Gainesville development threatened by traffic


Published: Saturday, January 14, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 14, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
One of the hottest commodities for local developers is invisible, but you need only look at jammed traffic on Newberry Road or SW 20th Avenue to see the value of it.
Developers are increasingly racing to reserve what little traffic space is available for future car trips on roads in high-growth corridors, or risk having their plans turned down.
"It's first come, first served," said Alachua County Senior Planner Jerry Brewington. "When it gets to the point where there are a very limited number of trips available, it's who can get there first. We clock (proposals) in when they are submitted and some were, like, I was there at 4:07 p.m."
The fact that available space on roads is more scant than land on which to build in some areas is a dilemma the County Commission will begin facing in a special meeting next week.
It's called transportation concurrency, and it has the potential to stop development dead in certain areas unless the commission does something.
Concurrency is a requirement in Florida's growth management laws. Road capacity that is adequate for new growth must be in place by the time a new development is finished.
Developers must do a traffic analysis to show how may trips will be made on area roads by people living or shopping in their project. Trips can be reserved for projects that will take years to be completely built.
But the law also provides local government an out - concurrency exception areas, which allow development to continue without the county having to build more roads and are an option the commission will consider.
Exception areas were initially allowed as a way to foster urban development by enabling dense growth. But more cities are radiating the exception areas farther from downtown cores.
Much of Gainesville is a concurrency exception area. Now the County Commission will consider whether the tool is appropriate for unincorporated areas.
"There are two schools of thought," said County Manager Randall Reid. "In one, exception areas tend to be a way to avoid concurrency. The other is that it is a very legitimate way to encourage density and multi-modal and mass transit alternatives."
Few options exist to relieve current road crowding and have road space for future growth.
One is to build more roads or add more lanes. Parker Road, for example, now ends at Newberry Road but could be extended north to connect with 23rd and 39th avenues. That would provide an alternative to the Newberry Road/Interstate 75 bottleneck.
But road construction is expensive. Assistant Public Works Director Michael Fay said the state Department of Transportation estimates the typical cost of a new two-lane road is about $2.6 million per mile with a yearly inflation factor of 3.5 percent. Adding two lanes to an existing two-lane road is about $2.5 million per mile.
Sections of roads in unincorporated areas that are already over capacity are NW 43rd Street, SW 20th Avenue, NW 83rd Street and NW 39th Avenue.
Stretches of NW 23rd Avenue, Archer Road, Newberry Road are at 95 percent capacity.
Portions of road at 85 percent capacity are sections of Tower Road, Fort Clarke Boulevard, Newberry Road, SW 34th Street, NW 39th Avenue and Archer Road.
Reid said another option is to impose a moratorium on new development in areas where roads are over-capacity. Reid said that is not a long-term solution.
"This issue is getting critical because of the road capacity," Reid said. "Legally it is getting critical because once you deny somebody the ability to build anything but a single-family home - we would always allow somebody to do that - you take away somebody's use of their property, we would probably face litigation."
A ban on new construction is not an option developers would favor, though some realize that building may stop in certain areas.
David Miller of the Brice Business Group said stopping growth in one area will force it to go elsewhere. Miller is involved with a new 150-acre mixed-use development called Brytan on Archer Road near Tower Road.
"Obviously, if you have areas where you are not going to get permits because of concurrency or other reasons . . . people will start building farther out in other places," Miller said. "It's happening already with Archer, Newberry, Alachua. We have to watch out what we do here because of the counties surrounding us. An awful lot of people commute now from Gilchrist, Levy, Marion, Putnam. People are going to find a place to live."
But Reid added it could steer growth to east Gainesville, where plenty of road capacity exists. Boosting east Gainesville is a goal of both the Gainesville City Commission and county commissioners.
Exception areas will be the focus of Tuesday's discussion but options are limited for exception areas, as well.
Fay said it would be difficult to create exception areas along certain state roads such as Newberry Road that the state has designated as "strategic" and for which the number of vehicle trips should not exceed certain levels of service.
Other roads are fair game, but it would take a comprehensive plan amendment and state approval to create the areas.
"I'm not real sure how much buy-in we will get from the state Department of Community Affairs and Department of Transportation for exception areas that are west of I-75," Fay said. "The exception areas are intended to promote urban redevelopment and those areas (west of I-75) are mostly greenfield. I think it would be a pretty tough sell."
County commissioners appear to have varying levels of support for exception areas.
Chairman Lee Pinkoson said they are valuable in allowing growth to continue until an area reaches a density that would support mass transportation such as bus service.
"The only way to get the density is to pick a place and let it get there. Setting up an exception area can do that," Pinkoson said. "I don't know that stopping growth is a viable option. It might fly in the face of other things we are trying to do."
Commissioner Mike Byerly said exception areas can be a positive way to encourage dense urban growth, but only as part of an overall plan that provides alternative ways for people to get around. But Byerly said exception areas are not justified simply because too few roads have been built to keep up with growth.
"Under that condition, if you are just giving up, an (exception area) is really just an admission of failure by local government that will make conditions there far worse," Byerly said. "I only see one area in unincorporated Alachua County where an (exception area) makes any sense and that is the SW 20th/24th area between 34th Street and I-75. We're only talking about these now because we have roads that are failing to the point where we are considering having to deny development applications."
The meeting will be at 1:30 p.m. at the County Administration Building.
Cindy Swirko can be reached at (352) 374-5024 or swirkoc@gvillesun.com.

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