At forum, City Commission candidates vie for affections of builders association


Published: Wednesday, January 18, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 17, 2006 at 11:00 p.m.
Plans to encourage economic development in east Gainesville were the primary focus for Gainesville City Commission candidates as they vied for the affections of members of the Builders Association of North Central Florida at a forum Tuesday afternoon.
So far, each of the races has drawn two candidates, all of whom had a chance to present to more than 100 association members who showed up at the event. The election is March 7.
Sherwin Henry, a biological researcher at UF, and Barbara Sharpe, a former member of the Alachua County School Board, are running for the commission's District 1 seat, which represents most of east Gainesville.
Tony Domenech, a former city commissioner, and Jeanna Mastrodicasa, associate director of University of Florida's honors program, are both seeking one of the commission's at-large seats.
Potential candidates still have until Friday to qualify for the race. The forum, which has been a traditional rite of passage for candidates since 1974, had to be held before the cut-off for candidates to file because of scheduling issues, said Alison Cox, the association's president-elect and moderator of the forum.
Breaking with tradition, the association did not make any endorsements at the event because of the possibility that new candidates could still enter the race. An endorsement may come sometime before the election, Cox said.
Both Sharpe and Henry said east Gainesville would be one of their priorities as commissioners, and spent much of the event sparring over who could do a better job of aiding its development.
At points, the forum seemed to be a game of one-upmanship as candidates piggybacked on each other's proposals.
After Sharpe advocated building middle- to upper-income housing on the site of the former Kennedy Homes apartment complex - a proposal that has been advanced by the City Commission - Henry seconded the idea but said he would want to add a town center to the plan. Sharpe later responded by suggesting the construction of a mixed-use condominium and office units in the area.
Throughout the forum, Domenech distanced himself from many of the policies now being pursued by the City Commission. Despite his recent tenure on the commission, Domenech lost a re-election bid last year to Commissioner Jack Donovan. Domenech said he is needed in office to provide a dissenting voice.
Among the policies Domenech said he was most adamantly opposed to were plans to narrow major roads, something he said would hurt economic development on the eastside.
"It's going to be very difficult to move east and west in Gainesville if they narrow University Avenue," Domenech said. "And that's what they want to do."
Mastrodicasa stressed the importance of UF in both eastside economic development and helping alleviate traffic congestion in the city and said she would continue the commission's efforts to encourage economic growth in east Gainesville. She said she would prioritize working with the university and other entities, such as the Alachua County Commission.
"There's a lot of potential with the university's commitment to do economic development" in east Gainesville, Mastrodicasa said, particularly noting UF's eastside campus.
Jeff Adelson can be reached at 352-374-5095 or adelsoj@gvillesun.com

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