Residents weigh in on development around Ironwood


Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

An "active adult community" that would bring thousands of residents to a 500-acre property surrounding Gainesville's Ironwood Golf Course earned cautious support from about two dozen nearby residents at a neighborhood workshop Wednesday night.

The development provides the kind of market-rate housing some said was long overdue for east Gainesville — and which many hope will spur further development in the area — but also raised fears about the impact the project would have on the quality of life and the natural features in the area.

"It's a great idea," said Richard Shock, a regular at Ironwood whose house neighbors the golf course. "It just needs to be done right."

The 1,199-home development has been in conceptual stages for more than two years and is designed to provide an amenity-filled, age-restricted community for households with at least one member 55-years-old or older. The project's developer and east Gainesville advocates believe the development, which will run from NE 39th Avenue to NE 53rd Avenue and from NE 15th Street to the eastern city limits and be the largest project in east Gainesville, could have a transformational effect on the area.

Rob Simensky, manager for East Gainesville Development Partners, the firm developing the project, said the project could spur retail, restaurants and other amenities now lacking on the east side.

"This will transform this whole area so we don't talk about east Gainesville and Gainesville." Simensky said. "We'll just talk about Gainesville."

Simensky Tuesday said East Gainesville Development Partners was a venture by a family business that has been developing projects in New York and Pennsylvania and said he has been working on the Ironwood project for more than two years. He declined to name the business or any of the other developments built by the company.

The preliminary plans laid out Wednesday night present the as-yet un-named development as a series of "bubbles" surrounding Ironwood's fairways, with single-family homes near the periphery of the property and condos or townhomes in closer to the course. About 175,000 square feet of retail space and 60,000 square feet of office space would fill several pockets on NE 53rd and NE 39th Avenues.

Internal roadways would connect the different neighborhood clusters to one another and provide access to the major roads on both sides of the development.

While generally supportive, residents raised concerns about the project's impacts on the now-undeveloped areas around the golf course. In particular, people from neighboring subdivisions worried about the development's impact on the natural areas that surround Ironwood and the wildlife that live near and travel across the golf course, which is a member of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System.

"We want to be sure its not going to be a clear-cutting of what is now a wooded buffer," said Nancy Testa, vice president of the Ironwood Homeowner's Association, a community that abuts the golf course. Though she had concerns about the project's impacts, she said it represents the type of development residents have sought for the area.

Residents also expressed concern about the prospect of putting the development, which will contain homes valued at between $200,000 and $500,000 in today's dollars, next to Gainesville Regional Airport. The development team will be meeting with airport officials today to discuss the project.

Gainesville City Commissioner Scherwin Henry, who attended Wednesday's meeting, said the project had tremendous potential to change the east side by bringing the residents needed to support additional retail in the area. He said he wasn't surprised it took an out-of-town developer to "break down the wall of perception" that has kept locals from investing in the area.

"I've felt all along that there needs to be someone who has the courage to bring something like this to east Gainesville, to show that there is a desire for this type of market to be here," he said before the meeting. "I believe that once one person does it and is successful with it, that the perception will change and someone else will be encouraged to do the same thing."

Jeff Adelson can be reached at 352-374-5095 or adelsoj@gvillesun.com

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