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Tuesday, December 07, 2021

A piece of city woodlands may soon be up for sale, but for residents and city leaders, reaching an agreement about the issue has been no walk in the park.

The Gainesville City Commission is considering designating about 5 acres of Loblolly Woods Nature Park as surplus land so a private individual may buy it.

The public parkland would be sold to Nathan Collier, owner of The Collier Companies, for about $1 million.

The commission previously voted 4-3 to move forward with opening the property to public bid.

Although selling the land would mean reducing the size of Loblolly Woods, City Commissioner Thomas Hawkins said the sale would be a wise decision.

“I think it’s a net win for people that live in Gainesville,” he said. “It would mean a tremendous amount of revenue for the city to invest back into the land.”

However, he said, no final decision has been made, and the commission voted to get more information before negotiating details.

“We’re considering all viewpoints in making a decision,” Hawkins said. “People’s input matter.”

So far, Hawkins said, most of the feedback about the proposed purchase has been passionately for or against it.

Melissa Elliott, media contact for the local group Save Loblolly Woods, said if the commission agrees to declare the land surplus and allow the sale, it could start an unhealthy trend.

“The impact is that it would set a precedent for the entire state of Florida that the city will sell off any land that’s set aside for parkland to a private individual just because he wants it, “ she said. “It would throw up a road map for other developers on how to develop and buy parkland.”

Kelli Brew, co-founder of Green House of the Gainesville Catholic Worker, said many residents disagree with declaring the land surplus.

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“A number of Gainesville citizens feel that they have acted hastily and wrongly in deciding to designate it as surplus based on a wealthy individual’s desire to buy it for himself,” Brew said. “I think it’s a shame — on them, the city and the buyer.”

Brew said that while she appreciates the commission’s effort to do the right thing, selling one piece of land to get revenue to buy another is unethical.

“This land was protected because it was valuable to the city beyond its price,” she said. “What other land might be considered desirable to a private citizen who has the means to offer a huge price?”

The commission will meet again to decide on the issue in August.

Contact Hanna Marcus at hmarcus@alligator.org.

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