Growth on election agenda
Published: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 12:32 a.m.
One of the most important issues in any Gainesville City Commission race is growth - how much to allow, where to direct it and how to prepare for it.
This year is no exception, as the candidates vying for three open seats on the City Commission in Tuesday's election each have their own ideas of how to best shape the future of Gainesville.
"We need to emphasize development in east Gainesville, focusing on creating small businesses and creating higher-paying jobs within the urban core and east Gainesville," said Bryan Harman, a candidate for City Commission District 2 seat, which represents the northwest part of town.
That district has attracted three first-time candidates: Harman, Lauren Poe and Bonnie Mott. The seat is being vacated by Commissioner Ed Braddy, who can't run for re-election because of term limits.
"What we need to do is give folks or developers positive incentives to locate their businesses in east Gainesville and the downtown area, and to stop giving huge tax breaks to out of town developers who want to make high-end condos," Harman said.
The 33-year-old is currently unemployed but said he hopes to return to work in marketing after the election. He moved to Gainesville in 2003, and said much of his vision for Gainesville's future is hinged on being selective of developments and exercising responsible growth.
Poe is a 36-year-old professor at Santa Fe Community College.
His priority for development in Gainesville is to encourage mixed-use development in the urban core that would encourage walking and biking.
"There's been more momentum towards that in Gainesville for really the last 20 years," said Poe, who has lived in Gainesville since 1982. "A mixed residential, retail and office model would work really well in our urban core area."
"Beyond that I think we need to take the pressure off the west side of Gainesville and Alachua County and try to move the development east."
Poe said eastern Gainesville is looking more and more attractive to private developers who see infrastructure in place and land available.
Challenges to those developments have been wetlands and environmentally sensitive areas, but Poe said those can be assets rather than obstacles. "We cannot build on the wetlands, and if we build near them we have to be careful," Poe said. "Working within those frameworks, we can really develop neat communities that are attractive to the buyer."
Mott, 58, is the president of Prudential Preferred Properties real estate company.
Mott has lived in Gainesville for 45 years and during that time she said her experience has taught her the need to preserve the quality of life in Gainesville. "We need to leave this place maybe better than it has been, for our grandchildren and for our future," Mott said.
Mixed-use developments with an emphasis on multi-model transportation are also key in Mott's definition of a high quality of life.
"Obviously I'd like to see us keep our tree cover and keep the aesthetics and the beauty of Gainesville," Mott said.
"I really feel like a lot of our developers are really conscious of the quality of life in Gainesville and many of them will already have some of that in there with regard to green space."
And like the other two candidates, Mott is also concerned about increasing in-fill development downtown and on the east side of town.
"We have the infrastructure on the east side, so we can accommodate business there," Mott said. "People tend to want to live close to work, so if we can attract business to the east side then we can also build homes."
At-large 2 candidate Thomas Hawkins, 28, is an attorney who specializes in growth management law.
He said developments in the future, including those on the west side of town, need to adhere to the comprehensive plan that, among other things, sets standards and policies for urban design.
Policies, Hawkins said, he interprets very literally.
"The idea is that if we build more urban, build more in town, people will be closer to their parks, closer to their schools, closer to the places they work," Hawkins said.
He said focusing on that urban design can prevent road congestion and strip-mall type developments. "It's about transportation, and I think if you look around the city of Gainesville, the real problem spots .Â .Â . that's where we have most exasperated the automobile-centric models."
The other at-large 2 candidate is Robert Agrusa, 22, a manager at the University of Florida Bookstore.
Agrusa said he sees many needs in Gainesville, especially on the east side of town.
His hope is to build off Plan East Gainesville to expand economic opportunities there.
"Over the last couple years, since that plan was formulated in 2003, we haven't seen a lot of progress in that area," Agrusa said.
Agrusa also sees serious growth management issues in the other areas of town that are expanding disproportionately.
"I think we need to work with our developers so we make sure the things that we are building are in a way that is good for our community," Agrusa said. "I think our county has done a wonderful job of that."
In the third open seat, incumbent Commissioner Jack Donovan, 63, is being challenged by Armando Grundy, 28, who works in sales at Infinite Energy Company, and Christopher Salazar, 20, who works for The Limited clothing store in The Oaks Mall.
The District 3 commissioner is elected by voting precincts in southwest Gainesville.
Donovan, who is a retired minister, said his vision for growth in the city is focused on economic growth. "Which means two things, better jobs and more jobs for those who live here, and better opportunity for creating businesses," Donovan said. "Any policy needs to keep those guidelines in mind."
The first step in fostering economic growth, Donovan said, is partnering with the University of Florida so the faculty's research and innovations stay local.
"We need incubator space, office space, and we haven't - over the past number of years - done well there," Donovan said.
Donovan said he has been working quite hard to turn areas like the semi-blighted gap south of University Avenue in the downtown area into business and office space, particularly the 16 acres that Gainesville Regional Utilities currently occupies. "We are aiming for that to become a wonderful high-tech area," he said.
Those properties would then be available for interested companies to move in quickly, which Donovan said is an important element.
Donovan also points to the commission's effort to push the developers of a condominium on SW 2nd Avenue to include retail space in their design. "Those are the kinds of little twists that can bring business and population downtown," Donovan said.
Grundy, an Army veteran, said he would focus on promoting the development of small businesses in Gainesville. "I support public and private partnerships; however, we want to make it a more business friendly environment so that we can attract and bring new opportunities to Gainesville," Grundy said. "We can do that by lowering taxes and lessening regulations."
He said he'd particularly like to see new businesses thrive on the east side of the city. "We do that by leading. We do that by making it a more business friendly environment. We do that by having economic summits," Grundy said.
"We want to keep our environment protected without utilizing environment as a crutch to keep people from having opportunities," he said.
Salazar, who has lived in Gainesville since he was 2 years old, said his vision for growth in the city will take good management and spending tax dollars wisely.
"My vision basically is that we would grow wisely, that it would not all be concentrated in one area, and that we could grow with our resources and not outstrip them like some cities have," Salazar said.
His idea to ensure that development is spread equally throughout the city is to improve the infrastructure on the east side of town.
"If we sort of prime the area in terms of infrastructure like wastewater and electricity, it could make it more lucrative for businesses to build there," Salazar said.
And to ensure that developments don't overextend resources, Salazar proposes a development rule that would require 40 percent of a development property to stay green.
"We also need to work to make sure that runoff is not put into the aquifer, and we need to expand water reclamation efforts," said Salazar, who has spent the past few days helping his father create a system where run-off rain water from the gutters is trapped in a cistern to be used in the garden.
Megan Rolland can be reached at 338-3104 or megan.rolland@ gvillesun.com.
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