Alachua County aims to conserve agricultural lands with new program

Commissioner Ken Cornell speaks at the Feb. 13 regular meeting.
Commissioner Ken Cornell speaks at the Feb. 13 regular meeting.
Photo by Seth Johnson

Agricultural lands fail to make it far in Alachua County’s review for conservation land purchases, but a new program could create a new path for the county to obtain conservation easements on private agricultural lands.  

The county discussed the program at a special meeting on Tuesday, along with a plan to create a new governance structure for a six-county CareerSource territory.  

The agricultural land program presented Tuesday will mirror the current Alachua County Forever program used to buy environmentally sensitive property. Owners or other residents would need to nominate the property for review, and the entire process will require owner cooperation.  

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“The program only works with willing landowners,” said Andi Christman, director of Alachua County Forever.  

Christman and Alachua Conservation Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to environmental conservation, have developed the framework for the program since around September 2023. The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) approved moving forward with the concept in December 2023.  

Christman said sections of the program are still being revised following meetings with farmers and the county’s Rural Concerns Advisory Board.   

The sections include how to estimate the economic impact of the agricultural land and what types of agriculture to prioritize.  

Alachua County has 1,712 farms with 197,906 acres of agricultural land, according to the presentation.  

At the meeting, the BOCC discussed what to incentivize and what types of restrictions would be placed on the land with the easements.  

Commissioner Ken Cornell said if the program goal is to keep a resilient local food supply, then those properties, field and row crops, should be emphasized in the criteria.  

Commissioner Anna Prizzia added that the program should also be flexible to allow the owners to adapt to the market demands.  

Cornell said the county doesn’t have a lot of funds to use in the first iteration of the program. He said the BOCC should be strategic.  

“We’re not going to change the face of Alachua County with this first iteration of 8 years, but we can start to form the direction,” Cornell said.  

The BOCC adopted a target of conserving 30% of the county’s lands by 2030. Since the Alachua County Forever program began, it has purchased more than 34,000 acres. Another 43,000 acres need to be protected in order to hit the target. 

Christman said staff will take BOCC feedback and return in August with actionable items and a plan for implementation. 

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the BOCC approved a plan that will consolidate the CareerSource governance for Alachua, Bradford, Gilchrist, Columbia, Union and Dixie counties.  

Tommy Crosby, assistant county manager, said staff worked to create an interlocal agreement that all counties could agree on. He said the state wants the new CareerSource governance running soon. 

“The state has been pushing hard on us to expedite our process—a little bit of sword rattling,” Crosby said. 

The draft interlocal agreement, approved unanimously, would create a six-person board to oversee the new CareerSource territory, with each county appointing a commissioner to serve on the board.  

The draft agreement would require all six members to create a quorum and vote during the meetings. Also, every vote would need to be unanimous in order to pass.  

The BOCC said this would still protect Alachua County’s interests while giving each county an equal weight of the vote. Alachua County would serve as the designated entity and employ the CEO to run the CareerSource operations. 

The draft agreement includes provisions that if a county designee fails to appear for two meetings, then that member is suspended and the rest of the board may take votes and continue with business.  

The workforce board that sends recommendations to the six-member CareerSource board would comprise 19 members appointed by each separate county. This board would be weighted by population, with Alachua County nominating 12 of the members.  

The proposal will be sent to the state and other counties to continue the process.  

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to note that CareerSource governing plan includes Union County, not Levy County.

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Anything that slows the pace of development is good thing. The developers would pave over the entire state if they were allowed.

Aaron Smith

Wonder how more conservation land will affect tax rates..?


“The program only works with willing landowners,”
For now.

Alachua County

For the last 25 years of the program.