by Homer “Jack” Moore
Micanopy residents showed up in force at a recent meeting of the Alachua County Development Review Committee to contest the planned construction by Concept Companies of a 9,000 square foot Dollar General convenience store at the intersection of Tuscawilla Road, the town’s southern entrance off U.S. Highway 441.
Native Americans representing the American Indian Movement and the Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality organization were also in attendance. The proposed commercial building would trample on historical Native lands and portions of the battlefield of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842).
Micanopy was founded in 1821 and was contiguous with the Seminole village of Cuscawilla. Cuscawilla was the village home of Cowkeeper who is the revered founder of the Seminole Nation. But in December 1835, Seminoles objecting to forced relocation to Oklahoma and theft of their cattle began carrying out skirmishing attacks against US military targets and settlements in the area. The Battle of Micanopy taking place on June 9, 1836, was one of the largest of these: 250 Seminole warriors under the command of Chief Osceola attacked Fort Defiance in Micanopy. The Fort Defiance attack was repulsed after an hour and twenty minutes of fierce fighting.
Micanopy Town Commissioner Ginny Mance informed the DRC that the Town Commission had unanimously objected to the planned Dollar General construction. She especially noted the historical significance of the proposed development property dating from 1774 when William Bartram, an early explorer, chronicled the village of Cuscawilla. In fact the 16-acre Micanopy Native American Heritage Preserve adjoins the development property, and a Native American burial mound is within 500 yards of the planned Dollar General building.
Osceola’s southeastern front at the Battle of Micanopy stands on the very ground where Concept Companies now proposes to build the commercial retail store for lease to Dollar General. This property fronts US Highway 441, a Florida Scenic Highway designated as the Old Florida Heritage Highway.
It is also adjacent to the Alachua Conservation Trust’s Tuscawilla Nature Preserve. The Tuscawilla road, which leads into Micanopy, is canopied by trees. Many trees would be lost to construction.
A “Wildlife Crossing” sign presently stands at approximately the location of the proposed driveway entrance to the Dollar General.
The area is potential habitat for 10 threatened species including the gopher tortoise and the Florida sandhill crane. Flatwoods Consulting Group, an environmental survey company “… that assists clients in navigating complex environmental regulation …” and retained by the developer concluded that the likelihood of occurrence of these species on the proposed development site would be low due to “lack of suitable habitat.”
This assertion was frankly contradicted by photographs presented to the DRC of sandhill cranes and bald eagles taken within Tuscawilla Preserve. Indeed, some years before, a whooping crane had also been captured in the Preserve and transported to a breeding facility in Louisiana.
In correspondence to Alachua County Commissioners, Micanopy Mayor Joe Aufmuth pointed out that the property in question was intended to revert to a Rural Agricultural designation in a revised Alachua County Comprehensive Plan. But, because of County oversight, it was incorrectly zoned as Highway Commercial. Thus the developer was able to dodge any requirements for approval by the County Commission. Mayor Aufmuth recommended a moratorium on development along the 441 Old Florida Heritage Highway. Additionally, the DRC received a citizens’ petition with over 4,000 additional signatures against the project.
Dressed in Native costume, State Seminole leader Martha Tommie seemed visibly overcome as she attempted to speak at the DRC meeting. She could only ask that the Committee show respect to her people and her ancestors. A beating drum and Native singing from outside the building was clearly audible.
Citing deficiencies in the plan proposal, Committee Member Forrest Eddleton moved for denial. But with only one other voting member present, Eddleton’s motion died for lack of a second and was not accorded any further discussion.
Research the following day revealed that DRC Committee member, Beth Dodd, Eddleton’s counterpart on the DRC who failed to second, was formerly employed by CHW Engineers, the engineering firm retained by the developer and the actual applicant!
Dodd worked for CHW for 3 years and 8 months before being hired by Alachua County. Dodd has worked for the county for 11 months. With Eddleton and Dodd in opposition to one another, further motions could not be sustained. Chairwoman Ivy Bell temporarily passed the gavel to Eddleton in order to offer a motion for acceptance of the development plan on condition of otherwise unspecified engagement of the developer with unspecified Micanopy stakeholders. Dodd seconded the motion to approve. The motion carried 2-1 with Eddleton dissenting.
At the DRC meeting, Micanopy residents pointed out that Dollar General was in effect expropriating Micanopy’s neighborhood roads as part of its business plan. It seems here that through a process of regulatory capture and governmental misfeasance, if not malfeasance, outside developers have now once again succeeded in ripping off the citizens of Florida, not to mention the members of the Seminole Nation.