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In response to objections to concrete batch plant, Archer City Commission decides to begin process of updating their Comprehensive Plan

BY DAVID LIGHTMAN

ARCHER, Fla. – At their July 8 Regular Meeting, Archer City Commissioners discussed the possibility of a six-month moratorium on industrial development, which could have included a proposed cement batch plant that has generated controversy and a petition from nearby residents. After much discussion and input from the public, Commissioners voted to begin updating their Comprehensive Plan in August, acknowledging that they had not addressed requirements for future industrial uses during their last update.

Archer resident Bill Lewandowski has been working to delay the development of the proposed cement batch plant that developer Ronald Arnold plans to build on the site of the former Maddox Foundry. Since April, Lewandowski has been emailing City and County Commissioners and formally asking for a public workshop to allow the public to be more involved in the decision-making. The petition for a Conditional Use Permit for the concrete batch plant has not yet come before the Commission.

During the “Guest” portion of the meeting when citizens make requests of the Commission, Lewandowski said, “I respectfully request that the City Commission vote this evening to establish a moratorium on the consideration of processing of all Industrial Development projects, whether by right, by variance, or conditional use permit, until such time as the City holds public workshops on Industrial Zoning and the Commission votes on any recommended changes to those zoning ordinances.”

Lewandowski explained that zoning changes enacted in 2020 have made it easier to have light and heavy industrial use facilities in certain areas. He said many members of the public do not understand what is permitted and what is not. 

Lewandowski concluded, “The current state of affairs exists because this Commission chose to make major changes to our land use and zoning ordinances without public workshops explaining those changes and without the vital public input that comes from the visioning process that is part of developing a Comprehensive Plan. A visioning process, which it was supposed to do anyway to meet the state timelines at that time. I ask the Commission to demonstrate good governance and to make the responsible and ethical course of action by approving the moratorium. It is the right thing to do for the citizens of Archer.”

Commissioner Joan White asked City Attorney Kiersten Ballou, “Can we do a moratorium at this point?”

Ballou answered, “A moratorium can only be done via ordinance, so you couldn’t do one tonight. Second, moratoriums can only be up to six months, and you need to be in active efforts [to update your Comprehensive Plan]… The third issue, third major issue, with the moratorium at this point is that it is tied to a specific already-existing property owner and application, which makes it questionably proper.”

White said, “We need to look at it, and if it means a moratorium, fine. I don’t have a problem with that. I do understand – but it’s not just the batch plant. I’m not looking at just the batch plant. I’m looking at Industrial… period. We’re a small city, and you start sticking a Walmart warehouse over here next to me, and it’s going to be ugly. So that’s all I’m saying. And, no, I’m not looking at just the batch plant because that’s going to come before us soon enough, anyway. My question is – what about the rest of it?”

Ballou suggested it would be easier to make a moratorium that would not affect the batch plant and its existing application.

Responding to a question, City Manager Tony Hammond said consultant Allison McGrath will be presenting more information at a meeting in August, including information about a possible $75k grant to evaluate and update the City’s land use ordinances and Comprehensive Plan. White made a motion to discuss updates to the City’s land use ordinances and Comprehensive Plan in August, and Vice Mayor Kathy Penny seconded the motion.

During public comment, County Commission Chair Mary Alford spoke: “This is my backyard, too, and I do want to say that while it may not be proper to do a moratorium and affect an application that has been submitted, as I understand it, that application has not been accepted by the City. Is that correct? So while it may not be proper, it is certainly legal, and I would suggest that it isn’t [sic] proper when you have all of these changes coming to the City of Archer… It is worth consideration of doing something that might be slightly less than proper, but might be proper for the citizens of your town.”

When asked whether she agreed with Alford’s analysis, Ballou said, “Respectfully, I do not agree with the legal analysis provided. I do think that it puts us on shaky legal ground.” She said the moratorium is obviously related to the one specific application, which could result in legal consequences.

The meeting room was crowded because of the controversy over the concrete plant.

