12-story housing OK’d near UF, historic district

Commissioner Bryan Eastman
Gainesville City Commissioner Bryan Eastman motioned to hire Kristen Bryant as the interim city clerk on Thursday.
Photo by Seth Johnson

The Gainesville City Commission approved a 12-story apartment building just east of UF and across from the Innovation District, but the project will border the University Heights South Historic District, bringing concerns and requiring careful steps.  

After hours on the item, the commission voted 5-2 in favor of the 204-unit project, with Commissioners Desmon Duncan-Walker and Cynthia Chestnut in dissent.  

The development, located at the northwest corner of SW 2nd Avenue and SW 10th Street, has morphed through different iterations. But staff returned to its original recommendation on Thursday.  

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Gainesville City Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker
Courtesy City of Gainesville Desmon Duncan-Walker

The plan calls for two buildings—a smaller, five-story building will border the north with a longer, 12-story building on the south side of the property. The properties will be split by SW 1st Place.  

Currently, an abandoned doctor’s office and parking lot sit on the property, and commissioners said the location lends itself to housing.  

The developer has also agreed to set aside 10% of the units for workforce housing—20 total units. A covenant running with the land will ensure the units remain workforce housing forever.  

Within walking distance of UF, commissioners said it’s also an ideal spot for workforce housing—with Publix nearby, multiple school options and bus lines.  

The developer has already entered into a contract with Gainesville Housing Authority to fill the units, and Gerry Dedenbach, principal planner for CHW Professional Consultants and the developer, said the workforce units will be spread throughout the buildings with equal access to amenities.  

In exchange for the workforce units, the city will allow a higher density—number of units on the 1.11-acre parcel—than the current zoning allows.  

The commission must also skirt regulations because of the abutting historic district.  

The development will fill a cut out in the University Heights South Historic District but still falls within the 100-foot buffer area for around half of the property. Inside this buffer area, restrictions limit development to four dwelling units per building, four stories and a maximum height of 60 feet.  

The approved development plan calls for 184 dwelling units per acre with 557 bedrooms, and a height of 126 feet and 7 inches on the 12-story building.  

The view of the proposed building from the south, where the historic district is across the street.
Courtesy of city of Gainesville The view of the proposed building from the south, where the historic district is across the street.

Dedenbach said the developer wants to use urban core density to address housing needs while bringing other benefits. The urban core zoning ends just across the street at Infinity Hall. He noted that the project site is already zoned U9, the second highest density besides urban core.  

“It’s not like we’re saying we want a car dealer here near this neighborhood or we want to change this to an industrial site,” Dedenbach said. “We want to increase the density for people to live in an area that is vastly residential and mixed use.”   

Plus, he said the project will conform to the comprehensive plan policies through the following: 

  • Achieve highest and best residential use in Innovation District. 
  • Improve form and safety of pedestrian realm in urban core. 
  • Increase urban housing supply and diversity in Gainesville.  
  • Provide much needed walkable, bikeable and transit-friendly workforce housing. 

Forrest Eddleton, acting director of the city’s sustainable development department, said the historic district left out this area to make a stronger case when applying for the historic designation. The medical buildings and parking lot lacked historic significance.  

“That buffer was created to limit directly adjacent development that’s out of scale with the districts–either visually or through the intensity of use,” Eddleton said.  

The 12-story building will step down to five stories on the side within the historic buffer area, creating a recess in the building and conforming to the 60-foot height restriction. 

Two other 12-story buildings are under construction within a block of the project, both fronting University Avenue.  

Dedenbach said the homes to the west and south consist primarily of renters in single-family detached homes. The five-story Infinity Hall is directly across SW 10th Street and The Swamp Restaurant, two stories, is just south of the proposed development.  

During a meeting in November 2022, the city commission heard the same option for the property and came up with a third option. The commissioners asked that the 12-story building stay 12 stories all the way across, not stepping down to five in the buffer zone.

Without the step down, the developer could add more units and designate more units to workforce housing. Under the third option, the city would receive 13 additional units.  

However, Eddleton said on Thursday that city staff and the developer still recommend the step down option.  

The proposed development, outlined in yellow, will fill a hole in the historic district, the shaded brown.
Courtesy of city of Gainesville The proposed development, outlined in yellow, will fill a hole in the historic district, the shaded brown.

Commissioner Bryan Eastman supported the project and seconded the motion to approve, noting it will bring development back to the center of Gainesville instead of sprawling outward.  

“I see a lot of benefits to it,” Eastman said. “I think this really fits our comprehensive plan. I think it fits very well into the preservation of that historic district that has a lot of architectural types in it.” 

The building will conform to the historic district design standards with brick materials on the first floor though it isn’t required.  

On Thursday, many commentors spoke against the development with some in support.  

Thomas Hawkins, former city commissioner and plan board member, opposed the project because it allows developers to build outside the city’s code by using a planned development.  

“The development that’s allowed in the code is drastically less than the development that the applicant is requesting,” Hawkins said. 

James Reeves, chair of the city’s Historic Preservation Board, said the historic board opposed the building and noted again that planned developments allow applicants to avoid some city standards. 

“All the projects the last few years, all these high-rise buildings, every one of the developers are coming in with [planned developments] or [planned unit development] to get around the rules, to get extra height and to not have to conform with things like historic board, other regulations and master planning,” Reeves said.  

Harvey Ward
Courtesy of City of Gainesville Harvey Ward

He said the proposed development is “grossly over scaled” for the neighborhood with the historic district on three sides, directly adjacent to the north and one or two houses away to the west and south.  

“We are fighting to hold the line against developers in historic districts and our valuable lands downtown,” Reeves said.  

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut agreed. She said a couple blocks east in the Innovation District would probably work. But she couldn’t get beyond placing it on the doorstep of the historic district. She also called the design unappealing aesthetically.  

“I think this is quite a sacrifice to make for citizens,” Chestnut said. “This is a giant of a building.” 

And Chestnut said it’s a sacrifice that the commission doesn’t need to make for the citizens. She also noted that all the affordable and workforce housing approved by the city in the last year comes as apartments.  

She wants to see affordable homes come onto the market as well.  

Ultimately, the commissioners voted 5-2 to approve the development, and a final vote will come at a future meeting—possibly Feb. 16.  

Mayor Harvey Ward supported the project. He said that he’s tired of voting against housing, mentioning exclusionary zoning, a large building close to Depot Park and the proposed Weyerhaeuser Company development in north Gainesville.  

“I really got to a point where it dawned on me over the last week or two, knowing that we had this vote, that if I honestly consider myself an advocate for affordable housing, I can’t keep saying no to housing,” Ward said at a media meeting on Friday. “It’s as simple as that.” 

Ward said students moving to dense student housing next to campus provides multiple wins.  

Students can walk to classes and easily use the transit system. Meanwhile, apartments open in other areas of the city where students have historically lived, like southwest Gainesville, for young families and other citizens.  

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Fudd, Elmer

Innovation District or “Food Truck District”.


I see that the phrase ‘skirt regulations’ is taking on new meaning. In the past, that meant a project was still ‘within’ the regulations and wasn’t changed as the result of bribery. Of course, I’m still thinking of the old definition of ‘bribery’ – “Bribery is defined generally as corrupt solicitation, acceptance, or transfer of value in exchange for official action.” Specifically the last part.

Politics has no place in government or polite society, yet it has weaseled its way everywhere in both. (no offense to weasels, just using the verb)