term that of an additional bombed-out useless building adding to the cavalcade of rural blight.
The property for this prospective Micanopy Dollar General lies in transitional forest just outside the town limits at the intersection of U.S. Highway 441 and Tuscawilla Road. It is adjacent to the Micanopy Native American Heritage Park and across the road from the Tuscawilla Nature Preserve. 441 is the Old Florida Heritage Highway.
For reference, Micanopy is the oldest still-inhabited inland community in Florida and as such is on the list of the National Register of Historic Places.
The property where the Dollar General is to be built also has historical significance. It’s the site of the original Seminole village of Cuscowilla, home to Ahaya the Cowkeeper, chief and father of the Seminole nation. Cowkeeper’s son was Payne.
In 1821, a man named Edward Wanton opened a nearby trading post and named it Micanopy to curry favor with the then principal Seminole chief by that same name. But in 1830, Andrew Jackson pushed the Indian Removal Act through Congress to institute a policy of ethnic cleansing against Cherokees, Seminoles, and other tribes.
The Second Seminole War commenced a few years later when Osceola refused to be thrown out of his own home or turn over Black Seminoles who were living among the Natives (Jackson had already perpetrated a First Seminole War in 1814 to capture runaway slaves, keep them in subjugation, and reduce any possibility of a slave uprising in Georgia).
In 1836 a running battle took place between US forces and Osceola and his Seminoles and Black Seminoles along the length of today’s Tuscawilla Road.
Suffice it to say that many residents of Micanopy are outraged by the prospect of a Dollar General store on Tuscawilla Road, consider it a desecration of history, and consider it a ruination of the environment to boot.
Arguably the road would be eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. But once it loses integrity to a hodgepodge of development, that opportunity is gone forever.
The Gulf Archeology Research Institute of Crystal River is seeking a National Park Service grant to investigate the area and determine the exact location where the Battle of Micanopy took place. The developer, Concept Companies of Gainesville, has already spent time and money on the project and is anxious to start cutting trees before any of that can occur.
But the bigger riddle still remains: Why destroy a forest when such an abundance of readily available property could be repurposed to the project, thereby recycling existing rural blight to a no less, and arguably better, purpose?
The reason: It’s all about the money.
It’s those stupid junk buildings. Land owners have a notion that since it costs something to put a building up, the building must therefore be worth something. So land owners naturally think they should get more for their property with a junk building on it. And they hold out.
The reality, however, is that a preexisting building footprint only rarely meets the needs of a new design concept — Cafe Risque excepted. And so that “more” that the property owner holds out for never arrives.
It’s just cheaper for a developer to buy some forest, bulldoze it, and put up a new structure meeting the design concept. And that becomes especially true if the junk property happens to have buried fuel tanks or other environmental cleanup issues.
Then, in the fullness of time (about a decade), the development ages out and becomes part of an ever-increasing burden of blight.
Let’s get real. Junk property is not worth more. It’s worth less.
An enlightened ad valorem tax policy would make that true. The carrying cost for junk ought to be such as to make it the better option to unload. The carrying cost for forest ought to be such as to make it the better option to keep. It’s a matter that the elected Alachua Board of County Commissioners are ultimately responsible for.
That’s the primary place where your objections to rural blight should be directed. There is also an organized community effort in Micanopy opposing destruction of forest for the sake of a Dollar General. A newsletter is available on request to firstname.lastname@example.org (use tagline “Watchdog on Micanopy”) or to PO Box 9, Micanopy, FL 32667.
These days it’s cheaper to bulldoze the forest. The irony is that in the larger perspective that difference turns out to be such small beer.