BOCC motions on lobby effort, land conservation

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) passed a two-part motion at its special meeting on Tuesday and expressed support for a new facility to house the Land Conservation and Management Department. 

The motion, proposed by Commissioner Ken Cornell, directs staff to develop a legislative white paper that can be sent to the Florida Legislature. The document would lobby for the state to cut counties a portion of funding, up to 5 percent, from Amendment 1. 

Passed in 2014, the amendment reserves 33 percent of the documentary stamp tax for state conservation land maintenance and acquisition.

Charlie Houder, director of Alachua County’s land conservation department, said the amount of money Amendment 1 provides the state has multiplied since its inception. For fiscal year 2023, Florida received approximately $1.6 billion thanks to the amendment—compared with $700 million in the first year.

Houder estimates that 5 percent of those funds would finance county conservation and maintenance efforts in the 46 counties that have programs dedicated to the issue. 

“[Counties] are all contributing to the same goal as the state parks and what-have-you,” Houder said to the BOCC. “There’s no reason, in my mind, that the counties shouldn’t also be getting some of these funds for the maintenance of these lands longterm.”

He asked for the county to lobby for the change. Cornell’s motion would have the white paper sent to the Florida Legislature along with the Florida Association of Counties (FAC).

The second part of the motion asks staff to prepare a presentation on its tree mitigation policy and how it practically intersects with the county’s Open Space requirements (Article 5 of Alachua County’s general development standards). 

Cornell also asked staff to return with the top three mitigation instances from the past three years to explain how county staff and developers reached the calculation. 

Though not included in the motion, commissioners supported Houder’s plan to build a new location for the county’s Land Conservation and Management Department. 

Staff explained that the department is split between four locations at the moment, forcing extra trips and time to gather supplies. 

Houder proposed a new site at the Buck Bay Flatwoods site on NE 53rd Avenue. The county recently bought the land and has not yet added it to the conservation list. 

“We’ve done some analysis and that is the most centrally located spot we’ve got on county land,” Houder said. 

Staff also reached out to an architecture firm that partners with the county. The firm estimated $371,000 for the design and supervision of the building. 

Houder said the county has already set aside enough money to cover that portion of the cost and even to help out on the construction. But he said staff will need to allocate general funds or find another source to cover the rest of the project—estimated at $2.5 million according to the architect firm. 

“I think it’s time now to really invest in both the facility and a place to protect and preserve what we’ve been buying,” Cornell said. 

He said this is the budget cycle to spend on the project, and the item will return to the BOCC for approval.

 

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