by Homer Jack Moore
It’s Micanopy 3, Dollar General 0.
With some help from the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners, the scenic and historic little town of Micanopy just sent the Dollar General store packing for the third straight time.
Dollar General and its developers have repeatedly tried to stand up a mini-box convenience store in Micanopy only to run afoul of a buzz saw of community opposition.
It’s not as if Dollar General wouldn’t be welcomed at an appropriate site such as the I-75 Micanopy exit. Instead, Dollar General stores metastasize to otherwise pristine countryside and contribute to environmental degradation and rurban (rural-urban) sprawl and blight.
Witness the cheap trashed-out DG across the street from the Orange Lake overlook in McIntosh, the DG that took out a legacy building in La Crosse, and the brand new Dollar General just across the street from the old Flemington store right in the middle of Marion County’s Farmland Preservation Area. This, their third strike at Micanopy, would have put a DG right at the scenic gateway to the town on Tuscawilla Road, adjacent to the Native American Heritage Preserve, across the street from the Tuscawilla Nature Preserve, and atop the site of the Battle of Micanopy, 1836, Second Seminole War.
The Micanopy property in question was purchased in 2017 for $150,000 by James Rhodes, et ux. Mr. Rhodes is a successful commercial HVAC contractor in Gainesville, and evidently he envisioned a use for the property as a hub for his expanding air conditioner business empire in Florida. Then along came Concept Companies of Gainesville, a DG developer, with a proposal and a price: To amputate a tiny tip from Rhode’s property and plop down a DG at the intersection of US Highway 441 and Micanopy’s forested scenic entryway.
The amount under consideration isn’t publicly known, but it was most likely a princely sum. When Rhodes was subsequently approached about the possibility of an alternative buy-out from the community, he supposed that a half million might do it.
How Concept Companies managed to cram all this and its DG development plan through the Alachua County Growth Management Department is a sorry saga of insider influence, Development Review Committee packing, and corrupt consultancy practices, all chronicled in prior issues of The Gainesville Iguana.
But the public fought back. At the first Development Review Committee hearing on the matter, Concept Companies got a warning from one Micanopy resident: The roads in Alachua County are built and paid for by the citizens, and they are not the automatic driveway up to some crummy development. Concept Companies paid no heed.
It turns out, however, that Micanopy residents were seeking designation of the gateway Tuscawilla Road as an official Alachua County Scenic Road. Such designation imposes increased setbacks for preservation of trees and puts restrictions on heavy trucks. And under the leadership of then BoCC Chair Ken Cornell, the Alachua Board of County Commissioners wisely enacted the official County designation for a scenic Tuscawilla Road
By then, however, the development plan for the Dollar General was already in place and it was not affected by the Scenic Road designation or setbacks. Except for the trucks! Tuscawilla Road belonged to, and still belongs to, the people of Alachua County, not Concept Companies. And for purposes of preservation and public enjoyment the people of Alachua County get to say within reason what drives on it, and what doesn’t.
Dollar General, it turns out, uses 40-ton semi-tractor trailer megatrucks to deliver to its stores. Nothing over 25 tons is allowed on an Alachua County Scenic Road. There was nothing that actually precluded the Dollar General from using smaller delivery trucks. Dollar General just didn’t like it.
As for Rhodes and his air conditioner empire, his development plan was not in place. So all the setbacks and restrictions pertinent to the County Scenic Road did in fact apply to him.
Plausibly Rhodes would have had recourse under Florida’s Bert Harris law, but lawsuits and land use attorneys don’t come cheap. Not only that, Rhodes, apparently thinking he might test the waters on the Scenic Road thing while nobody was looking, decided to go bush hogging on his property one Sunday morning. And he started cutting down trees in the setback. It is reported that he was carrying an AR-15 type long gun in his truck. Was he expecting trouble?
Fortunately the episode ended peaceably when Alachua Code Enforcement showed up.
Concept Companies, finding itself with an approved development plan, but now unable to perform to the trucking requirements demanded by its prospective tenant, did start suing. Never mind the likelihood of losing a dodgy case, and with it taking a dead weight loss on hundreds of thousands already spent greasing palms to get the development plan in place. A sue ‘til you puke strategy presents the defendant, in this case Alachua County, with some prospect of protracted and expensive legal defenses, too.
Matt Cason, President of Concept Companies, had publicly said he would fight to the bitter end, and no doubt he meant it. But his lawyer bills were adding up. And Rhodes, for his part, was discovering himself in possession of a piece of property he couldn’t use to his own wishes and might not even be able to unload on Concept Companies. All parties eventually decided it might be a good time to talk.
Under the leadership of County Commissioner and now Chair Marihelen Wheeler, a deal was reached in mediation. The County would buy out Rhodes and Concept Companies to the tune of $800,000, a hefty sum, but better than spending it on lawyers. Rhodes got $425,000. Concept Companies apparently got the rest and was told to bug off. And Dollar General, once again, was banished from Micanopy.
The County subsequently reached out to the Town of Micanopy with a request to participate by a contribution of unspent and to-be-allocated funds in the amount of $170,000 from the Wild Spaces Public Places program. The property would then be deeded over to the Town. As of this writing, that part of the transaction is still pending, but the Micanopy Town Commission has signaled its intention to go forward. In the end, Micanopy will be able to purchase the parcel minimally above the 2017 price and at no extra burden to its residents.
Strike Three, Dollar General, you’re out!