BOCC agrees to expand redevelopment area

County Commissioner Charles Chestnut
Commissioner Charles Chestnut seconded a motion on Tuesday that would request the Florida Housing Finance Coalition to allow a workforce housing development to proceed on a different piece of property in Alachua County. (file photo by Suzette Cook)
File photo by Suzette Cook

After an extended conversation with their city counterparts, Alachua County commissioners approved expanding Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area (GCRA) to include the entirety of a proposed multi-use development at NE 8th Avenue and Waldo Road. 

The city requested the GCRA expansion so that multi-use projects under consideration for that area would be eligible for additional types of funding. The existing boundary included Citizens Field but little of the area to the west that is being considered for additional projects. 

Initially, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) asked in a letter that the Gainesville City Commission change the GCRA interlocal agreement to set completion targets and deadlines for various East Gainesville development projects.  

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County Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said the BOCC made a request for targets and deadlines because of a lack of perceivable progress with East Gainesville projects. 

“We’ve been at this [redevelopment] for three years, and nothing has happened,” Chestnut said. “I trust you guys, but I don’t think that people are going to trust us because we talked about what we’re doing, and we’re doing nothing at this point.” 

City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos asked his county counterparts not to re-open the interlocal agreement that governs the community reinvestment area. 

“The city is just asking for really a simple move of a line a few 100 feet,” Hayes-Santos said. “Impactful projects are already difficult enough. And the projects we’re trying to do are big—adding more cooks in the kitchen will make that incredibly more difficult and will make them less likely to occur and cause delays.” 

City commissioners and staff reassured the BOCC that they were serious about completing East Gainesville development at Monday’s joint meeting. After more than an hour of discussion, the BOCC voted unanimously to change the GCRA boundaries to enlarge the GRCA to incorporate more of the land surrounding Citizens Field.  

The BOCC also did not require any additional changes to the interlocal agreement. 

While some of the BOCC was looking for a timeline, other commissioners were concerned that the city didn’t have firm plans for the area around Citizens Field. 

County Commissioner Anna Prizzia said at the beginning of the discussion that she was concerned that the BOCC didn’t have enough details about the 8th and Waldo project to understand why the GRCA needed to be expanded. 

“There’s so much other projects on the east side… so many others that need critical funding, I guess I just don’t understand the point of this project and the need to expand this boundary,” Prizzia said. “And so the question was: what is the project? What is the transformation that is going to happen because of it and the timeline associated with that, so that we can have more comfort with why we should expand a boundary for that purpose.” 

City Commissioner Harvey Ward said it was difficult for the city to describe the specifics of a project without knowing whether GCRA money would be available for the whole site. While the city is planning to complete a redevelopment project in the area, having GCRA money available for the expanded area would mean a larger project could be considered. 

“There’s a lot we can deliver for the community [around 8th and Waldo],” Ward said. “But we don’t know what that is until we know what the budget can be. And I have felt multiple times, like … every time we got ready for kickoff, Lucy moved football. And I don’t want to do that anymore. So let’s figure out if we’re gonna kick the football or not.” 

City Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said she hears frustration from constituents about progress on East Gainesville economic development projects. 

“People in East Gainesville are very, very tired of their dreams being deferred,” she said. “…We are team players, but at the end of the day, what do we have to show for it in East Gainesville? Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.” 

City Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker, who represents East Gainesville as part of District 1, said, “I don’t want projects in East Gainesville; I need projects in East Gainesville.” 

She said her constituents want projects that will improve their quality of life, their health care, and  their educational opportunities. 

“In moving this line, you simply give us at the City Commission flexibility,” Duncan-Walker said. “We need the flexibility to be able to do good work for a community who has waited a long time for the change they have been promised.” 

Cynthia Chestnut along with Duncan-Walker and Commissioner Reina Saco are not up for election in August and their impassioned discussion of East Gainesville development seemed to provide the BOCC with the reassurances they were looking for in terms of momentum to make visible progress – whatever form it may take. 

“Development, whether public or private, is visionary,” said County Commissioner Raemi Eagle-Glenn. “And I understand that moving this line is helping with the bidding process. We can’t have a complete picture about what exactly is going to happen.” 

But even as the BOCC voted unanimously to alter the GRCA lines, Chuck Chestnut warned his city commission colleagues he doesn’t have the appetite for continued delays. 

“The last time we put no assurance on anything, we trusted the city to go ahead and to move forward to do what they wanted to do,” Chuck Chestnut said. “That has not happened. That’s the heartburn I’m having. … I will support it this time, but if something comes back and it doesn’t happen, you can forget Chuck.” 

Map of a portion of the city of Gainesville that is part of the Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area with a smaller pop-out map showing the recent change.
Courtesy of the City of Gainesville The Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area with the proposed change approved by the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners.

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