Butler could pit city vs. county


Published: Saturday, January 25, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 25, 2003 at 12:18 a.m.
Butler Plaza developer Clark Butler may pit Alachua County against the city of Gainesville to get what he wants.
Butler wants a four-lane road constructed north of property he owns - land that he plans to transform into a massive shopping center, presumably with a Wal-Mart Supercenter and several other big-box retail stores. In the past, Butler has mentioned Costco, which is similar to a Sam's Club, and a new, larger Lowe's Home Improvement Center.
A transportation study released Thursday indicates that the county's proposed construction of SW 24th Avenue - now a narrow limerock road - as a two-lane road is sufficient to handle the traffic associated with the development, given that other planned road improvements in the area are made as well.
In a Friday e-mail from County Manager Randy Reid to each commissioner, Reid outlined a series of demands given to him by Butler at a meeting on Wednesday.
According to the memo, Butler not only wants a four-lane road, he wishes to take over construction of the project from the county. To save money and expedite the process, Butler would ditch plans developed by the county and residents. Those plans now include sidewalks, roundabouts and bike lanes.
If the county doesn't comply, Butler could threaten to annex Butler Plaza and the land for the proposed shopping center into Gainesville - something that would cost the county as much as $5 million a year in taxes, by some estimates.
Should an annexation of 668 acres just north of SW 24th Avenue be approved by voters in the spring, much of Butler's land would be contiguous with the city limits - a requirement for annexation.
"Mr. Butler advised me to discuss with all the commission that if he is to remain in the county unincorporated area, he must have this four lane," Reid wrote.
Repeated attempts to reach Butler were unsuccessful.
Gainesville City Manager Wayne Bowers said an annexation by Butler could not happen - at least not immediately. An annexation would require a ballot referendum that the residents living in the area would have to approve.
Besides, Bowers said he has been discussing the potential future annexation of Butler Plaza with Butler for more than eight years.
"I'm not rushing to annex Butler Plaza," Bowers said.
At the same time, the county is likely to face increasing pressures from University of Florida officials, who intend to ask the County Commission to ignore the traffic studies and move forward with four-laning SW 24th Avenue.
The hope is that the corridor could eventually hook into SW 16th Avenue, which could be extended eastward to Hawthorne Road. The road could help divert traffic from Archer Road to create a more pedestrian-friendly area in front of Shands Healthcare.
Indeed, Reid notes in the e-mail that Ed Poppell, UF's vice president of finance and administration, would like the county to dedicate $1.5 million - money the university gave to the county for road improvements - to fast-track the SW 24th Avenue project.
A discussion of all the options is expected to occur at a private meeting scheduled next week between Poppell, Bowers, Reid, Butler and County Commission Chairman Rodney Long.
County Attorney Dave Wagner and Marlie Sanderson, director of transportation for the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council, also have been invited.
Long indicated he won't be able to attend, but he plans to encourage the board to appoint a replacement on Tuesday.
Janine Young Sikes can be reached at (352) 337-0327 or sikesj@gvillesun.com.

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