Hawthorne Plum Creek IMG 1849

Photo by C.M. Walker/Alachua County Today

City of Hawthorne officials met to discuss environmental concerns related to the development of 1,200 acres of property annexed into the city limits.

HAWTHORNE – Hawthorne city commissioners held a workshop Tuesday to address environmental concerns identified by Alachua County regarding the future development of 1,200 acres recently annexed by the City of Hawthorne.

Although county staff recommended rejecting the annexation, the county commission instead has asked Hawthorne to address certain environmental concerns.

“The county asked that we improve wetland protection policies, designate conservation areas related to wetlands and provide additional buffering from incompatible uses,” said Hawthorne Mayor Matt Surrency.

The land in question is owned by Plum Creek Timber, the largest land owner in the county and one of the largest real estate investment trusts in the country.

Hawthorne is the epicenter for the first part of Plum Creek’s massive development plan for eastern Alachua County, called Envision Alachua, which could potentially impact 7,000 acres and create 30,000 jobs over the next 50 years.

The Hawthorne portion of Plum Creek’s project potentially includes development of 800 residences, 150,000 sq. ft. of retail space and 2.85 million sq. ft. of manufacturing space.

Chris Dougherty of Littlejohn Engineering Associates in Orlando researched the county's concerns and prepared a presentation for Tuesday evening's workshop.

While Hawthorne currently contracts with Alachua County for planning services, the city decided to make an exception in this instance.

“We outsourced this project to Littlejohn because we wanted to hire a company with no current ties to the city or county,” Surrency said. “We had to go all the way to Orlando to find that company.”

Dougherty explained certain aspects of the city's Comprehensive Plan and how it works, what regulations and regulatory agencies would enforce certain aspects of the Plum Creek development, and identified areas that require more stringent wetland protection.

The recommendations will go back to the city's Planning and Zoning Board for review and final recommendation to the city commission. “Once approved, the plan will be forwarded to Tallahassee,” said City Manager Ellen Vause.

“This is now a city issue and it will not go back to the county for any further action,” Surrency said. However, the city is looking at the county suggestions in an effort to develop the best possible plan.

“There are always pros and cons to development and we believe the city can ensure economic development and environmental protection at the same time,” Surrency said.

“The important thing to note is that everybody on our commission has been raised in the Hawthorne area and are long-time residents of Hawthorne. We are going to maintain the small town character of Hawthorne through our Planning and Zoning Board.”

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