Alachua County staff, developers and UF officials presented information on Tuesday about three options for more than 4,000 acres along Parker Road on the west side of Gainesville and just outside the urban cluster.
The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) will continue the discussion on Oct. 11, focusing on the special study of the property, and may vote on whether to accept the study and recommendations from staff.
The Lee family has owned the property, known as the Hickory Sink, for seven decades.
“However, the cost and the location of the property have grown to the point where it is becoming more and more challenging to manage,” Val Lee, one of the property owners, said. “We are an island amongst very large developments, and it has become a challenge for us to do anything out there.”
Lee said the family thinks now is the time to collaborate and create something special on the land. Many developers have come to the family over the years, but Lee said the family has held off, not wanting to just make quick money.
Because of the property size, Alachua County would require a special planning process to develop, however the Hickory Sink land doubly qualifies for the process because it is one of 47 strategic ecosystems in the county as identified in a 1996 study.
The property contains many sinkholes and caves, and staff said studies estimate 1,532 gopher tortoises along with rare Florida plant life.
The strategic ecosystem requires a Special Area Planning Process that looks to set aside certain areas for protection while others move forward to development. With the planning process, developers must hold stakeholder workshops, analyze existing and possible future land uses, study public infrastructure impacts and strategies for follow-up action on the county report.
The Alachua County staff outlined the three possible paths: a no build option, a by right option and a master plan option.
Under the no build option, the property would stay the same with active farming and forestry.
Under by right, the property would be developed under what the current land use and zoning allows. That plan includes 800 acres of solar power and cluster subdivisions with just over 800 homes. The plan would also keep more than 2,000 acres as conservation open space to preserve the strategic ecosystem.
Under the master plan, the county and developer would work together to create a plan for the area that preserves some areas and opens some up for solar arrays, denser development, a UF golf course and any other options.
Staff said the master plan scenario requires “significant amendments to the County’s adopted Comprehensive Plan to allow for urban development outside of the Urban Cluster.”
Gerry Dedenbach serves as executive vice president at CHW Professional Consultants and planner for the owner. He said the master plan option would work best.
He called the no build option a “dead future” because of the surrounding development and increased struggles to manage.
“If you read the comprehensive plan and the elements of the comprehensive plan, they promote good master planning,” Dedenbach said. “They promote the collaboration of land use and transportation scenarios and infrastructure and capital improvements to look to our future.”
He said the master plan option looks to provide for the community 25 and 40 years down the line. Dedenbach pointed to subdivisions that border the property like Oakmont, Haile Plantation and Lugano that already contain road abutments that anticipated future development.
If the county only allows a by right option, he said the 800 homes on that much land won’t provide enough funding to increase amenities and connectivity options like hooking into Gainesville sewer instead of septic tanks.
The developer and owner haven’t created a detailed master plan as they worked on the study. After the study—with set boundaries between the protected areas and developed areas—a detailed plan can come.
Charlie Lane, chief operating officer at UF, said the university would love to operate a new golf course in the area. He said the current Mark Bostick Golf Course, built in 1921, fails to meet current standards for athletics and presents a handicap for the UF golf teams.
If it moves forward, Lane said the facility would be managed by UF/IFAS and be environmentally safer than most golf courses.
After an hour of staff presentation and an hour of developer presentation, community members spoke during public comment for another hour. Many members from different local groups, from the Alachua Audubon Society to the Alachua County Labor Coalition and the Sierra Club, voiced concerns over the environmental impact of a master plan or by right development.