BOCC rules on code changes, delays development

The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) held its regular meeting on Tuesday to discuss two code changes, county financed bus shelters and behavioral health facilities.

Here is a rundown of the top items on the BOCC’s agenda.

Dock code changes

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The commissioners discussed boat dock code changes and set a public hearing to finalize the new language.

The new code will stop including walkways leading to the dock as part of the platform size regulated by the county. Staff reported that walkways have minimum impact on aquatic vegetation and allow docks to sit further from shore—further reducing environmental impacts.

The changes set a 600-foot platform limit to trigger a county review that sets a maximum of a 900 sq. foot dock.

Commissioner Ken Cornell questioned whether 900 sq. feet would be large enough. After subtracting the space to dock a boat, he said owners would have little space left.

Applications for docks have risen each year since 2016. The county has received 154 applications since 2011.

Central receiving system

The county decided to move forward with a joint facility for a central receiving system for behavioral health services, though commissioners expressed concern on the timing and cost.

Staff presented three options: a standalone building, partnering with a current facility or utilizing a virtual triage system without a building.

The standalone building would require double the operating cost, $4.5 million, with an unknown cost of construction. The joint facility needs a $1.5 million initial cost for renovations at Meridian Behavioral Healthcare.

Meridian president Don Savoie said the organization contracted an architect to come up with the pricing and said Meridian would bear extra costs to relocate some of its current staff to accommodate the change and add 24/7 lighting to the campus.

He said Meridian underwent value engineering in order to bring down costs.

Commissioners agreed to the need of the system, and Commissioner Mary Alford said the county should focus on the fastest option, not necessarily the cheapest. She pointed out the county’s commitment for a new Animal Resources and Care building and said the county should evaluate priorities.

“I agree, Commissioner Alford, that this is not the best time to build with COVID, and the cost increase is evidence of that,” Cornell said. “But I would also say that COVID has really increased the need for what we are asking for.”

Cornell motioned for staff to move forward with a brick and mortar location on the campus of a public receiving facility as well as increasing operating funds to Meridian. The board voted 4-0 to approve the motion, with Commissioner Chuck Chestnut IV absent.

“But if we keep talking, we’re never going to get there,” Savoie said, pointing out that the project began in 2010. “We’re going to miss the boat again and again.”

Alachua County bus shelters

The commission motioned to finance 25 bus shelters in unincorporated Alachua County along RTS routes.

Public Works Director Ramon Gavarrete said the sites were identified by RTS based on ridership. He added that RTS is paying for construction materials for the selected locations. If the county wants to add shelters in other spaces—like the stop in front of GRACE Marketplace—it would need to carry the entire price tag.

The board believes the shelters would increase ridership and motioned to allow the county to use $65,000 in Multi-Modal Transportation Mitigation Program funds. The commission also approved $276,000 from a leftover project to finance the rest of the project.

Gavarrete said prices continue rising, but staff hopes enough cushion remains in the presented plan that the construction estimates will stay on budget.

New community development district

The BOCC delayed a decision until June 14 to create two new community development districts (CDD), government-like entities that use funds from its residents to finance infrastructure instead of relying on the city, county or state.

The delay will give staff and the developer time to legalize a requirement that the land not be converted into a public infrastructure fee site (PIF), a condition the commissioners wanted legally binding.

The community development districts—called Springhills North and Springhills South—would contain just over 423 acres of land.

The North district would be on both sides of I-75 just above NW 39th Avenue, and the South district would lie between I-75 and NW 98th Street, across the road from Meadowbrook Golf Club.

The districts would finance its own infrastructure and contain both commercial and residential development.

Alachua County already has two CDDs: Celebration Pointe and Parker Road.

According to the development team, CDDs have become popular, with more than 800 now scattered across Florida.

However, commissioners expressed concern based on the Celebration Pointe CDD that applied for a PIF, allowing a surcharge to purchases on its land. The surcharge seems like a surtax on the bill, prompting citizen questions on why the county allowed the development to have a surtax.

The developers said the CDD lacks the power to make its own surcharge and they don’t plan on applying for a PIF. The BOCC wanted to legally prevent the developer from developing the PIF, but instead of drafting legal documents on the fly, commissioners delayed the final decision in order to draft agreements.

Flagpole requirements

The commission approved changes that allow flagpoles up to 50 feet in nonresidential zoning with 100-foot setbacks from property lines. The changes also add standards for flag dimensions, keeping flags limited to 8 feet by 12 feet for 50-foot flagpoles or 4 feet by 6 feet on a 30-foot pole or shorter.

The full agenda with backup documents is available on the Alachua County website.

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