Lake Alice development defeated, Bat House saved
Steve Schell
January 1999

On Tuesday, December 9th, Governor Lawton Chiles, in one of his last acts as governor before his unexpected death just days later, took the lead in a full cabinet hearing and moved to preserve the shoreline of Lake Alice from a housing development being advocated by the UF Administration. In doing so, he guaranteed the bat house and student gardens would stay, at least until the year 2004 when the master plan again comes up for review. This capped an eleven year struggle by students, faculty and citizens to stop the shoreline project.

The UF Administration, in negotiations with opponents of the Lake Alice development, had proposed that the site be used for active recreation instead (soccer fields, flag football, etc). This use was not the optimal use for the land, according to those opposed to any development on the site. Prior to its latest proposal for recreation, the administration had gone ahead with plans to move the bat house to the other side of the lake near pony field. In fact, UF workers actually cleared a 100 foot strip in the dense swamp on the proposed new site of the bat house in late April, but were told by the St. Johns River Water Management District to cease further work until permits could be obtained. UF officials claimed that it was necessary to move the bat house in order to protect those who cross Museum road to view the bats leaving the house each evening. Such a claim brings to mind the old Schuct Village student housing area near Shands. University officials said that they wanted to build a parking garage in the area and the result would be that those living in housing would have a view of the garage right outside their window. The solution? Demolish the housing.

The cabinet meeting in Tallahassee was attended by a number of Lake Alice supporters and members of Friends of Lake Alice. Kim Tanzer, professor in the School of Architecture, told the cabinet, "the people here represent a small fraction of the almost 8,000 supporters of our petition to redesignate bat house field conservation in the U.F. Master Plan. We are [UF's] students, faculty, staff, alumni, and donors. A ruling in our favor is a ruling in favor of the University of Florida."

After several more speakers in favor of preserving the bat house location, Dr. James Mau, then-acting Chancellor of the Board of Regents, stated that "the Commission's final action in this proceeding has far-reaching implications for all State universities. A ruling in favor of the petitioner establishes the precedent that land use designations based upon sound planning principles...may be rejected by the Commission if the designation is unpopular enough locally." Mau further stated, "a ruling in favor of the petitioner fails to recognize the hardship imposed on the University...The University simply does not have the luxury of being able to designate land that is otherwise developable as passive recreation areas." One has to ask exactly what land is not otherwise developable.

Mau's pleas fell on deaf ears as cabinet members discussed the issue. Zoology Professor Brian McNab was asked by Treasurer Bill Nelson if there was a zoological reason to move the bat house. McNab replied, "I don't think there's a good zoological reason to move the bat house. In fact, I think...there's a good zoological reason to leave it alone, leave it where it is." Secretary of State Sandra Mortham stated, "I have seen very few-very few issues that have received more input from citizens around the state of Florida. And literally, not just in the Alachua County area. I think that this is what representative democracy is all about...I have literally received hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of email and I hope that we've gotten back to each and every one of you." With that, Mortham moved to accept staff's recommendation to use the field for passive recreation only and to keep the bat house in place. Attorney General Bob Butterworth seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

The most recent coalition for preservation, called Friends of Lake Alice, formed in 1994, used the very real symbol of the bat house and its thriving colony of 60,000 bats to gather over 8,000 signatures, and lobbied hard to get their victory. Congratulations to them--we say the name "Lawton's Loft" would be fitting tribute, one which could guarantee its preservation through the next review five years from now.

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