Coalition Meets in Opposition to Expansion of SpringHills
The community debate over the expansion of the Springhills development project picks up steam. And the Coalition for Responsible Growth, a group of community residents met Tuesday night to discuss the change in scale of the project. But does the project measure up to sound urban planning?
Few would dispute the fact that Alachua County is growing, but how big has a community pitted against the developer. The Pennsylvania-based developer hopes an amendment will allow the mixed-use commercial site to grow to 1.5 million square feet of retail space. But it's up to the county to approve their request for an expansion
But it's the explosion in the size of the project that has many in the community asking if a project this big belongs in a county that already has 2 large-scale "power shopping centers."
Independent urban planner, Gene Boles says, "Those are the right questions. Is the proposal in the right place, and the right scale? Is it designed well?"
Boles has overseen more than 5000 projects in the state and says that as a county like Alachua grows the citizens must decide if expanding a project by more than 90 percent is right for the community. The attorney representing the SprignHills developer, Patrice Boyes, believes a larger SpringHills is what the community is asking for.
According to Boyes the request for expansion is not nearly as big as oposers says it is. "What is happening now is a little bit of a tweak," Boyes explained "It was supposed to be an office park and this developer determined that an office park and highway commercial is not desirable," she concluded. But the big box stores she later admitted will go along I-75. "Those big box areas will be along the interstate."
Residents who are opposed to the expansion say that the warehouse-like stores will change the landscape of the area and will require more funding for the roads. The county staff has indicated that it is pushing for denial of their developer's request.
When asked why she thought the county had shifted it's opinion on the project, Boyes says, "because this developer won't pay the extortionate 58 million dollars for the roads." She says the current estimates of $90 to $120 million dollars for road improvements are excessive and the result of the county undermining the project. "The developer has indicated whatever those roads cost to build he will build them if it's 40, 42 million he will build them." But the Coalition for responsible Growth say that isn't the case at all, under the current agreement the developer will pay only $18 million.
In the end Boles says that with his decades of experience in urban planning, an expanded version of the project won't work in the Northwest corridor, "My assessment of this particular proposal is that it's out of scales out of place and not well designed."
By Stacey Samuel, WCJB TV20 News
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