Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news from Florida for working families since 2007

County News

Fort White Gwynn Farms Subdivision: Citizens Gather – None Opposed To Progress – The Issue – Smart Development & Community Standards

Citizens gather at the Fort White Community Center
Columbia County Observer Photo

Read more about Gwynn Farms:
Oct.17, 2023  Gwynn Farms Subdivision Packs Fort White Town Hall – Document Issues Table Preliminary Plan Approval
August 23, 2023  County Chairman Rocky Ford Resigns From Joint Fort White – Columbia County Utility Committee
August 19, 2023  Fort White Gwynn Farms Subdivision: Citizens Gather

July 3, 2023  Fort  White Gwynn Farms Major Subdivision: Twists, Turns, & More Questions Than Answers for the Town Council
June 29, 2023  Fort White Town Council: South Columbia County Growth On Tap Tonight

FORT WHITE, FL – Thursday evening, Town of Fort White resident Jacqui Sulek hosted a community meeting that brought residents together from all around the municipality and outskirts of Fort White. The subject: the continuing saga of Columbia County Commissioner Rocky Ford’s proposed subdivision which is just inside the Town’s boundary line.

Ms. Sulek's exploration of Fort White's land development regulations and the impacts of the development of a 150-acre - 109-home subdivision relies on a lifetime of expertise in dealing with issues and details.

Ms. Sulek is Audubon Florida's Chapter Conservation Manager. Her all-natural front yard is home to over a hundred species of birds throughout the year and many native species of Florida plants. One of the proposed outlets for the subdivision, a one-minute walk from her home, runs right by her front door.

GIS map of Gwynn Farms Subdivision
The Gwynn Farms Subdivision. Click to enlarge to get a bigger view.

Background: Quick Facts

The Gwynn Farms Subdivision is owned by Lisa's Land, a company owned by Lisa Ford, Columbia County Commissioner Rocky Ford's wife. Lisa's Land's public face and spokesperson has been her husband, Rocky Ford.

Commissiner RockyFord (center)
Commissioner Rocky Ford (center) during the May 17, 2023, Ft. White Council Meeting. Mr. Ford has been the face and the spokesperson for Gwynn Farms.

The engineer for the Gwynn Farms subdivision is North Florida Professional Services (NFPS). NFPS is the engineering consultant for the Town of Fort White and Columbia County. Former Columbia County Manager Dale Williams was the consultant for Fort White while simultaneously being the Business Development Director for NFPS. Mr. Williams remains the Business Development Director at NFPS and won't admit to being a NFPS lobbyist.

The utility engineering services in Fort White and Columbia County are being handled by NFPS, which was also hired to do a Utility Master Plan for the County/Fort White. At a recent meeting, the President of NFPS, Greg Bailey, announced that he would have to make a change to the Master Plan based on changes he was recommending to one of his utility designs.

Merriam-Webster defines an “at arm’s length” transaction as “a condition that individuals act independently and without one having undue influence over another.” Merriam-Webster doesn’t mention having undue influence over one’s self.

Community meeting organizer Jacqui Sulek
Community meeting organizer Jacqui Sulek points to the Gwynn Farms Subdivision.

Ms. Sulek mentioned that there is a plan to provide water to the subdivision by bringing water in from Ellisville. She said, “This should not be a problem."

Unbeknownst to Ms. Sulek and those at the gathering, this is now up in the air as the County Commission, known throughout the civilized world as the County 5 or The 5, has become unhappy with Fort White for not bending to its every whim.

Recently, The 5 let it be known that water from Ellisville may not be on the way to Fort White.

Ms. Sulek mentioned that Paisley Ct. is being considered for an outlet from the subdivision onto state road 27. Paisley Ct. is a street with nine homes.

She asked, "Can you imagine what it is going to be like to get out into 60-mile-an-hour traffic on a school day?"

Ms. Sulek also mentioned there are sinkholes in the subdivision.

Dickey King said he is across the fence from the lone home built on the Lisa's Land subdivision. Mr. King said the folks who bought the house were told nothing about hooking up to water and sewer when those services got to the subdivision.

Mr. King said, “I need to stress that whatever is going on with Rocky and his representatives -- they need to be a little bit more honest and straightforward with what’s going on.”

Ms. Sulek said, “Transparency is a concern. Ask your neighbors to write a letter to the zoning people because that needs to be addressed."

The next person to address the gathering was Merrillee Malwitz Jipson, an expert in the use of riverfront and environmentally sensitive Land and springs.

Merrillee Malwitz Jipson
Environmentalist Merrillee Malwitz Jipson makes a point about soil contamination.

Ms. Malwitz Jipson said she is concerned about developers "killin' the soil" by clear-cutting Land and spraying against termites. Ms. Malwitz Jipson said there are alternative ways to treat the soil which are not harmful. She found a responsive audience as folks looked at soil treatment for 109 home sites.

Another resident asked if there was a long and short-range development plan for Fort White.

No one seemed to know.

