BOCC approves development plan, gives GNV deadline 

Alachua County Admin Building
The Alachua County Administration Building in Gainesville.
Photo by Seth Johnson

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) approved a revised preliminary development plan for the Springhills development to allow increased stormwater areas, a higher minimum number of units and a lower maximum.  

The BOCC first approved the plan in 2014, but after analysis for stormwater impacts, the planners for the site increased the amount of stormwater runoff areas from 30 acres to a minimum of 70 acres. That increase resulted in other small changes throughout the 390-acre site. 

However, the biggest back and forth on Tuesday concerned 26 heritage trees on the site—trees with a minimum of 60 inches in diameter.  

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Under the county’s 2014 code, the developer could remove all of those, but the revised plan falls under new county codes that require those trees to be kept.  

The plan presented Tuesday removed five of those. Another 11 would have some impact to the dripline—the area covered by the tree canopy—but would remain.  

Commissioner Ken Cornell said he didn’t want to move forward if trees were removed.  

The development is designed to be transit oriented with dedicated bus lanes and routes running through. That also requires high densities with a minimum of nearly 2,000 units. The planner said that density makes it tough to save each tree.  

But the commission approved the plan with the condition that staff work with the developer on a tree-by-tree basis to find work arounds.  

For those trees impacted by roads, that might mean giving exceptions for the right-of-way widths. And for trees slated to be near housing blocks, the solution could be more oddly shaped buildings instead of squares or rectangles.  

A new preliminary plan will return, and Cornell said he looks for all the removed trees to stay preserved, except for one impossibility. He said he expects any of the trees with dripline impacts to not be impacted at all.  

Earlier in the meeting, the commission gave the city of Gainesville a three-month deadline to decide whether to sell its trunk system currently owned by Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU). Alachua County and others, including emergency management and law enforcement, use the system for radio communications.  

Alachua County and GRU have discussed the system for years without reaching an agreement. Last year GRU sent a letter threatening to terminate access to the system if the county did not pay a $1.6 million bill.  

The BOCC said Tuesday if the city doesn’t sell, the county will build its own system. Creating a new trunk radio system could take 24 to 48 months, according to Assistant County Manager Tommy Crosby. 

Tony Cunningham, interim general manager of GRU, said he and the city manager agree on the issue and are willing to sell. With three new city commissioners joining in January, he said it could take some time to bring them up to speed on the issue. However, he said a city decision is possible by early February.  

The BOCC meets Feb. 14, and staff will bring back an agreement between the city and county, or commissioners said they’ll move forward without the city.  

The city has debt on the system, and a deal with Alachua County could involve paying off that debt. 

Inclusionary zoning also cropped up at the Tuesday meeting. The county voted to move forward with a study that would lay the groundwork for mandatory inclusionary rental units in new developments.  

The BOCC has created incentives for inclusionary units, but staff said developers haven’t touched them. The same issue has happened in Leon County, where incentives, like higher densities and reduction of connection fees, have resulted in no inclusionary rental units.  

The study will last around five months to create its reports and cost $50,000. The board voted unanimously to move forward. 

The commission approved a preliminary plan for a development in Jonesville that will bring 249 rental units along with nearly 50,000 square feet of non-residential space.  

The applicant, the Sands Company, announced the land purchase in November and said the cottage-styled units will run on an average of $1,800 and fall along market rates.

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