Look, we get it. Lots of people like the idea of living in the warm climes of Florida and Floridians seek more work opportunity. There is nothing wrong with growth when it is well thought out and planned, but does it mean that every square mile of beautiful woodland, Old Florida swampland and watersheds need to be destroyed? No, not by any means and with enough land already zoned for development available to more than double the state's population it is truly folly. And that doesn't even address the issue of cost, which is huge, especially when you are talking about areas that have no existing infrastructure.
So today I submitted a quick analysis of some of the start up dollar figures and other estimates which the Plum Creek development proposed for the lowlands of East Alachua County will require. And these are just the tip of the iceberg. And while it might not matter to anyone outside of our local area, it exemplifies what will happen to any area facing a similar fate. It is provided here as an example of what we can look forward to (tongue in cheek comment) when development runs wild in an area nearby. Be careful what you wish for because it carries a very high cost and no one, and I mean no one, wants to discuss those points until it is too late. So here we go.
PLUM CREEK AND COST OF DEVELOPMENT
(THE PRICE OF SPRAWL)
When looking at a large scale development in an area of almost no infrastructure such as Envision Alachua (the Plum Creek Project), it is important for citizens and public officials to evaluate the likely costs associated therewith. Once the rezoning is completed and the rezoned land is on the market for economic development, we tend to always look at the potential added tax revenue from the new development without looking first at the development costs, a significant amount of which will have to precede full development in order to attract buyers. This means that the services desired are not available since the developer is only responsible for limited costs in Florida. In a county that currently has tremendous existing shortfalls in its ability to meet infrastructure requirements, particularly in the area of roads, the taxing entity is once again tasked to pay for the new infrastructure. This effectively means that existing residents are not just sidled with a major change to their lifestyle (in the case of urbanization of rural land), but also a portion of the costs needed outside of the actual land privately owned for development.
A consulting firm in Florida has great experience in this area of cost-growth issues and they have devised a formula for calculating a good estimate of what those costs are and for what. Tischler-Bise of Bradenton and Bethesda, Maryland, formerly Tischler and Associates, provides a good way of capturing a reasonable estimate of such costs and they put together formulation for using data to project for Florida statewide within the past six years. There have been some enhancements, yet dollar values do change rapidly, so the data used here is likely dated by several years, also meaning that costs are probably even more dramatic. In general, they have found that for every development dollar gained to create a new development, the cost generally runs two dollars and forty-five cents in places where minimal infrastructure exists. In the case of the Plum Creek site in East Alachua, it will likely be higher since there is no infrastructure to speak of, and even many of the existing roadways are largely in poor repair.
The data provided is limited to residential only and is keyed to the number 9,000 units. This figure is used since the original Envision Alachua Plan called for 10,700 residential units while the current plan calls for 8,700. Keep in mind that the numbers used have not really been reduced since the annexation of 1200 acres by the City of Hawthorne accounts for significant growth which was previously included in the first Envision Alachua proposal. It has merely been moved under Hawthorne’s governance, a very small city with questionable ability to provide the infrastructure that they tout. Even today some city residents complain of red, rusty drinking water with exceptionally high water bills. A number rounded off to 9,000 for calculation allows for a slight increase from the most recent plan.
DEVELOPMENT FACTORS AND COSTS:
Additional people, school pupils and water needs
Additional population: [# residential units (9000) X avg. # in household (2.3)] = 20,700
Additional students [# residential units (9000) X #children/household (.7)] = 6,300
Additional water [#residential units (9000) X 2.3 ppl X water vol. (158)] = 3.27M gal. daily
SPRAWL AT BUILDOUT (Annual costs going forward). The figures below do not include construction costs which are another very large consideration.
Schools: [# residential units (9000) X # children (.7) X per pupil cost ($9128)] = $57M annually
Fire: [# residential units (9000) X $365 per home] = $3.285M annually
Police: [# residential units (9000) X $275 per home] = $2.430M annually
ONE TIME COSTS:
Roadwork (work outside of the actual developed property to allow for increased traffic needs created by the development):
Roadwork [# residential units X $9316 per unit] = $83.844M one time
Unincorporated county (as of 2012) included zoning sufficient to increase unincorporated population in the future from 99,000 to 164,000, an increase of 66%. The City of Gainesville is not included in this number. Also not included are developments pending or approved, including Plum Creek. Water will quickly become an issue whether we like it or not.
Also, sewer and water delivery will require “construction from scratch” and is not addressed. They are extremely expensive due to sewage processing and pumping of both water and sewer and regulatory controls associated therewith. And when put into the overall package of preparation costs in an economic period of slow growth and uncertainty, there is no way to conclude that success is a certain outcome.
There is one final economic consideration that needs to be understood. Approximately 20% of residents in Zip Code 32640 (ground point zero) are over 65 and a total of 25% over 60. These citizens, most of whom are landowners now largely on pensions and social security (fixed income factors) are likely to find an astounding increase in tax assessments despite being the least likely to be able to afford them. And since the Plum Creek sector plan is significantly less restrictive than requirements of the county comprehensive plan, any land build up and increased volume of runoff or flooding common already in the area will be of great adverse consequence to existing residents. Water does, after all, flow downhill and existing residents will continue to be required to follow the comprehensive plan while the newcomers will not. This means that more than 2.000 existing area residents, mostly Florida natives or long term in nature, are likely to find themselves in an economic squeeze which could seriously degrade their ability to live where they do and meet their obligations. This must be factored into any discussion of economic development. After all, economic development which economically destroys your good neighbors is not economic development at all; it’s economic disaster.
AGAIN, THIS DOCUMENT DOES NOT ADDRESS THE COMMERCIAL ASPECT AND WITH A HUGE INFLUX OF MANUFACTURING, WAREHOUSING, AGRICULTURAL, RETAIL AND OTHER BUSINESSES INTO THE SAME AREA IF PLUM CREEK IS SUCCESSFUL, THE WATER USAGE IN PARTICULAR WILL BE MUCH GREATER THAN THE PROJECTIONS FOR RESIDENTIAL APPLICATION. A RENOWNED FLORIDA SPRINGS AND WATER EXPERT, DR. BOB KNIGHT, HAS PEFORMED A WATER STUDY FOR PLUM CREEK WHICH FOUND THAT THE IMPACT ON THE AQUIFER FROM SUCH DEVELOPMENT WILL CREATE A NET LOSS OF WATER VOLUME WHICH CANNOT BE MET BY RECHARGE. DR. KNIGHT HAS INDICATED THAT THE AQUIFER CAN AFFORD NO LOSS IN RECHARGE WHATSOEVER. TO THE BEST OF MY KNOWLEDGE, PLUM CREEK HAS FAILED TO ADDRESS HIS CONCERNS.
I felt it my duty to comment on these factors as we look to the future. Failing to address those things which are not easy to face are what have created crises such as the Flint, Michigan water crisis or South Florida tropical weather flooding. We should make every effort to avoid those circumstances here and leaders commit folly when they think they can just ignore these things and continue with business as usual. Thank you for considering this information.
Are you ready to deal with this where you live? It's coming everywhere and you'll either have to stand up and fight for your rights or you'll just be run over. Sorry, folks, but I thought I'd share it just the way it is. God bless.