A 4.5-mile buffer area is what stands between the City of Newberry’s Urban Services Area (USA) and Alachua County’s utility services boundary and it’s up to the Newberry commission to decide if that will change.
“If we protect it, there will always be a green space dividing us,” Newberry City Manager Mike New told the commission during a 45-minute long conversation at the Nov. 22 regular meeting.
The current Urban Services Boundary (USB) for Newberry was established in 2016 as a circle that measures 3 miles in radius and, according to Newberry Planning Director Bryan Thomas, it encompasses about 28 square miles—about half of the city area of 58 square miles—and outlines about 10-square miles of current urbanized area.
“Sometimes we need to have these kinds of conversations,” Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said, explaining to the commission why the item was on the agenda. “It makes certain people nervous.”
Marlowe pointed out receiving emails and phone calls from citizens who read the agenda and noted the hot topic of the boundary is used as a tool to control growth.
“We want to work with people, we want to partner with people,” Marlowe said about property owners wishing to develop, adding that, “This is what the USA is. This is the shape that will get us to our goals of how do we grow as a community while maintaining our small town feel.”
The commission approved a large number of annexations in 2021 and conducted quasi judicial hearings with developers.
And according to Marlowe, by revisiting the USA and boundary map, the current commission can better shape the city’s economic development and hopefully provide services and jobs for young people and keep them from having to move out of the area to find work.
“We just finished a visioning session and now it’s time to implement what we heard from our residents,” Marlowe said.
New said that sticking to the principles of “development 101” means that the commission should strive for compact development that starts in the center and grows outward.
“People want to be a part of our community and have a say,” New said, acknowledging the recent annexations. “Most cities don’t have these large agricultural areas that we have. We love ag and intend to keep it that way. We can protect those areas with this USA.”
New labeled the agenda item as a discussion noting that it had been five years since the last conversation about the USB so he wanted city staff to explain how it works and what it means to the community.
Thomas said the USA was established by the state legislature for communities to manage growth.
“The boundary is determined solely by the local governing body,” he said. “The state doesn’t generally get involved.”
New explained that the USB directs growth where urban services are planned for and limits growth where they are not.
Marlowe asked what if a parcel is partially in the USA and Thomas replied that typically the USA applies to the rest of the parcel.
City Attorney Scott Walker said the commission could add language to the USA resolution that “states how they will interpret that.”
The current USA map reveals that most properties eligible for development are spoken for as he showed a map overlay of applications or development protects already in motion.
“We have active proposed projects on all four points of intersection of our roads,” Thomas said. “All are under application. If the commission was considering making changes.”
Thomas said a grandfather clause would be something to consider.
The USA is solely controlled by the commission and can be amended by ordinance that would first be heard by the planning and zoning board and then would need to be approved upon first and second reading before the commission.
After the first reading approval, the amendment would be transmitted to the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) in Tallahassee for review, then returned to the commission for the second reading and approval.
That DEO preview process takes 30 to 45 days according to Thomas.
Commissioner Tim Marden asked about the projects already in the “pipeline” and what would happen if the commission chose to shrink the current USA.
New replied that zoning approval is usually the trigger that a project will move forward regardless of a change that might shift its position in the USA.
“If they have zoning they have the okay,” New said, adding that if a project was in progress without zoning approval it would be “up to the commission.”
Marlowe said the commission should study the map, read the materials from the staff about the USA and sleep on it before the commission meets in January to discuss whether a change to the USB is something it wants to pursue.
“USA first, overlay district second,” Marlowe said about adding stricter development regulations as an overlay to the USA map.
“If there’s areas that we don’t want to develop, this is the mechanism as a frontline against that,” he said. “This is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to the size of the green belt that we want around Newberry and the speed in which we grow.