Homeowners at the Villages of West End are hoping that the same members of the Alachua Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) who on July 14th will declare July as "Parks and Conservation Lands Month," will keep that in mind when the homeowners ask for help in preventing a rezoning decision that would fill in 75 acres of green space with hundreds of homes and a hotel.
On July 13th, about 60 West End and neighboring community homeowners gathered to discuss the upcoming July 23rd "Neighborhood Workshop" being held by JBrown Professional Group, Inc., a Gainesville-based civil engineering group that crafted a detailed rendering of the proposed "Tara Club West End" neighborhood. The development is proposed to replace the West End Golf course located at 12830 West Newberry Road across from Tioga Town Center.
Those 60 homeowners say they are afraid that the proposed 487 residential units, 80-room hotel and commercial business spaces will increase traffic on Newberry Road, increase pollution and eliminate the recreational green space that convinced most of them to call West End home.
And while the homeowners adjacent to the golf course do have an invested interest in the future use of the property, BOCC Chair Robert Hutchinson said that, "Asking a private landowner to voluntarily restrict all of their land to park use is not something local governments typically do."
Hutchinson acknowledged that the BOCC has been receiving correspondence from West End homeowners who have been writing letters and are actively gathering signatures by going door-to-door and via an online petition that is circulating social media forums.
According to Hutchinson, the meetings, letters and petitions are a step in the right direction, but the group that wants to "STOP West End Golf Course rezoning," needs to do more.
"What none of the adjacent landowners has offered to do is purchase the land for a park," Hutchinson said. "With a special assessment that they pay off over a decade or more, they could acquire and improve the park.
"The County might include some Wild Spaces/Public Places funds if it was a park available and of interest to the general public," he added.
According to Hutchinson, the current site plan for the development, "Provides substantial park areas, public trails, and neighborhood buffers."
At the July 13th meeting, the 60 attendees listened to fellow homeowner and avid golfer Dave Mitchell describe the next steps that the potential developer will take.
"We have now an official application for a permit to rezone the property," he said. "And developers have scheduled a neighborhood meeting so they can tell us how wonderful it will be to have a hotel in our backyard.
"We are allowed to comment, ask questions, let our feelings be known and they have to submit (to zoning and planning) the minutes of that meeting, a summary of that meeting, and everything that is presented to them along with that application.
"I want a petition with as many signatures as possible," Mitchell said. "When the planning and zoning board see how many people are against this, it might sway them. If they (the developer) gets that rezoned, the fight is lost."
According to Hutchinson, it's time for the West End residents to come up with a plan and do the math to see if they can appeal to homeowners to purchase the property and establish it as a potential public recreational area. Then, Alachua County might be able to work with the landowners and secure the future of their backyards.