SpringHills brouhaha: County, city trade barbs

Published: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 12:02 a.m.

A reference to the proposed SpringHills development as a potential nuclear bomb made at Monday night's Gainesville City Commission meeting drew a verbal reaction from county commissioners Tuesday, who both joked about the reference and expressed dismay with their city counterparts.

"Do we have to wear hazmat suits if we are going to talk about SpringHills?" County Commission Chairman Paula DeLaney said of a joint meeting of the two panels set for Monday. Hazmat is short for hazardous materials.

Added Commissioner Lee Pinkoson, "It would be great to sit down and hear their concerns in a more hospitable manner than what was carried out in a one-sided conversation last night. There were some things that were pretty disappointing from the commissioners."

County commissioners decided to take discussion of SpringHills off the joint meeting agenda on the advice of County Attorney Dave Wagner.

Wagner said the discussion would be unwise since commissioners will have to vote on a comprehensive plan amendment and development order for the project. The vote will likely face legal challenges, so SpringHills should be discussed only at specific public hearings.

"We should reserve all discussion of that for the comp plan amendment hearing. We absolutely cannot talk about the development order at a joint meeting," Wagner said. "Based on how everybody is circling the wagons right now, it's pretty obvious that no matter what the decision is some group is going to be extremely unhappy. So my advice is to not do anything out of the ordinary. Keep it squeaky clean. A joint meeting is out of the ordinary."

Commissioner Mike Byerly was the only one to argue for keeping it on the agenda, saying the city will be impacted by the development "whether there are any mushroom clouds or not."

SpringHills is a proposed mixed-use development at Interstate 75 and NW 39th Avenue — an unincorporated area. It will have about 2,000 residences and 1.56 million square feet of commercial space with big-box stores in one area and speciality shops in a town center.

The County Commission last year agreed to forward a revision to the comprehensive plan to the state for review. The commission agreed to a general framework for SpringHills. The major remaining issue is a formula for sharing the estimated $120 million costs of road improvements that will be needed for SpringHills.

Few people attended those public hearings to oppose SpringHills. But recently nearby residents have formed a group, Coalition for Responsible Growth, to oppose it.

City commissioners discussed SpringHills Monday night and about 70 residents attended. The city will be impacted by SpringHills because of its size and the amount of traffic it is likely to bring. The development is also in an area that has been eyed by the city for annexation.

City commissioners voted unanimously to send to the county a message that they strongly oppose SpringHills. Commissioner Jack Donovan said approval would be a "declaration of nuclear war on the city," and other nuclear references were made.

City Commissioner Ed Braddy encouraged residents to try to voluntarily annex into the city and told them the city is on their side.

Several county commissioners said Tuesday they were dismayed by what they considered political posturing and implications that the county does not have the best interest of residents in mind.

After the meeting Pinkoson said the tenor of city commissioners "upset me from the fact that we were painted as the bad guys and that we don't represent all of Alachua County. That irritated me as along with Ed Braddy saying that 'we're your friends,' meaning that we are not. Don't you think that whole speech was somewhat opportunistic?"

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