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UF students present design ideas about eastern Alachua County

AC_Beyond2012EGAINESVILLE – If the earth was an artist’s canvas subject to redesign, parts of eastern Alachua County would like vastly different thanks to some UF students’ creative imaginations.

Using design boards and sticks, students presented development ideas for Plum Creek lands in eastern Alachua County recently at the Curtis M. Phillips Center.

These ideas included the creation of mixed urban and agricultural areas, the aligning of buildings to capture solar energy and the conservation of rain to water the earth, among others.

“I was coming in…expecting to be kind of impressed” said Robert Hutchinson, member of the task force that evaluates the ideas, “but I was amazed.”

Plum Creek is the largest timber landowner in the U.S. with about 7 million acres nationwide and 65,000 acres in Alachua County.

The student projects were semester-long graduate work in the UF College of Design, Construction and Planning.

Eco Fusion, one of the 12 projects, looked at the orientation of buildings to capture as much sunlight for energy use, said Mary Padua, associate professor at the department of landscape architecture.

The group also considered how it could conserve the water from storms to use to water the earth, Padua said.

Pierce Jones, extension program leader for Energy Programs at UF pointed out the financial savings from sustainable planning.  He gave a real-life example of a plan later revised to use less land-area.

The savings in road construction was about $145 million and in fuel costs a year was substantial, Jones said.

“If you don't design right, the cost of living will be unsustainable,” Jones said.

Cluster Drape, another student group, incorporated the use of algae for fuel as an alternative to gasoline, said Oneil Howell, 30, architecture major.

One drawback to the algae production, however, was that it could be harmful. But this negative could also be a positive, Howell said, as it could generate more jobs for researchers to maintain the plant.

A contract with Alachua County allows the timber company to build one residential unit for every five acres it owns, said Powell, real estate director for Plum Creek.

And with about 65,000 acres in Alachua County owned by the company, the contract would allow the company to develop about 13,000 residential areas in Alachua County.

Graduate student Wes MacLeod said he did not agree with the company developing lands in eastern Alachua.

“A more sustainable solution would be developing a place that is already developed,” he said.

Powell, however, said that while they are allowed to build, they plan to develop only a small portion of the eastern Alachua County and conserve as much as 22,000 acres in the county.

Alachua residents are encouraged participate in the meetings to discuss what would be best for the community. Participants are encouraged to register at www.envisionalachua.com.