BOCC sets surtax split between conservation, parks 

Alachua County Board of County Commissioners at Tuesday's special meeting.
Alachua County Board of County Commissioners at Tuesday's special meeting.
Courtesy of Alachua County

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) decided how to split its Wild Spaces Public Places funds on Tuesday after hearing two 10-year plans from the parks and the conservation lands departments.  

During the last funding period, 2016 to 2022, the county used 90% of the funds for conservation land and 10% for active recreation and parks. In November 2022, voters approved a 10-year extension on the Wild Spaces Public Places (WSPP) surtax.  

Commissioner Ken Cornell presented a five-part motion that kept the priority on conservation lands with 80% of the estimated $193 million that the WSPP half of the surtax will generate over the next 10 years.  

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The motion approved the 10-year conservation lands plan, authorized the use of WSPP funds to build a conservation department building at Buck Bay Preserve, use the 80%/20% split, use WSPP funds to start reoccurring costs in the conservation plan with steps to transition to general funds and adopt the parks masterplan as a visioning document.  

Ken Cornell
Courtesy of Alachua County Ken Cornell

The motion passed unanimously.  

Both the parks department and conservation department would use the same funding from WSPP, and both presented plans that needed roughly half or more of the estimated revenue.  

Consultant Kristin Caborn, a senior planning manager for GAI consultants, presented the 10-year parks masterplan that looked at where new parks are needed and what parks need updating.  

The report recommends five new community parks of at least 20 acres in rural areas, two new neighborhood parks of at least five acres in the urban cluster and two new neighborhood parks in rural areas.  

Each of the parks would work through a community engagement process to learn what features to incorporate—basketball or soccer, pickleball or playgrounds, etc. The parks would each have pavilions, flexible open space, off-street parking and a play area.  

The plan also listed five goals for all county parks: 

  • Incorporate nature 
  • Communicate programming and options 
  • Safe and welcoming to multicultural users of all ages and abilities 
  • All residents have access to opportunities for play and recreation 
  • Provide for the needs of current users and respond to future trends 
Map showing general locations where new parks could go. Courtesy Alachua County
Courtesy Alachua County Map showing general locations where new parks could go.

The masterplan listed set distances to ensure all residents are close to a park—the fourth point above. In rural areas, proximity means within six miles of a community park or two miles of a neighborhood park. In urban areas, proximity means within three miles of a community park or one mile of a neighborhood park.  

The presentation included improvements needed to different parks, listing which of the above goals the location lacked.  

“Your parks have been well loved over the years, and quite frankly, many of them are ripe for renovations,” Caborn said.    

To accomplish the entire 10-year parks masterplan, the county would need to invest $87 million—around half for the new parks and half for the existing.  

Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said the county could also improve its maintenance of parks. He compared Alachua County with Marion County to the south, praising Marion for its maintained and inviting parks.   

“I think that they did an excellent job, and I was really impressed,” Chestnut said. “Now since we’re having a masterplan, I just want to make sure that the maintenance and the amenities are there because that’s very, very important. That’s how you get the activity and people wanting to come there.” 

Mary Alford
Courtesy of Mary Alford Mary Alford

Caborn also mentioned that a strategically placed community park around the urban cluster (Jonesville) could fill the requirements of two proposed parks, reducing the number of new parks needed.  

Commissioners also said that funds for the parks could come from other sources besides WSPP along with partner opportunities with cities.  

Andi Christman, program manager, presented the conservation lands presentation.  

She brought updated numbers of the Alachua County Forever program that has existed since 2000 and purchased 32,687 acres in that time. Another acquisition will close on Friday, Christman said, and the program has another 40,380 acres on the active acquisition list.  

Since the start, the program has paid an average of $3,177 per acre, including land donations, easements and fees.  

Previously, Christman said the BOCC has aimed at protecting 30% of the county’s land and water by 2030. But Christman said new data has conservationists pushing for 50% by 2050.  

Alachua County Forever has bought mostly in the eastern part of the county along with north and south of Gainesville, forming a “green crescent.” Christman said this area of the county joins statewide nature corridors—one of the highest priorities.  

Commissioner Mary Alford noted that before long, some cities will be surrounded by conservation lands. She said the county would need to partner with those cities, Waldo coming up by name, to ensure they don’t feel isolated.  

“I feel the need that we as a board consider assisting with the economic development of those towns by providing ecotourism opportunities to them and other sustainable types of development within those communities so that they don’t feel like they’ve become isolated and unable to get the same kind of help for their residents that other communities have had through other opportunities,” Alford said. 

The Alachua County Forever program has four properties with 5,103 acres in the negotiation phase for an estimated $16 million. Another 19 properties are in the pre-negotiation phase with 7,654 acres for an estimated $24 million.  

In order to meet the 30% goal, Christman said the county would need to protect 43,400 additional acres worth $138 million at current prices.  

Christman also highlighted the need for a centralized workspace for the department, a request brought to the BOCC in the past. The county identified a site at Buck Bay Preserve and requested WSPP funds for construction.  

A map showing lands conserved by Alachua County. Courtesy Alachua County
Courtesy Alachua County A map showing lands conserved by Alachua County.

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Janice Garry

Seth, you’ve done it again! You’ve clearly and expertly written about a topic of high priority to the quality of life of we who live in Alachua County. When we are unable to attend meetings, your accounting of decisions made and directions taken is invaluable. Thank you!