The developer came to the podium and said, “I’m Ronnie Arnold. I’m the gentleman that’s looking to put a concrete batch plant in at the Maddox site. You know, I don’t like beating around the bush. We know what this moratorium is about. I would like to ask the City Manager, how many applications do you have right now for industrial operations?” Hammond answered, “None, besides yours.” Arnold continued, “Okay how many have you had in the past year?” Hammond responded, “None.” Arnold said, “Okay. So, you know, who are we kidding here? The bottom line is, they don’t want me to go through the process of going through a zoning meeting and present what we have put together to… abide by everything that the Conditional Use [permit] requires us to do. We will not impact anyone. We are putting in state-of-the-art equipment… If they think they can just go ahead and do this (moratorium) and I’m not going to file suit, that would just be silly.”

Arnold continued, “I look forward… – We’ll be here, put on a presentation. It’ll be a great presentation. We’ll show you how the plant operates… It’s going to show you where 99.7% of the dust arresters arrest anything that’s going to leave the site.”

Lori Bernardo said, “The health issues – and it’s across the country. There’s lawsuits from concrete batch plants where people have been injured, their lungs, their children. It’s a problem, and it should be taken seriously… The EPA said within like six miles is a danger zone of a concrete batch plant… 20 miles can even be affected… Who’s going to want to bike to Archer? Nobody. I’m not going to want to live here. I’m going to move. Everyone’s property value is going to go to heck. I think this is crazy, and it was not well thought out, and I’m right to be upset about it.”

David Norton said the Maddox Foundry was much different from a cement batch plant, and the uses should fall under different industrial use categories. He said he favors a moratorium, “whether it’s ‘proper’ or not.”

Brenda Skinner said that the Planning Board will be discussing the batch plant on July 18.

Andy Renshaw said, “You have chance to grow (Archer) as a potential cultural place for somebody to stop. Instead of them driving all the way from Levy County to go to Butler Plaza to get dinner, they could stop here…  You’re not going to get that, putting an industrial concrete plant in the smack middle of Archer.”

White summarized her motion: “No, we’re not doing the moratorium.” She said the motion was to wait until August for input from the consultant about a potential grant to help pay for the Comprehensive Plan work, and then move forward with workshops and meetings to look at the City’s Comprehensive Plan and land use ordinances. The motion passed unanimously.

In an email to County Commissioners dated July 9, Lewandowski wrote, “This is a conditional use permit, which means that the City does have discretion. That is why it is so important to get the zoning ordinances changed back to requiring conditional use permits for industrial development and prohibiting potentially dangerous industrial developments.” 

Alford proposes letter at County Commission meeting

At today’s Alachua County Commission meeting, Alford proposed sending a Chair letter to the City of Archer, offering County resources to City of Archer staff, including help with planning and environmental questions. Alford said it was “one more thing we can do” to help the City of Archer “with this process because it’s a mess… It’s fraught. That’s a good word.”

  • Andy Renshaw said, “You have chance to grow (Archer) as a potential cultural place for somebody to stop.” 😭🤣
    Stopping to use the bathroom isn’t cultural, it’s simply a necessity at times.

    Who’s he kidding? I’m not saying build the facility, but his saying that is like Biden saying he’s able to run the country for the next 4 years.

  • Archer has a “Comprehensive Plan”? Who would have known?
    Hope they included the dollar store, Circle K, and Save A Lot.

  • This may be a real disaster for Archer but possibly a future boon for all others who may currently be lining up to develop Archer and the surrounding areas. Who really gains? The businesses and developers, self anointed visionaries, who might claim that growth, as they define it, will be good for Archer. I propose this brand of growth won’t ever be good for the current residents of Archer, any more than a batch plant laid down in the center of Micanopy, or many other small towns, would be well received. Is there anything wrong with a small town continuing to remain a small, quiet town? Is there anything wrong with the residents of any small town choosing to separate themselves from the noisy and increasingly expansive growth engine many are feeding to grow their own bank accounts? How much peace and quiet is too much in today’s world? I hope the citizens of Archer have their thumbs on the dike but for how long? I wish them good luck. They’ll need it.

  • For decades the county has refused to bring a sewer line to Archer but they can dump all the stuff no one wants on them instead. Why isn’t this location designated a Super Fund Site. They made a lot of nasty stuff there and a lot of people got sick.

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