Frequently Asked Questions:
Can I submit an application if I am not the property owner?
YES. The process allows anyone to nominate projects to ACF.
Can I nominate land for acquisition without the property owner's permission?
YES. However ACF acquires land from willing sellers only. The owner may request the land be removed from consideration at any time during the process. The owner will also be asked to grant permission for staff to access the property to conduct a site inspection.
Can I hire an agent to represent me?
YES. While it is not necessary to hire a real estate agent, it may be advisable if it would make you more comfortable with the process. The agent would work for you and be paid out of the proceeds due to you from the sale.
Can I obtain information on property ownership, Tax Parcel Number, Land Use, Zoning and Tax Assessment?
YES. Contact the Alachua County Property Appraiser's Office (352-374-5230) and the Alachua County Growth Management Department (352-374-5249). You may also obtain maps and aerial photographs from the departments listed above, or you may purchase a U.S.G.S. topographical map from most outdoor recreation stores.
Can I submit a multi-parcel project?
YES. You should check the box provided and list all of the parcel numbers of your proposed project on the form. In addition, you may submit a map outlining the proposed project boundary.
If I have a report that would support my application but that is longer than the 15 pages allowed, may I submit it with the nomination form?
YES. You may submit any published and bound publication that would assist staff in their evaluation of the proposal documentation. You may also submit the form with just a reference to the publication. Any loose materials should stay within the 15-page limit.
May I nominate any size project?
YES. The Commission has not set size limits on proposed projects. However, the evaluation criteria and "matrix" favor larger proposals.
Are there opportunities for me and others to speak on the proposal?
YES. The Land Conservation Board and the Board of County Commissioners hold public hearings and workshops concerning the proposals throughout the application process. Staff will be attempting to contact both the property owners and the nominator well in advance of these meetings.
Does ACF offer any alternatives to outright acquisition of environmentally sensitive property?
YES. ACF has a variety of tools available to suit individual sellers' needs. Options range from fee simple purchases to life estates to conservation easements to donations. Landowners should indicate to staff that they are interested in discussing these options at the earliest opportunity. Two important notes is that any agreement would have to be perpetual, would ride with the land and survive any sale of the property to other interests.
Can Alachua County afford to remove $29 million worth of lands from the tax rolls?
Actually, by early 2008, the Alachua County Forever bond referendum has protected over $63 million in real estate with $24 million of the $29 million that was allocated by the voters in 2000. The reason the program could purchase more land than it received in local funds is due to state matches, bargain sales, and acquisitions by partners. So, if the tax base in Alachua County in the Year 2000 was $6 billion, and ultimately, Alachua County Forever purchases $60 million worth of land, the impact on the tax base would be $60,000,000 / $6,000,000,000 = .01. This means that all the land purchased would result in a reduction of one percent of the tax base IF all the land was on the tax base at its full value. In reality, nearly all of the land that Alachua County Forever has purchased is receiving an agricultural exemption, meaning on average it pays 1/10 of the taxes it normally would. So, the actual hit on the County's tax collections will be approximately 1/10th of one percent when the program has fully completed its mission.
Some would argue that even this is too much to reduce our tax base by. However, consider the growth in our tax base -- in the six years since this referendum was passed (Nov. 2000), Alachua County's tax base has grown by $3 billion. This means that every forty-three days, the total value of Alachua County's tax base increases by more than the entire value of all the land removed from the tax rolls even before the agricultural exemption is factored in. Only looking at the direct cost to Alachua County's tax payer for the program ($29 million), and factoring in the Ag Exemption (90% reduction in taxes paid) shows that every two days since the year 2000, the Alachua County tax base has increased more than the entire amount that will be removed from the tax rolls.
Purchasing land for conservation reduces future development and economic opportunities.
It is true that land acquired for land conservation can no longer be developed in the traditional sense. But scores of studies have shown that land which remains natural will proportionately use many fewer government services than land that is slated for development. Even land that has not been developed yet, but might be in the future, costs the government money as it must anticipate in its infrastructure planning the demand for utilities, roads, schools, and other public services.
There is a second factor that is more difficult to quantify, and that is the positive impact which nearby greenspace has on property values. Again, numerous real estate studies have demonstrated that properties near parks and other open space are significantly more valuable (thus adding to the tax rolls). Consider the relatively high value of properties near lopen spaces such as lakes, sea shores, golf courses, Central Park in N.Y City, and national parks. If the total value of Alachua County Forever properties ($50 million) adds even one percent more value to the remainder of Alachua County's tax rolls, the increase in property values and therefore tax rolls for each year would be three times the one-time cost of the entire program.
Purchasing land for conservation restrict future generations in their use of the land.
Actually, land development restricts future generations more than land conservation, because it is all too easy to turn natural habitat into suburban sprawl, but virtually impossible to meaningfully reverse the process. In the future, people will have the choice of what to do with natural areas, as there are no government programs which permanently lock up the land. State lands and their use is controlled by the Governor and Cabinet, local lands are controlled by the County or City Commission. In most cases, conservation lands are initially protected for the duration of the bonds or other funding source which purchased them after that, they are only protected by the political majority of the governing body with jurisdiction. As a practical matter, open space becomes much loved by people and it is politically very difficult to sell or change the use of a park or preserve.
An even more important consideration is the need for youth to experience the outdoors. Numerous studies have shown that the continued disconnection from nature is having profound implications on the next generation. We are raising the first generation of children in American history to have no significant connection to the outdoors and the impacts on mental and physical health, and on cultural and political institutions will be profound if we don't provide them with outdoor opportunities. The children of today, on average, are allowed to roam in 1/9th the area that their parents frequented at the same age. We need greenspace, if not for its own sake, then for ours.