Leaders bracing for shifts
Published: Thursday, January 2, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 1, 2003 at 9:21 p.m.
City Commission meetings in Gainesville have a reputation for being long and contentious, but they could get much longer this year after the commission expands from five to seven members in April.
And the very makeup of the commission could change drastically. In that election, voters will elect a majority of the commission- the two new members, and the already-existing at-large seat and District 1 seat.
The City Charter requires the commission to expand from five to seven members once the city's population reaches 110,000, which occurred when the city took over almost 1,600 acres of densely populated land on Sept. 1.
Some commissioners opposed expanding the commission, saying it was an unnecessary expense and would cost more money to pay the commissioners and their support staff. Voters defeated a Nov. 5 referendum, placed on the ballot by the commission, that would have killed the charter requirement to add the two new seats.
The commission will begin considering in January whether the city should hold a special election to bring another student-heavy area into the city limits this year, just months after adding 15,000 residents to Gainesville through a September annexation.
University of Florida Student Government President Nikki Fried asked the commission in December to consider annexing the area near southwest Gainesville.
The area is bordered roughly by Interstate 75, SW 34th Street and SW 24th Avenue, and includes about 4,000 residents. Fried has asked the commission to hold a special election on May 1, before University of Florida students, who populate the area, leave Gainesville for summer break.
As early as this month, city, county and transportation planning officials will evaluate the results of Plan East Gainesville, a yearlong community planning process to draft a vision for the future of the city's poorest neighborhoods.
The proposal includes running a rapid-transit bus line from Archer Road to east Gainesville, and creating a hub of stores, homes and offices at Five Points, the intersection of University Avenue, Hawthorne Road and E. 15th Street.
Leaders will evaluate Plan East Gainesville before a yearlong ban on development in east Gainesville ends in March. The moratorium is meant to give the city time to craft long-term goals for growth in that section of the city, which typically gets affordable housing complexes and government buildings instead of businesses like stores and restaurants.
The city will also resume discussions about merging county and city fire services into one agency, after an overwhelming 71 percent of Gainesville voters indicated in a Nov. 5 referendum they wanted to join the services together. The commission voted three weeks later to reconstitute a board that had studying how to combine the two agencies before the city backed out of discussions earlier last year, citing concerns that city residents could end up paying higher taxes for fire service.
Supporters said the merger would save taxpayers money and improve fire protection near the city limits.
The city is also set to hire a charter-level equal opportunity officer who will answer directly to the City Commission, not the city manager. A commission-appointed panel will oversee the nationwide search, but has not been appointed yet.
The equal opportunity office investigates discrimination complaints filed by city employees.
Ashley Rowland can be reached at 374-5095 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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