Gainesville punts on UF deal as deadline nears

The Gainesville Commission voted unanimously to delay a decision on a Campus Development Agreement (CDA) with UF at its Thursday meeting.

The motion, put forward by Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker, set Jan. 6 as the next meeting to pick the item back up and make a decision.

However, neither the Gainesville City Commission nor the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners have forever for discussion on the CDA.

State law requires the two boards to reach a decision within 180 days of receiving the CDA from UF. The expiration for this CDA is in early February. After that, the decision goes to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The CDA is required by Florida law as a way for state universities—in this case UF—to mitigate any on-campus development that impacts the surrounding community, the City of Gainesville and Alachua County.

But the CDA lacks authority to cover all on-campus development, and housing isn’t included in the CDA’s purview. Still, housing is the issue holding up the approval process.

UF plans to demolish 348 graduate student apartments at Maguire Village and University Village South. Students, along with the city and county boards, worry about the strain that will put on the local affordable housing market.

Because of the housing question, Alachua County declined to approve the CDA in November and will take up the issue at a December meeting.

Andrew Persons, the city’s director of sustainable development, said if the city blocks the CDA because of housing, they won’t have a strong position when they go before state officials for mediation.

“We would probably be not on really strong grounds if [housing] was the contention,” Persons said.

And even if the city tried to link the housing situation to another issue covered in the CDA, like transportation, he said the city would have a tough time.

“Frankly speaking, it would be a stretch,” Persons said to the commissioners.

UF’s Director of Planning Linda Dixon told the commissioners that UF’s board of trustees had met earlier on Thursday and looked at housing.

She said the board was deciding between two different student housing options but both would include graduate and family accommodations like those being lost.

Dixon added that the university was working with private developers to dedicate off-campus housing for graduate students as well.

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos asked if that meant the city would see an overall decrease in housing.

Dixon said even though UF is looking to redirect some graduate students from Maguire Village and University Village South to already existing housing, overall, UF will net an increase of more than 1,000 new, on-campus units with its 2020-2030 master plan.

Still, commissioners wanted to have more information about UF’s housing plans that will cover the 348 unit loss before moving forward. At the same time, the commission knows that if the proposal goes to mediation with the state, its case is weak.

“I don’t want to put us into a position where the entirety of the CDA is put into the hands of Ron DeSantis’s government,” Commissioner David Arreola said. “So that’s my main concern of where we are right now.”

Mayor Lauren Poe added that the commission knows the outcome if the 180 days expire. He said the decision is already determined because housing isn’t under the CDA’s scope.

Poe said housing is certainly a concern, but the commission needs a new way to approach UF on the issue.

Dixon backed up Poe’s statement, saying the CDA isn’t the vehicle to use, but added that she thought UF leadership would be willing to meet with the city and county to discuss the housing plan.

She noted that the only time the state has mediated a CDA between UF, Gainesville and Alachua County was in 1998.

The apartments at Maguire Village and University Village South were built in 1972-73, and UF maintains the buildings are not structurally sound enough for renovations.

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