Residents unite against increased traffic
Published: Monday, January 22, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 11:25 p.m.
The traffic tipping point may have been reached in Alachua County with two recently formed groups vowing to exert political or legal muscle to curb developments that will add more cars to several area roads.
Citizen groups concerned about the impact on traffic of the proposed Newberry Village and SpringHills developments have formed. The developments could have positive and negative impacts on area traffic.
- The extension of 83rd Street from 39th Avenue to Millhopper Road, part of the plan for SpringHills, will add to the street grid in the northwest area, giving motorists another option. It would ease congestion at intersections such as Millhopper Road and 43rd Street.
- Newberry Village would feature an extension of NW 76th Boulevard to link Newberry Road to Fort Clarke Boulevard, providing a bypass to the Newberry Road/Fort Clarke Boulevard intersection. Developers plan to provide transportation from Newberry Village to The Oaks Mall, where residents can then access RTS buses, to mitigate traffic impacts.
County officials say the groups are evidence that traffic is reaching a critical point in some areas and add that the public outcry could hold sway with commissioners who must decide if the developments will go forward.
"There is clearly a much greater recognition in this past year about the significant road deficiencies we are facing and the potential effects on development in the future," county Principal Planner Steve Lachnicht said. "The western area is saturated in terms of road capacity, and something will have to change. It's tough. This problem took many years to get to this point and it is not going to be solved in one commissioner's term."
Two proposed developments spurred the formation of the citizen groups: Newberry Village prompted Save Newberry Road, while SpringHills led to the Coalition for Responsible Growth.
Resident Brad Stith is co-president of Save Newberry Road and has filed legal action against a comprehensive plan amendment and other regulatory action taken by the County Commission that would enable Newberry Village to move forward. Bill Wrighton is also co-president.
Meanwhile, the Coalition for Responsible Growth grew out of opposition for an extension of NW 83rd Street that would link NW 39th Avenue at SpringHills to Millhopper Road. But as area residents learned more about SpringHills, concerns grew about the overall potential impacts of the development, coalition President Kim Davidson said.
Representatives from both groups say traffic has gotten so bad that the County Commission needs to step back and figure out how to deal with it before allowing more major development in west Gainesville.
"I've lived in Florida most of my life and I've seen how other cities in the South have been overdeveloped," Stith said. "We don't want to see this happen to Gainesville — this uncontrolled development that is trying to get around growth-management regulations."
Wrighton has led an effort to round up signatures on petitions and said he has had little trouble finding eager signers — more than 500 so far with more neighborhood canvassing to come.
The Coalition for Responsible Growth has a Web site — www.savemillhopperroad.org — and has gotten residents to bombard county commissioners with e-mails and letters about a comprehensive plan amendment for SpringHills.
Newberry Village is a proposed mixed-use development on Newberry Road at Fort Clarke Boulevard. It would have about 900 residences, 240,000 square feet of commercial space and 27,000 square feet of office space.
SpringHills is a proposed mixed-use development on NW 39th Avenue at Interstate 75. It would have about 1.56 million square feet of commercial space for big box stores and a town center-style shopping zone. It would have about 2,000 residences.
While county officials have concerns about the traffic impact of the two developments, they say some aspects of them could benefit the flow of cars.
The 83rd Street extension to Millhopper Road would ease traffic at intersections such as Millhopper Road/43rd Street by providing a bypass, Assistant Public Works Director Michael Fay said.
On Newberry Road, 76th Boulevard would be extended northwest from its current end in the Newberry Square Shopping Center to Fort Clarke Boulevard. That will create a bypass of the Newberry Road/Fort Clarke intersection, Fay said.
"The 83rd Street connector would provide a location between County Road 241 and 43rd Street to use between those two collector roadways. With Millhopper Road being one of the few flyovers we have over Interstate 75, it's hard not to take advantage of it," Fay said. "Certainly we want to see something that connects the end of 76th Boulevard to Fort Clarke Boulevard."
Comprehensive plan amendments and other regulatory changes are needed for both proposed developments to proceed.
Alachua County already has some groups that monitor development, including Women for Wise Growth and the Southwest Alliance on Planning.
Members of the various organizations said the groups are drawing on each other for support. Members of Save Newberry Road, for instance, attended a meeting hosted by the coalition Tuesday night that attracted about 200 residents.
Davidson added she believes the coalition's efforts will continue after SpringHills is completed.
"At our meeting, we had people from Jonesville and people who live downtown," she said. "It is more than just a strictly local issue now."
Alachua County Commission Chairwoman Paula DeLaney said she believes the formation of the groups is an exercise in healthy democracy.
She said it shows traffic has reached a flash point with residents, but the groups may not get what they want when it comes to commission action.
"Thank goodness people are paying attention. These neighborhood and issue organizations, their ability to be so aggressive, is so important," DeLaney said. "The board I serve with right now is the first one I've served with that doesn't collapse when the audience is full. If the argument has merit, (the citizens) are likely to get their way. However, if the commission draws a conclusion that there isn't enough merit to do what they want, I think this commission will make that decision."
Cindy Swirko can be reached at 374-5024 or swirkoc@ gvillesun.com.
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