“Everybody Knows Growth Is Coming”

Carl King, Fort White resident
Fort White resident Carl King.

Fort White resident Carl King told the group, “Everybody knows growth is coming, and the City [Town] Council knows growth is coming. They want to do it the right way. They want to make sure it's done right, done properly, and it is something that Fort White can be proud of instead of something that is just blown in there. The City [Town] Council -- most of the members are doing their best to do the right thing."

Ms. Sulek followed up, “And they're doing a very good job at listening. That's why I am recommending that they hear from you, whether it's an e-mail or a letter.”

Another resident told folks that they need to go to town meetings; if they don't, they won't find out what is happening until it is too late.

The Subdivision Builder Identified Himself

“I am the guy (John Fifer of Garden Street Communities and Adam Homes) who is buying the land from Lisa’s Land, LLC… I wanted to come here and here and hear what the community had to say. When we go into a new community, we try to understand what the community wants, follow the rules, and what is financially viable."

Curbs, gutters, sidewalks, and street lights have not been decided upon in the subdivision planning. The Town Council has the final say on whether or not to grant variances to eliminate those items. This is a matter of public concern as curbs, gutters, and sidewalks make the community more livable. Curbs, gutters, and sidewalks also add cost to the development.

John Fiferof Adam's Homes
John Fifer of Adams Homes at Ft. White in June.

Your reporter asked Mr. Fifer if the Town Council approves the curbs, gutters, and sidewalks, "Would that be a deal breaker?”

Mr. Fifer answered, "For us, it comes down to the financial viability and actually what our buyers want."

Mr. Fifer said his buyers don't want curbs, gutters, and sidewalks because they want to live in a country environment. "They want a slice of the rural life. They don't want those extra features -- I guess," he said.

Your reporter asked again if the Town Council approves the curbs, gutters, and sidewalks if that would be a "deal breaker."

Mr. Fifer said, “That’s not my call.”

NFPS Project Manager Dalton Kurtz weighed in with his historical version of how curbs, gutters, and sidewalks evolved in the Gwynn Farms Subdivision.

Mr. Fifer, in response to some discussion about HOAs, said, "Initially, we thought the County was going to take responsibility for the roads and the O&M [Operations & Maintenance] permit. But what we typically do at Adam's Homes is the HOA takes responsibility for the roads and the O&M permit. So that's the path that we are moving forward with. We just got our draft HOA docs today.”

Mr. Fifer continued, “It was interesting when we met with the Suwannee River Water Management District about this project. The Suwannee River Water Management District tried to dissuade us from doing an HOA. They wanted the County to take that responsibility.”

Is the Water Management District Politically Involved? Mr. Fifer concluded, “With everything that's been going on in the past two or three months, it seemed like there was too much of a conflict between the County and the City [Town] Council, so we'll just take that as the HOA and the residents will manage the HOA.”

The Lone Homeowner:
“I never would have bought the house.”

While nobody was looking, the lone homeowner of what she thought was a home in the Gwynn Farms Subdivision sat down in the back of the gathering. She identified herself.

"Hello, everybody. My name is Peggy Jackson. I am the one that bought the first house that's already been built. I'm sittin' in soakin' everything in. So for [the] HOA – what does that mean for us [her and her husband]? I never would have bought the house. It wasn't advertised – no HOA. It was advertised well. I would have never [Former County Planner and NFPS Planner Brandon Stubbs cut Ms. Jackson off].

Former County Planner and now NFPS Planner, Brandon Stubbs

Mr. Stubbs said, “They can't make you join an HOA unless you've already signed up.”

Ms. Jackson voiced concern about her future ability to use well water.

Mr. Fifer said, "My understanding is when Phase 1 gets built out, that's when you will get water. Water services, I think, are provided by the City, or that water line coming from Ellisville?"

Mr. Stubbs advised, “We don't know who is.”

After Ms. Jackson learned she wasn't in the subdivision, she said, "I never would have bought the house. I don't want City water. I want well water. I want the well."

Jacqui Sulek said, “Maybe they don’t want to get the water from Ellisville. There’s all kinds of stuff goin’ on.”

A Last Minute Surprise: No Internet & None On the Horizon

Ms. Jackson told the group, “This kinda seems maybe a little ridiculous, but a concern that should be on there for the subdivision, ‘You can’t get Wi-Fi over there.’”

Ms. Jackson said Windstream has no estimated time for internet availability in the area.

She told the gathering that the lack of internet caused her to drop out of her college courses.


There has been no County Planner or County Planning for some time. The Infamous 5 just hired a County Planner ($82,000 yr.) without Comprehensive Planning or LDR experience.

The County 5 has always believed in the “Master’s Plan” but never master planning.

The next moves concerning the Gwynn Farms Subdivision and the course for Fort White are up to the Fort White Town Council.

Time will tell if they are up to the task.

Comments: to add a comment go here.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

Meeting Calendar
No need to be confused - Find links to agendas and where your participation is welcome.

Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.