Here’s your definitive guide to who owns what land in Gainesville. 

It’s no secret Gainesville is developing at a rapid clip. Favorite restaurants and shops have fled University Avenue, that reliable parking lot downtown is slated to become a hotel and luxury student apartments keep popping up like cockroaches you just can’t stamp out of your old home.

But what is a secret is that which we can’t see: the people and corporations who own the land we rent on, buy iced coffee on, get drunk on. That is, until now.

This issue, The Fine Print pored over public records, data from the Alachua County’s property appraiser and newspaper clips to bring you the first-ever look into who owns what in Gainesville. We found that individuals mostly owned residential housing and that many of them, like Robert Lusnia, who owns residential property in Archer, have been accused of renting their properties like slumlords. It’s also no surprise that corporations own more land in Gainesville than even the city does.

The Men With the Most

In rural Alachua, over 600 acres of land belong to a religious group called Temple of the Universe that runs a yoga and meditation center. Temple of the Universe is headed by one man: Mickey Singer.

If you were watching Oprah in 2012, you might have caught Singer on the Super Soul Sunday series. But before he was advising Oprah and her viewers, Singer had been federally charged with conspiracy and fraud for inflating the earnings of his company, Medical Manager Corp (the charges were dropped in 2010). He’s also curiously the donor of the Monet painting “Champ d’Avoine” in the Harn Museum.

Singer is unique, though, because most individual landowners in Alachua County own residential property, like homes and
condos.

Another notable male landowner is Robert Lusnia, a real estate agent based in Archer who once served as the president of the town’s Chamber of Commerce. Lusnia owns almost entirely residential properties, most of which are mobile homes, as well as a parcel of agricultural land, a vacant lot and an office building. But in 2012, Lynn Paden, a resident in one of Lusnia’s home, started a Change.org petition accusing him of being a slumlord. Paden wrote that the house was infested with “small scorpions.” She also alleged Lusnia sexually harassed his female tenants and offered to exchange sex for rent. “He is a disgraceful excuse for a human being,” she wrote.

It Runs in the Family

In 1985, E.R.J. Hilgendorf owned a storefront on Archer Road, across from where Butler Plaza is today. Then, he sold it to his wife, Betty Hilgendorf, for was a staggering $10.

Though Betty is now deceased, she was a real estate agent and one of the top landowning individuals in Alachua County. Technically, she still is – the land is still listed as owned by a Betty Hilgendorf trustee.

But Betty’s 16 parcels aren’t much compared to the land owned by the Turlington family. While most land-owning families buy property in just one town (or even one part of one town) or two, the Turlingtons own land all across Gainesville as well as in LaCrosse, Micanopy and Newberry.

Open For Business

About 12.64 percent of the land in Alachua County is owned by corporations. That might not seem like such a daunting figure, but, for reference, the city of Gainesville owns is less than one percent of the land.

The Weyerhaeuser Company owns nearly 200 parcels of land in the rural area between Alachua and LaCrosse. According to its website, it’s “one of the largest private landowners in the United States.” In 2015, Weyerhaeuser bought Plum Creek Timber Corporation, which had been planning a 6,000-acre urban development in east Gainesville.

Prior to the merger, the plan was met with opposition from residents. It was ultimately voted down at a county commission meeting.

D.R. Horton, Inc. is, by volume, America’s largest homebuilder. It owns the entire neighborhoods of Chestnut Village in unincorporated Alachua County and Bailey Estate in High Springs. Its specialty is in building family homes.

D.R. Horton has faced class action lawsuits in other states and has already been found at fault for its Florida homes. It was found negligent in a 2016 case surrounding the building of Jacksonville’s Heron’s Landing neighborhood. Among the issues in the condos development were cracked stucco and leaky roofs. •