The High Springs City Commission received an update earlier this month on a potential 2,000-unit subdivision that would be built on 686 acres on the south side of the city and includes single-family homes, multifamily dwellings and even senior living facilities.
The land was already approved as planned development in 2005 and included a suburban residential density, which allows for one to four units per acre. But JBPro, a Gainesville-based civil engineering firm, began engaging with the city over a year ago to revise the plan on behalf of the owner.
The city scheduled the meeting as an update with no vote. The development will return in the coming months for a final vote, but commissioners expressed concern from the dais.
“We need to grow, absolutely, as a city, but I think growth with this kind of density would be profoundly irresponsible for us,” Commissioner Katherine Weitz said at the meeting.
Located east of State Road 45 near the Tillman Acres neighborhood, the original plan called for 2,500 units with 742 40-foot lots, 1,294 50-foot lots, 250 60-foot lots, 197 70-foot lots along with multifamily, age-restricted and senior living facilities.
Christopher Potts, director of civil engineering for JBPro, told the commission that they eliminated the 40-foot lots and added 80-foot lots after speaking with High Springs staff last year. However, the unit amount would have stayed at 2,500, giving a 3.6 unit-per-acre density.
A second revision erased the 50- and 60-foot lots as well, adding 100-foot lots and dropping the unit cap to 2,000. JBPro will submit this version to the city, Potts said. This version also keeps the multifamily, age-restricted and senior living facilities.
Potts said the goal is to create a community. The current plan includes parks every half mile with pools, playgrounds and other amenities, many open to the public.
“It’s not just a subdivision itself,” Potts said. “It’s not just density; it’s not just a lot of people. It’s coming in to be a part of the community, to give additional parks, additional support for the city.”
The developer set aside a 31-acre parcel in the northeast corner of the land to give to Alachua County Public Schools for a future elementary or middle school. Potts said the financial development of a school would fall on the district, but the owner would donate the land.
For Weitz, the proposed development changes the character of the city, a reason many moved to High Springs in the first place. She worries growth without consideration will hurt the community already in the area.
“I’m concerned with us selling our soul just for the sake of growth,” Weitz said in a phone interview. “I don’t think it’s worth the trade-off.”
Weitz points to High Springs’ population at around 7,000. A 2,000-unit development with two people per unit would constitute half of the city on that parcel.
For the moment, High Springs needs to focus on strengthening services to allow growth. Weitz said the police and fire departments could handle increases with new hires, but the city’s roads and wastewater facilities need bolstering.
The city has nearly maxed out its one wastewater treatment plant, and officials plan to open bidding to hire a contractor for another facility. But that process takes time, Weitz said.
She also highlighted Tillman Acres, a neighborhood that borders a portion of the proposed development and has lots with 1 or 2 or more acres.
“If you look at the surrounding areas around Tillman Acres, where it is now around this property that they’re trying to develop, high density does not fit in with the land around it at all—not even close,” Weitz said.
The original owner of Tillman Acres intended to build out on the other 686 acres that JBPro now uses. But Weitz said the plan then included more of the same, large lots for a maximum of around 800 homes.
“I can swallow that. I can get behind [800 homes] on 650 acres—but not 2,000,” Weitz said.
Potts said homeowners continue to trend toward smaller lots due to both expense and maintenance reasons. Everyone knows Alachua County continues to grow, he said, but Gainesville has run out of room and prices are climbing.
That growth has begun building up cities like High Springs, Alachua and Newberry. The High Springs commission approved a 120-unit development off SR 441 in May.
Commissioner Linda Jones said those areas may be growing but not all citizens appreciated the increase in people.
“They’re growing, but if you talk to people about it, they’re not happy about it at all,” Jones said at the meeting. “That’s what we’re experiencing.”
She said citizens already ask if the commissioners hear them and their concerns over housing. Weitz said she’s received significantly more feedback, unanimously against the proposal, than any other issue.
Mayor Byran Williams and many public commentors emphasized the impact on roads.
Once approved by the city, the developers would complete an assessment with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) because of SR 45. A road assessment would then determine what modifications need to happen.
Potts said the subdivision would develop over 20 years or so, meaning impacts from 2,000 units would not occur suddenly.
“The one thing you have to look at, though, is the future land use allows 1-4 units per acre, so with a large acreage itself, that’s where the density number is kind of shocking,” Potts said.
Even with 686 acres, the density seems high for some. During a question portion at the meeting, Weitz asked if the developer could cut the units in half, and during a phone interview, Weitz noted that nothing requires the developer to spread the construction out over a decade or more.
“I’m sure that people get the impression that I’m opposed to growth, and I’m not,” Weitz said. “But I’m definitely a proponent of very careful growth. You can look at lots of different areas around Florida where unchecked growth has really, really been detrimental. And I just want to be careful with that.”