Neighborhoods at center stage
Published: Monday, January 14, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 14, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.
Three neighborhood groups expressed their dissatisfaction with the City of Gainesville Commission on Sunday night at the University Park Neighborhood Association City Commission Candidate Forum.
Six questions asked by moderator Jimmy Harnsberger, president of the association, were framed around issues not only affecting University Park, but also the Stephen Foster and Forest Ridge neighborhoods.
The hot-button issue was the proposed expansion of a maintenance facility in the Stephen Foster Neighborhood.
The six candidates, who appear on the Jan. 29 ballot, were asked if a 24,000 square-foot city vehicle service center was compatible with the neighborhood and what each candidate would do to protect the "venerable and stable" Stephen Foster Neighborhood.
Commissioner Jack Donovan started the responses by stating that the question was "not particularly well framed."
"(The garage has) been there for a long time and the neighborhood built up around it," Donovan said. "How do you deal with that?"
But he did say he was surprised to learn that the garage also is being used as a materials site to store various construction waste.
"That site is unacceptable," Donovan said. "We need to get rid of the materials storage site."
He said in the end the neighborhood might have to settle for half of their request.
Donovan has held the District 3 seat for three years and is running for re-election in the Jan. 29 election against Armando Grundy, 28, who works for a local retail store and Christopher Salazar, 20, who works for The Limited clothing store in The Oaks Mall.
Neither Salazar nor Grundy attended the forum. All the candidates were invited.
Next, the candidates for District 2, which is elected by voting precincts in the northwest responded.
All three of the candidates said they were opposed to the expansion.
"It should be sold and turned into businesses that would make money for the city," said Bryan Harman, 32, who worked previously in marketing.
Santa Fe Community College professor Lauren Poe, 36, said he is empathetic to this issue because he lives near the neighborhood affected.
"I have concerns that the city might be developing something that is incompatible with their land use policy," Poe said.
Bonnie Mott, 58, who owns a realty company, said she remembered in the '70s when the city worked to revitalize the neighborhood.
"I think the city ought to move the facility completely," Mott said.
The two candidates for the only district up for election that is voted on by the entire city were also against the project.
Attorney Thomas Hawkins Jr., 27, who specializes in growth management law, said it was his understanding that the project didn't go through the appropriate channels for approval.
"That process is not acceptable, and I'm committed to finding a response that doesn't make (the Stephen Foster Neighborhood) pay the price," Hawkins said.
The final candidate to respond was Robert Agrusa, 22, who graduated in December from the University of Florida and served as the Student Body President. "We should relocate this project," Agrusa said. "We can provide another opportunity for growth."
Other questions involved the candidates' opinions on enforcing city codes for both renters and landlords in single-family neighborhoods and removing the moratorium on traffic-calming devices.
The next Gainesville City Commission Candidates Forum is being sponsored by the League of Women Voters' at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the University of Florida Emerson Alumni Hall, 2012 W. University Ave.
Megan Rolland can be reached at 338-3104 or megan.rolland@ gvillesun.com.
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