Officials to wait for other court cases to be decided; Camp McConnell contract awaits final approval
Gainesville city leaders recently voted to stand by their plastic bag ban in the face of a legal challenge. But Alachua County commissioners decided last Tuesday to repeal their ordinance, at least long enough to see how court cases challenging the bans shake out.
Both the Gainesville and Alachua County commissions were sent letters by the Florida Retail Federation calling the ban on plastic bags and Styrofoam containers unlawful, with demands that they be rescinded.
Gainesville city commissioners voted against their city attorney’s recommendation to repeal the ordinance.
The Alachua County Commission showed concern over the costs of taking the issue to court, and conceded to the county attorney’s recommendation to begin reversing its ban.
“This is budget time, so I’m thinking about the taxpayers’ dollars,” said Commissioner Ken Cornell. “I think we will know more from the Coral Gables case.”
The city of Coral Gables is in the midst of its own legal battle over the same issue, facing attorney fees of more than $100,000. Other commissioners agreed with Cornell.
“I’d rather be fighting different agencies on different issues than this one,” said Commissioner Robert Hutchinson.
Cornell said that should Coral Gables declare victory, he’s still in favor of banning plastic bags, which would take place Jan. 1, 2020, in unincorporated areas of the county. The board voted unanimously to begin the process of repealing the ban, which will be voted upon Aug. 13. The vote was met with little pushback, with only one member of the county’s Environmental Protection Agency Committee asking for commissioners to stick with the ordinance.
“You cannot allow yourselves to be bullied, intimidated, extorted by this Florida Retail Federation,” Bruce Blackwell said.
Nathan Skop, a Gainesville commission critic, said repealing the rule is a good move.
“Unlike the city, the County Commission has the wisdom to wait to allow the law to become settled on this matter instead of wasting taxpayer money on litigation,” he said.
Also on last Tuesday, the commission learned that a final contract has been drafted for the sale of Camp McConnell that awaits County Commission approval. If the board approves the sale, the former YMCA camp will be in the care of Miami-based company Friendship Circle to run nature-based camps.
The group has agreed to pay $1.025 million, slightly less than the $1.03 million the county paid for the land in 2017. As part of the deal, Friendship Circle has offered a 20% discount to Alachua County residents who register for camps at the 212-acre area near Micanopy.
Friendship Circle became the only party slotted to negotiate for the camp after the County Commission’s first choice, Basecamp Ventures, withdrew its application following reports that the organization’s owner was once investigated for having an inappropriate relationship with an underage girl.
The nonprofit was also alleged to have ties to state Sen. Keith Perry, who threatened to sue the commission if it didn’t let him buy the land in 2017.
Sarah Nelson is a Gainesville Sun staff writer.