High Springs approves large development

Published: Friday, January 14, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 13, 2005 at 11:16 p.m.
HIGH SPRINGS - The High Springs City Commission on Thursday approved a development that will increase the city's population by 50 percent when it is built in the first of two votes.
Tillman Acres, a project proposed by the family that started the Sonny's Barbecue restaurant chain, will build 800 houses on several hundred acres in the southern portion of the city within the next several years.
City Planner Gene Boles estimated that the new development could add as many as 2,000 new residents to this city of about 4,000 northwest of Gainesville, and Thursday night's approval followed months of debate about whether that spike in population would overburden the city's community school and roadways and change its rural character.
"I still have questions, and maybe I'm the only one, but I still have issues about the character of this community and the way it fits in with the rest of High Springs," said Mayor Kirk Eppenstein, the sole commissioner to vote against the development. "Most of this reminds me of northwest Gainesville, of Sarasota, of places where it's difficult to find out where you're going because of the way the streets are laid out. For me, the character issue remains."
Eppenstein said approving the project without having a way to pay for necessary improvements to the city's water and sewer systems would be "irresponsible," though the commission is set to discuss imposing impact fees soon.
But other commissioners praised the Tillman family and the planners from Casseaux and Ellington who designed the project, and thanked them for sticking with the approval process through months of negotiation.
"There are people in the audience and people in the community who wish High Springs would stop and stay the way it is forever," said City Commissioner Jim Gabriel, as several of the 30 or so audience members in the High Springs Civic Center groaned. "If we're not growing, I think we're dying . . . The reality is that growth is coming, growth is here and development will happen. They've shown the community that they're willing to do some things for the community that are going to benefit us for years to come."
The project is the city's first planned unit development, a zoning mechanism that replaces the existing zoning and gives both city officials and developers more control over what gets built there. Debate in previous meetings last year hinged on whether the city was ready for such a large influx of new residents, even if it took years to build the project, and Gabriel said the planned unit development gave city officials the ability to address those concerns.
Gabriel had pushed developers to set aside land for a new school in the future, and the revamped proposals Thursday included a 25-acre parcel set aside for that reason.
The project presented Thursday also represents a decrease in the number of houses from the last proposal, a concession city commissioners said they made in exchange for the school site.
High Springs residents who spoke Thursday night mostly had questions about the layout of individual streets. Previous meetings have drawn dozens of residents who lined up before commissioners to endorse or speak against the proposal.
The project will be up for a final vote at the commission's next meeting, but members of the Tillman family said Thursday they were glad to see the first milestone pass.
Floyd and Lucille Tillman still live on a farm on part of the site, said their daughter, Amy Gray, who has spoken for the family at meetings in the past few months.
"This has been a long time coming," Gray said as she stood with her sister, Carolyn Tillman, outside the civic center Thursday.
Amy Reinink can be reached at 374-5088 or reinina@gvillesun.com.

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