Smith may drop request for road

Published: Wednesday, January 26, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 25, 2005 at 11:24 p.m.
State Sen. Rod Smith wrote Tuesday that he filed for a $2 million appropriation for four-laning SW 24th Avenue because he inferred Alachua County Commission support for the money. He has now offered to withdraw the request if the commission wants.
The request has raised eyebrows because developer Clark Butler, who is negotiating with the county for the widening, proposed using the $2 million as part of his share of $4.7 million the county wants from him to cover the added costs of four-laning over the previously planned two lanes.
"The latest action by the commission has been a favorable vote for the road's expansion and widening to four lanes. From this, it was my inference that there was continued support from the commission in favor of seeking state transportation funds to complete this project," wrote Smith, D-Alachua, in a letter to commissioners. Smith said request for the money was cosponsored by State Rep. Ed Jennings, D-Gainesville.
Smith said that "questions have arisen as to the level of support and process followed regarding this project" and offered to "remove our delegation from the responsibility of seeking funding for this project if the commission so chooses."
The county did not request the appropriation and officials learned of it from Bob Reller, Butler Enterprises development director.
But Smith wrote in his memo that he told commission Chairman Cynthia Chestnut of his intent and she conveyed her appreciation.
Smith wrote that a similar request was made last year and was vetoed by Gov. Jeb Bush.
The project has been debated for years but the debate has recently grown more heated. Commissioners last year voted to two-lane it after early negotiations with Butler for four-laning stalled. Two-laning was recommended by residents who participated in a planning process.
But Butler successfully lobbied federal lawmakers, who late last year got a $3 million appropriation for the project. That prompted commissioners to vote to pursue four-laning if Butler pays the difference - about $4.7 million.
That decision has created anger. Residents flooded a recent meeting to berate commissioners for their vote, saying they subverted the democratic process and were caving in to Butler.
Negotiations are now under way. County officials said Butler has proposed paying the $4.7 but $2 million of that would be the state money.
The county also wants Butler to file for a development of regional impact, or DRI, for his proposed shopping area. A DRI is a detailed plan required for large-scale developments.
County Manager Randy Reid saw Smith's letter Tuesday night.
"All of this controversy would be resolvable if Mr. Butler would file for a development of regional impact, which was requested in 2000," Reid said.

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