Springhills issue to take center stage at meeting

Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

One of the most contentious land-use issues to arise in years will likely get a full airing tonight when the Alachua County Commission hears presentations on Springhills.

The commission may defer a vote on the matter to give staff from the Growth Management Department time to analyze and evaluate a new offer made late last week from the Springhills developer to pay more for roadwork.

Springhills is now offering to pay $91 million for more road improvements to increase traffic capacity, but wants a reimbursement of $33.6 million from the county for its share. The developer has also agreed to other changes that were greeted with positive interest from the county.

However, presentations and public comment are expected to be heard, said Steve Lachnicht, principal planner for the county Growth Management Department.

"The complicating part is the new letter (from Springhills) and how it affects everything because the staff report and analysis was done on the previous final offer," Lachnicht said. "If we are going to pursue the new offer, there will be things to work out that we won't be prepared to do (tonight)."

Springhills is a commercial and residential development of regional impact at Interstate 75 and NW 39th Avenue. The developer, the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, wants comprehensive plan amendments to boost the amount of commercial space it can build.

The company wants to bring in several big-box stores in one area with smaller shops in a town center. Offices, apartments and single-family homes are also part of the development. They say it will add to the economy, pay for road improvements and provide new shopping opportunities.

Lachnicht said tonight's hearing will start with a presentation from the county. Next will be Springhills' turn followed by presentations from the city of Gainesville and the Coalition for Responsible Growth - an opposition group that plans to bring in experts to speak about traffic and environmental concerns. Public comment will then be heard.

E-mail continued to pour into commissioners' boxes Monday, most of it opposing the development. The issue has been marked by advertising campaigns - officials say it's unprecedented for a local land-use decision - for which both Springhills and the coalition have spent thousands of dollars.

Officials expect it to be a long night even if the county's presentation is shortened because of the the new Springhills offer in which the company agrees to do a greater amount of road improvement to handle added traffic but wants partial reimbursement from the county.

The meeting will be at 5 p.m. in the Santa Fe Community College gym. The commission has also set aside Thursday and May 15 as dates for continuation of the hearing if needed.

Cindy Swirko can be reached at 352-374-5024 or swirkoc@ gvillesun.com.

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