DeLaney to seek ethics ruling over SW 24th Avenue


Published: Wednesday, January 26, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2005 at 12:34 a.m.
An opinion from the state Ethics Commission over whether land owned by Alachua County Commissioner Paula DeLaney should prohibit her from voting on the widening of SW 24th Avenue or Butler Plaza's expansion will be sought.
DeLaney said at Tuesday's commission meeting she is getting the opinion to avoid a potential conflict of interest. DeLaney also asked the commission to stage a meeting so developer Clark Butler can publicly explain his plans. No other commissioners supported the idea.
"I want to understand if, in the future, I either have a conflict or I don't. It may put us in a position that during that time, I might not be able to participate (in certain votes)," DeLaney said.
The ruling could have a big impact on SW 24th Avenue. The vote to pursue four-laning was 3-2 with DeLaney favoring it. Future votes could be deadlocked without DeLaney.
DeLaney owns land near Archer Road and Interstate 75. Wal-Mart has expressed an interest in a nearby - but not adjacent - tract for a new store.
Butler, however, may want to lure a Wal-Mart Supercenter to the shopping plaza he wants to build on SW 24th Avenue.
The county is now negotiating with Butler to pay $4.7 million as the difference between a two-laned SW 24th and the four lanes he wants.
DeLaney said she wants an opinion since commission decisions regarding SW 24th or Butler's development could determine where Wal-Mart will locate. That, in turn, could affect the value of her land.
Property on SW 20th Avenue near SW 34th Street also is owned by DeLaney. She was a Gainesville city commissioner when issues regarding SW 20th arose. DeLaney said she was told by City Attorney Marion Radson that her ownership did not pose a voting conflict.
DeLaney also will ask the Ethics Commission for an opinion on that because SW 20th will be affected by commission decisions on SW 24th.
County Attorney Dave Wagner said it could take two to three months to get an opinion. DeLaney should not vote on Butler issues during that time, he said.
Potential votes include approval of a contract with Butler to foot some of the road-widening costs.
The widening of SW 24th has become a contentious issue. Residents in a 1997 planning process called a charette recommended it be paved as a two-lane road.
Commissioners have flip-flopped on the matter. At one point they favored four lanes, but during the summer voted to two-lane it when talks with Butler over payments he would make to the county for four lanes broke down.
Late last year, $3 million was appropriated by Congress for a four-lane version of the road with a connector of SW 62nd Boulevard. Commissioners then voted to negotiate with Butler again.
That has angered some residents, who charge the county has subverted the public participation process and took a speedy vote without much public notice.
DeLaney tried to smooth some of those feelings Tuesday by suggesting a meeting be held so Butler can explain his project.
"It would give citizens an opportunity to participate since part of what I sensed in the comments was a perception that some of this is not being done in public like it ought to be, which I do not believe," DeLaney said.
Commissioner Mike Byerly said the meeting would be useless unless the commission were to reconsider its vote to pursue four-laning. Byerly and Commissioner Rodney Long were the dissenting votes regarding four-laning.
"Talk is good, but we made the decision and I fail to see the purpose of convening citizens to once again tell us we cut them out of the process," Byerly said. "The time to have those kinds of meetings is before the decisions are made. We had a charette. We went through a lengthy process of having the citizens tell us what they want there, and then we disregarded it."
No other commissioners spoke in favor of a meeting, so the idea was dropped.
Cindy Swirko can be reached at (352) 374-5024 or swirkoc@gvillesun.com.

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