The Gainesville City Commission approved a land use ordinance and zoning ordinance for 1,778 acres at the northern border of the city that will allow 20 and 60 units per acre for a development that could max out at around 8,000 units.
The commission split 4-3 on both votes with commissioners Desmon Duncan-Walker, Cynthia Chestnut and Harvey Ward in dissent on Thursday. The vote occurred on first reading, meaning the items will return for a final decision.
The property last appeared before the commission in December 2019, prompting a unanimous rejection and two lawsuits by the developer. Gainesville staff said one of the lawsuits will have oral arguments in the spring while the other goes to a hearing.
The commission opposed the development in 2019 based on staff concerns about environmental impacts, low-density sprawl and transportation problems.
From the outset of Thursday’s meeting, Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said the city must act.
“This isn’t really a decision between no development and some development,” Hayes-Santos said. “That decision was made back when it was first annexed into the city.”
The property contains many wetlands and borders the Deerhaven Buffer Area as well as the Murphree Wellfield Conservation Easement. State Road 121 also splits the property. Owned by the Weyerhaeuser Company, the land has been used for silviculture timber production since at least the early 1900s.
Gainesville annexed the property in 1992 and 2007 before approving a land use in 2009. But further plans stalled until 2017, when the developer submitted the zoning application that the commission rejected in December 2019.
The developer's new proposal attempts to resolve the issues. The plan prohibits silviculture in the wetlands areas and sets aside around 65-68% of the property for conservation.
The zoning plan would allow a high density, clustered development. The higher density makes a transit system, like RTS, more viable, according to staff. And clustering the housing on less than 40% of the land allows the preservation of the wetlands.
Hayes-Santos said that if the housing were spread across the entire property, the density maximum would be less than 5 units per acre—comparable to the rest of Gainesville.
The development will commit to a 5% affordable housing requirement in perpetuity, and a conservation plan for the set aside land.
Mayor Lauren Poe said the city must zone the property by law and the new plan moves away from a car-dependent development.
“This helps us achieve many more of our goals than the previous plan or any future plan that I can imagine,” Poe said.
Ward admitted that the current zoning and land use option improved on the 2019 version.
“This is far better than what we’ve seen before—absolutely,” Ward said. “But better and acceptable are not the same thing to me.”
He said the problem is location — anywhere else in Gainesville would probably work. The property contains the headwaters for Rocky Creek, Hatchet Creek and Turkey Creek. The land is also a moderate to high recharge area for the aquifer, according to the Suwannee River and St. Johns Water Management Districts.
Ward said the development could come in and never impact the water quality, but with the entire city’s supply so close, he said the city should avoid the gamble. He also highlighted transportation issues with SR 121 and SR 441 forming the main routes into Gainesville.
“I understand where we're all trying to get to and where we’re all coming from, but that transportation and the water are two things I cannot get past,” Ward said.
He added that the Weyerhaeuser Company doesn’t create housing. The company will sell the property to a developer that may have different ideas for the land use and zoning.
Many residents also spoke against the proposal. Some expressed concern for wildlife, others for the environment or transportation issues.
Hayes-Santos moved the staff’s recommendation on the land use with two modifications: one allowing up to 60 units per acre in the mixed-use central district of the property and the other requiring building height by feet not stories.
The commission approved.
During the zoning ordinance, Hayes-Santos again made the motion with six modifications including multi-use paths requirements, setting building height by feet instead of stories and pedestrian lighting.
Totally the WRONG DIRECTION. Poe and Hayes hyphen will be gone soon (hopefully forever) and this sketchy development is poorly thought out!
Someone’s hand is in the cookie jar.