By Jane Tanner
Florida has more than a dozen residential co-ops, including a new venture near Gainesville.
A few years ago, Ellie Sommer and Paul Hoffhein bought property in High Springs, north of Gainesville, seeking a quiet life after a decade in Naples. But they felt out of sync with their new neighbors -- one had a giant 24-hour security floodlight; others squabbled over easements. Rather than just pick a new place to live and hope for more compatible neighbors, they decided to pick the neighbors first.
In 1995, the married couple put an ad in the Gainesville Sun soliciting people who wanted to live in a conservation-oriented land co-op. An application form even quizzed would-be residents on what they expected to contribute to the community. In 1997, they and two others founded Woodbine, a 125-acre, heavily wooded community in the cypress swamps of eastern Gainesville that the group organized as a land trust.
Woodbine is the most recent among more than a dozen residential co-ops that have sprung up in Florida. The communities run the gamut from loosely bound groups of alternative-culture types to high-end communities such as River Forest in Manatee County, which features strict preservation designs and homes costing $300,000 to $500,000. Adjacent to Woodbine is Flamingo Hammock, another rural residential land co-op started in 1983. Tallahassee has a handful, including The Land Co-op, widely known as Miccosukee, where about 250 families live.
Woodbine has nine home sites, with eight already spoken for. Once the current members build houses, it will have 11 residents -- mostly childless couples, couples with grown children or singles. Local folksinger Jane Yii has built a tiny, rustic cabin. Tom Harris, an industrial automation consultant, and his wife, Martha Monroe, a University of Florida environmental education professor, are building Woodbine's first conventional home.
Each household paid about $17,000 to cover the purchase of the 125 acres. Five-acre home sites were parceled off and 60 acres set aside for conservation. Covenant rules allow wandering rights but prohibit intrusions such as bright lights that would diminish others' enjoyment of stars or fireflies. No future subdivision is allowed. The group conducts controlled underbrush fires and removes non-native plants. When Harris and Monroe wanted to cut trees for their home site, they had to flag each tree so other co-op members could approve. If any one opts to leave, the community gets first rights to buy the property.
Woodbine is taking shape at a time when many hanker for more than what gated subdivisions offer. Harris says developers of neo-traditional, village-type communities like Disney's Celebration sometimes create interesting architecture but don't capture the spirit of a true co-op. "They are really in the business of selling houses" rather than creating a true community, he says.
But community isn't always easy to come by. Consisting mostly of scientists and bright, strongly opinionated people, the Woodbine group has struggled at times for consensus. Members, for example, found it difficult to even decide on a name. Mostly, however, the co-op spirit prevails.
In the News
Baker County -- Developer Ellis Franks plans to build 33 homes starting at $100,000 on 20 acres that had been designated for mobile homes. Locals laud the move to build conventional homes instead of trailers.
Gainesville -- The Jacksonville-based Cone Family Trust was seeking a zoning change to convert a northwest Gainesville horse farm into a 220-home development called Ellis Park. Nearby residents, however, opposed the plan, saying that the density level would be too high.
Gilchrist County -- Trenton, N.J.-based Marine Maintenance, maker of sport fishing boats, is having trouble finding workers to fuel its expansion. The company wants to add at least 25 workers to its payroll of 18 while it adds a seventh building, for boat assembly, to its facility.
Green Cove Springs -- Vac-Con Inc., maker of truck-mounted sewer cleaning and industrial vacuums, is expanding to meet a rise in new orders, partly spurred by increased federal spending on infrastructure improvements around the country. The company is upgrading equipment to increase automation. This year, the company expects revenues of $42 million, compared with $35 million last year.
Jacksonville -- Five years ago, Jacksonville's two largest health concerns merged to form Baptist St. Vincent's Health System. Now, Baptist's board has decided to split up the 10,000-employee giant. Leaders at both hospitals who had argued the merits of unity and size before the merger now say size and complexity are hindrances. With St. Vincent's parent, Ascension Health, based in St. Louis, Baptist emphasizes local control. Separated, they'll lose bargaining power and open up competition for the city's two other large hospitals: Memorial Hospital and Shands Jacksonville.
Finlay Properties is building a $24-million, 240-unit condominium, its first project since it moved its headquarters here from New England two years ago. The condos at the busy intersection of Beach and Southside boulevards will start at slightly less than $100,000.
Laney & Duke Terminal Warehouse, which labels, packages and distributes Hanes underwear, plans a $10-million, 400,000-sq.-ft. expansion that could double its 110-person work force.
First Union National Bank pledged $1 million to Jacksonville University. This puts the liberal arts college with about 2,500 students just $1 million shy of its $20-million goal. The Davis family, owner of Winn-Dixie Stores, promised to match the $20 million.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida says it may renovate its downtown offices but wants city tax incentives before it commits to $36 million in upgrades. In negotiations, city officials have discussed between $1.2 million and $2.4 million in tax breaks over 10 years.
Levy County -- Nashville, Tenn.-based Southern Farm Supply planned to open a store in Chiefland this spring, a Home Depot of sorts for farm supplies, selling everything from hats to horse saddles.
Palatka -- A slew of New York Times Co.'s small-town newspapers in northeast Florida went on the block earlier this year: The Daily News in Palatka, the Lake City Reporter and the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. The New York Times Co. also planned to sell all of its telephone directories, including the Source Book Yellow Pages covering Alachua, Marion, Putnam and Columbia counties.
Palm Coast -- A U.S. Franchise Systems' Microtel hotel is under construction this spring at the Interstate 95 interchange.
St. Augustine -- Bay Communities, a Palm Coast firm, plans to convert a 113-year-old building into condominiums and shops. The Lyon Building is in the heart of the historic district and next to the recently renovated Casa Monica Hotel.
San Sebastian is one of two Florida operations of Clermont-based Lakeridge Winery that ferment grapes and market wine. The facility here is expanding to include a wine shop and tasting area.
JACKSONVILLE -- The Jacksonville City Council is concerned because the per capita income average here is just under the national figure (95%). Specifically, local lawmakers note that "peer" cities such as Charlotte and Greensboro in North Carolina outpace the national average. The council passed a resolution to attempt to lift the figure by 1% each year until it reaches the national average. Among the strategies: Improve education to provide a more skilled work force for higher-paying jobs, and perhaps tie public incentives for businesses to higher wage requirements.
The U.S. average per capita income is $25,288. In Jacksonville, it's $24,355; Charlotte, $32,295; Greensboro, $27,560; Memphis, $27,300; Birmingham, Ala., $25,772.
Source: U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis