The Hawthorne City Commission declined to take ownership of nine lots that total 5.22 acres offered by the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners at Tuesday’s regular meeting.
The Hawthorne commissioners agreed that they had no desire to take any future risk associated with the land or extend its already stretched services.
“I’m definitely against this, but even if they provide money, I would darn sure refer to the attorney on the legal part of it—of how we could word that and go forward,” Hawthorne Commissioner Matt Surrency said.
The land sits in two sections along SE 232nd Street in Hawthorne and is maintained by the county as a dog park. The land is empty with signs identifying its use.
The question of ownership came up in December during an informal conversation between Hawthorne City Manager Wendy Sapp and Alachua County staff. Sapp then informed the commission of the conversation and potential ownership option.
Sapp said the commission expressed its disinterest because the land isn’t buildable or marketable because of the landfill underneath. The commission didn’t approve any formal action in December.
At the county’s Jan. 25 meeting, an item on the consent agenda directed Commission Chair Marihelen Wheeler to send a formal letter to Hawthorne offering a transfer in ownership of the nine lots.
Hawthorne Vice Mayor Tommie Howard said he wouldn’t be interested in taking the land without guarantees that if something happens with the land, affecting those who live nearby, the city won’t be liable.
He said the federal government has spent millions in the past to rehabilitate land, but there are no signs of those funds on the horizon for Hawthorne and no way to use the land.
Commissioner Patricia Bouie-Hutchinson echoed his comments, adding that the city is already stretched thin with staff.
“I don’t see no reason of having it cause we can’t do anything with it,” Bouie-Hutchinson said. “And it would just be, to me, more of a burden later on for the City of Hawthorne.”
Surrency said he had no desire for the city to take ownership and asked about code violations on the property.
City staff said multiple code violations had been sent to the county concerning the property dealing with maintenance and, most recently, a semi-truck parked on the land.
However, the county has corrected each breach before any fines were issued.
Surrency said it seemed like the county wanted to get rid of its responsibility to maintain the property. He also pointed to the last time Hawthorne received property from Alachua County.
Hawthorne took ownership of 221st Street which runs right through town. Surrency said it took nine years to get the road paved and problems still exist in the subsurface.
“We only put lipstick on the pig,” Surrency said of 221st Street. “It’s still horrible underneath it.”
Mayor Jacquelyn Randall and Surrency commented on the speed with which this official letter arrived after only informal discussion compared to other joint efforts.
Hawthorne has been working with the county to extend the city’s Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) past the initial term limit since June of last year. The city is also looking to create a new CRA in another portion of the city.
Randall agreed with the rest of the commission, and after a motion by Surrency, the commission voted unanimously to reject Alachua County’s land offer.