Time enough to talk
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 30, 2007 at 10:20 p.m.
The Alachua County Commission has to borrow Santa Fe Community College's gymnasium this evening to accommodate an expected overflow audience for a discussion about the proposed Springhills development, at I-75 and NW 39th Avenue.
That public interest is running so high is no surprise. Springhills is easily the single most controversial local project in recent memory. It has been debated vigorously almost daily on The Sun's opinion pages and elsewhere.
Although previously approved in 1999 as a Development of Regional Impact, the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust has asked for a significant expansion of retail space to the mixed-use project. That expansion request has generated considerable opposition from area residents who worry that the additional traffic generated will overwhelm their roads. Their concern is shared by county staff, which has recommended denial of the project.
County commissioners who have been bombarded by e-mails, phone calls and letters about Springhills for months, may be tempted to accept the staff recommendation, reject the company's request for an amended DRI and move on. But that would be a mistake.
Last week, PREIT made several major concessions, agreeing among other things to pay a much larger share, $91 million, up-front for needed road improvements. The company wants about $33 million of that to be reimbursed, but the payback period could likely be stretched out over several years.
County Manager Randall Reid has suggested that a final decision be put off pending further staff negotiations with PREIT. In fact, there is no reason to make a decision at this point, and every reason to continue the discussion.
First, the area road improvements at issue will have to be made in any case - most of the major roads in that area are already congested - but the county doesn't have the funding to improve them. PREIT's offer to front most of the money means that needed transportation improvements will be made sooner rather than later.
Second, Springhills is a high-quality development and PREIT is a nationally known company with significant resources to invest in the community. The land around the I-75/39th Avenue interchange is going to be developed one way or another and Springhills' master-planned approach seems preferable to piecemeal development.
This evening's meeting should properly be a public forum for both opponents and supporters of Springhills to have their say. But at the conclusion of the public hearing, commissioners should instruct their staff to continue to work with PREIT toward an agreement that both the county and the company can live with. There is still time enough to talk about Springhills.
Comments are currently unavailable on this article