Springhills Can Impact More Than Just Traffic: Environment Also at Stake
As the county's decision over approval of Springhills expansion draws closer,Â one issue that has gotten little attention is the environmental impact of what would be the largest development project in the county.
So far, traffic and roadway expansion have consumed much of the controversy, but these aren't the only things on people's minds. While the county and developer are currently looking at land use expansion, before the plan can go forward the Pennsylvania developer will have to comply with local legislative regulations something that has residents and environmentalists already concerned over.
As a homeowner off of Millhopper Road, Bob Schert --who is also a professor of environmental studies-- is concerned about the impact roadways needed to support Springhills will have. "It'll put a new road right throw some of the prettiest habitat in all of alachua county," said Schert.
But according to independent biologist, Ray Ashton, of the Biodiversity Institute, an environmental research group in Newberry, the environmental issues reach beyond what will be the 83rd street expansion. Ashton says that the flatwoods salamander and striped newts, local to the area are already endangered wildlife.
"In the plan submitted by the developer, the wetlands that are the breeding habitats of those 2 species... the suggestion is that they be eliminated," says Ashton.
The county's latest comprehensive plan for growth --which went into effect in 2005-- requires at least 20% be set aside for environmental preservation. Ashton who consults developers throughout the state believes that both the environment and development can find common ground.Â "Developers around the state are becoming more environmentally conscious," adds Ashton.
The PREIT (penssylvania Real Estate Investment Trust) says that they took wildlife into account in their 2004 study, but say that they won't be doing further studies until later phases of the project, something that has residents like schert concerned because the developers want to expand the project.
"What's the value of a piliated woodpecker or owl or gopher tortoise? It's hard to measure those things," said Schert.Â
With more residents moving toward more ecological communities Ashton says there's a market for environmental protection, "What i've seen and what i hear from both sides...we're looking at the way development used to be done back in the 60's and 50's not what's taking place in the new millenium," he added.
Tuesday, May 1st at 5 p.m. the county is holding an open hearing at Santa Fe Community College before a decision is made over the expansion of the Springhills project.
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