Growth should enhance, not destroy communities

Published: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Exactly what are the long-term costs all Alachua County residents will pay to subsidize the massive and complicated Springhills development should the Board of County Commissioners approve the expanded version on May 1?

This question must be answered on four levels:

* The dollar cost to build the infrastructure.

* The ability of local government, over future years, to pay for infrastructure and quality of life improvements for the general public.

* The decreased quality of life caused by more traffic congestion.

* And the changes that will markedly alter Gainesville's unique character. These answers come from reports submitted by the Pennsylvania developer (PREIT), the Alachua County planning staff and the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council.

The Springhills development will require roadwork costing $120 million, as determined by the Planning Council. According to county planners, an additional $23 million will be needed to widen 23rd Boulevard. Total road costs? At least $143 million - in 2008 dollars.

A new fire station, the need accelerated by this massive project, will add $2.6 million more to the taxpayer bill. Furthermore, it will cost at least $22 million to build new schools.

Total infrastructure costs alone will be $168 million. Additional annual costs include police and fire services as well a water quality monitoring plan.

The Pennsylvania developer's local attorney would have us believe that the developer is benevolently "giving" the county $58 million in road costs.

However, the developer's attorney failed to disclose a Feb. 23 letter to the county listing 17 conditions, including the developer's demands for an $18 million reimbursement, and a 100 percent traffic impact fee credit of $12 million. The original $58 million "offer" shrinks to $28 million.

And there's more. In the demand letter, the developer insists on being allowed to "relax" various public protections like development standards and environmental safeguards.

In the best-case scenario, county taxpayers are left holding at least a $140 million bill for infrastructure alone. Common sense suggests that County government already struggling to meet current needs will be hard pressed to deliver today's level of public services, and pay for the Springhills development costs which will be required under law should the County Commission approve the plan.

Furthermore, if pending state legislation to double the homestead exemption and reduce property tax is passed, as appears likely, an even greater financial burden will be placed on local government. The result may be a reduction in public services throughout the county.

We all dread being trapped between 8-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. daily on Newberry Road, which already carries nearly 50,000 vehicles per day. If Springhills is approved, it will not just be Newberry Road where we will sit in frustration. Starting at the I-75 and 39th Avenue exchange and heading south and east, the traffic congestion will ripple down 39th Avenue to Fort Clark Boulevard, causing other roads to fail and then collide with Newberry Road.

Currently, 39th Avenue carries 27,500 trips/day. According to the Pennsylvania developer's own traffic study, 64,500 trips/day will be added to the surrounding roads. According to county planning staff 40 percent of those trips will be added to portions of NW 39th Avenue resulting in 52,000 trips per day, nearly, double what the road can handle. If Springhills is approved, our local roads are destined to become slow-moving parking lots.

Why did you make Gainesville your home? For most of us, this unique and special community drew us here and that is why we have chosen to stay.

The immense Springhills project which, if approved, will affect all county residents, wherever you live. You won't have to live in proximity to this area to feel the staggering results.

I urge the County Commission to look at all the data and not be blinded by the promises and marketing schemes of the developer. Look to the facts, to other regions of our state and learn from history, so as not to make the same mistakes. Let's grow but grow wisely and in a way that will enhance our community, and not impose a burden we cannot sustain.

Kim Davidson is a physician and Vice-President for The Coalition for Responsible Growth, Inc.

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