GNV board delays county courthouse rezoning

The newly-named Judge Stephan P. Mickle, Sr. Courthouse.
The Judge Stephan P. Mickle, Sr. Courthouse.
Photo by C.J. Gish

Gainesville’s Plan Board paused a rezoning application by Alachua County that would allow phase 5 construction of the county’s Courts Complex at the corner of Main Street and SW 4th Avenue.  

City staff and affected parties disagreed with the applicant that the planned development in place restricted the use of the six blocks to only judicial services at the Thursday meeting.  

Under the county request, the zoning would change from a planned development with conditions to Gainesville’s Downtown Zoning. The request would strike height requirements and other conditions included in the 2001 plan.  

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Christopher Gmuer, civil engineer for the county, said the current downtown zoning mirrors the conditions in the planned development that it made sense to make the switch. The change to downtown zoning would allow the county to finish phase 5 by skipping phase 4.  

The entire planned development started with a one-year, one-cent surtax to raise money for the complex because the courts needed more room. The project would, as constrained by the zoning plan, proceed in a scheduled five parts that placed all court departments on the same property. 

  • Phase 1 — the completed Stephan Mickle Sr. Criminal Courthouse 
  • Phase 2 — the completed parking lot 
  • Phase 3 — the completed public defenders building 
  • Phase 4 — a planned civil courthouse 
  • Phase 5 — a planned two-story court services building with on-street parking.  

Alachua County already put out the bid for phase 5 but hasn’t started phase 4.  

Gmuer said another reason they wanted to rezone into the downtown category is speed. It takes longer to amend a planned development than it does to rezone. With inflation rising and a budget already set, the county wants to avoid spending extra.  

He added that utility changes in the area might mean rearranging the plan as well.  

However, two affected parties voiced concerns that switching to the downtown zoning would free Alachua County from the first condition of the planned development—that the land be used only for the courts and their related uses.  

Both said the height restrictions and the other conditions didn’t matter, but they said the county needed to stay with the citizen-approved surtax that set the six acres aside for the courts.  

While Alachua County hasn’t submitted other proposals for the area, the zoning switch would free the land use to anything allowed by the downtown category.  

Gmuer said the downtown zoning and existing planned development mirror each other in almost every way. He also said the current planned development document didn’t restrict the uses of the land, but city staff said otherwise in its report.  

Gmuer asked the Plan Board to table a vote to allow the applicant to look into the conditions and consider moving forward. He said the applicant hadn’t expected the conversation to veer into the planned development conditions.  

Forrest Eddleton, interim director of the department of sustainable development, said the city would support either a switch to downtown zoning or an amendment to the planned development document.  

Gmuer said the county could restrict the uses of the land besides sticking to the planned development, like a deed restriction.  

Members Robert Ackerman, Sophia Corugedo, Joshua Ney and Stephanie Sutton voted to delay the item until its Nov. 9 meeting. The other three board members were absent. The board also tabled a vote on inclusionary zoning until Nov. 9 to allow staff to adjust the ordinance.  

The Plan Board also supported an ordinance that alters sidewalk requirements for single-family, infill developments.  

Currently, city code requires an infill residential development to install a sidewalk even if the neighborhood as a whole or surrounding units lack sidewalks. Staff said this leads to a disjointed pedestrian network, safety hazards and a negative aesthetic impact.  

The new language would allow the infill developments to pay a fee instead. The fee would then go to sidewalk improvements in the area.  

The fee option would only apply to developments in neighborhoods already lacking sidewalks or if the sidewalk would cause significant impacts to utilities or the environment (heritage trees, wetlands). City staff would decide if a developer pays the fee or installs the sidewalk.  

The Plan Board modified the option to include duplexes. They also added options to the sidewalk fund, allowing it to be used for crosswalks and intersections as well that pedestrians use.  

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