The undeveloped land owned by Plum Creek Timber in east Alachua County is four times bigger than the borough of Manhattan. Currently, the company — the largest private landowner in the country — leases most of its 65,000 acres to hunters who prowl for deer and turkey.
Alachua County officials knew the property wouldn’t remain undeveloped indefinitely. Eight years ago, officials asked the company, which primarily operates its holdings as timberland but also sells and develops some parcels, what it intended to do with its land.
The company’s response has involved an unusual approach to long-range master planning. Instead of putting together a development plan and approaching stakeholder groups for support after the plan was ready for county and state approvals, Plum Creek went to the stakeholders first.
In 2011, the company created a 29-person task force of community and state leaders, environmental groups and representatives of predominantly rural and low-income east Alachua County. Calling the project “Envision Alachua,” Plum Creek spent two years with the group holding workshops and forums, consulting out-of-state advisers, studying maps and conducting site visits.
“This has an opportunity to be a model for the rest of the state,” says Todd Powell, senior director of real estate for Plum Creek.
“Plum Creek was reasonably receptive,” says Charles Lee, director of advocacy for Audubon and an Envision Alachua task force member. They wanted a “long-term business plan for these lands,” he says, and were “looking for community consensus” before presenting anything to regulators.
By the end of 2012, Envision Alachua settled on a 50-year preliminary development plan centered around a 10,000-acre area east of Newnan’s Lake between Gainesville and the small town of Hawthorne. The company envisions a corridor for high-tech manufacturing and agribusinesses, along with about 10,000 homes. Land under conservation easement will grow to 46,000 acres.
Powell says he doesn’t expect to break ground for at least two years.