County, developer may join on project


Published: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 12:43 a.m.

Developer Clark Butler on Friday offered to partner with Alachua County on the reconstruction of SW 24th Avenue - a road that would access a massive shopping center expansion he has planned.

Butler said he believes he can save the county about $2.1 million and build a wider road, one that could handle the traffic associated with as many as three big-box superstores. If the county agrees, road construction could begin by the end of the year.

The proviso is that Butler, who would assume more than $2 million of the costs himself, would build a four-lane segment with traffic signals rather than the two-lane one with roundabouts the county had planned.

Total cost of the original two-lane project, including paving SW 38th Terrace as a connector between SW 20th Avenue and SW 24th Avenue, is about $7.2 million. Butler believes he can build a four-lane road for a little more than $5 million.

"Then the county could put its efforts on SW 62nd Boulevard," said Butler of the road running north-south by The Oaks Mall that could be extended to link into SW 24th Avenue.

The plan is endorsed by the University of Florida, which also has about $3.2 million at stake in the project. Officials say the road is the first piece of an east-west corridor that could span from The Oaks Mall to Williston Road.

On the surface, the offer might seem enticing. But during the two-hour meeting, county commissioners tossed out a series of potential obstacles that could block Butler's plans.

The four-lane section Butler proposed building extends east from SW 43rd Street to SW 34th Street. However, buildings and businesses situated near the street at SW 24th Avenue and SW 34th Street will limit the intersection to two lanes.

That, some commissioners fear, would create a bottleneck worse than the one on 34th Street at W. University Avenue where six lanes narrow to two.

County Commissioner Mike Byerly envisioned a daily "rush-hour crush."

Acquiring the businesses and the land to expand the intersection to four lanes could bump up the total cost of the project by $3 million to $4 million, estimated Michael Fay, the county's acting director of public works. Neither the county nor Butler have said they are willing to absorb those costs at this time.

Additionally, no plans are in place to extend SW 24th Avenue east across 34th Street to Archer Road. Some commissioners and transportation officials believe that to be the key piece in creating a truly workable east-west corridor. Absent a way to continue east, vehicles would be forced out onto SW 34th Street, a road already overcrowded with traffic.

"Without it, it's going to be a mess," said Marlie Sanderson, director of transportation planning for the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council.

County Commissioners Rodney Long and Penny Wheat floated the idea of obtaining a long-term commitment from UF, which owns a chunk of land behind the Harn Museum that could be used for the project. It's unclear if UF will agree to become a partner.

"We need to go out and see what's there," said Ed Poppell, UF's vice president of finance and administrative affairs.

The County Commission is expected to formally discuss its options, including the potential annexation of the Butler property into the city of Gainesville, on Feb. 11. The Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization - all 10 county and city commissioners sitting together - has the issue scheduled for its Feb. 20 meeting.

Janine Young Sikes can be reached at 337-0327 or sikesj@ gvillesun.com.

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