City may expand eastside district

Published: Friday, January 16, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 10:42 p.m.

The expansion of a special district in east Gainesville, which makes future property taxes available for redevelopment projects and developments in the area, was preliminarily approved by city commissioners Thursday night.

East Gainesville has historically seen a lack of public and private investment and, much like the downtown area, a district was created by the city to help foster future development.

After a unanimous vote by the commission Thursday night, that district came one step closer to almost doubling in size.

Land owners in the proposed expanded area will now be eligible to apply for tax incentives for qualifying developments, and the overseeing Community Redevelopment Agency will be able to fund beautification projects in the area.

The CRA will draw all increased property tax revenue from the new areas into a special fund that will be used for the incentives and projects.

"It's an investment. Certainly what we've seen is that the growth in tax revenue, as a CRA improves, benefits both the residents of the district and the whole community by making the area more attractive," City Manager Russ Blackburn said after the meeting.

An example of a CRA-funded project is the ongoing Eastside gateway construction, and a result of a tax-incentive project is the downtown Hampton Inn project, which received approximately $800,000.

The Eastside district expansion was originally proposed by New York-based developer Robert Simensky, who paid for a "blight" study of a much larger area that included his property farther north on Waldo Road.

The city of Gainesville authorized a $20,000 study of the area, excluding Simensky's property, but including the current fairgrounds, which have been targeted for redevelopment by Alachua County.

The blight study is required by law to establish a district such as this, because the district is supposed to be used as a tool of redevelopment, not a tool subsidizing development that would occur under normal situations.

Blight is defined as "an area in which there are a substantial number of deteriorated, or deteriorating structures, in which conditions ... are leading to economic distress or endanger life or property."

Additionally, several other factors must be present to determine blight.

A third area was included in the blight study at the request of Commissioner Craig Lowe.

The area was a small square of land just south of the Waldo Road corridor, however, the study did not find substantial evidence of blight in that area.

"If you look at where this particular area is located what we have is essentially a wedge along the Waldo Road corridor which would be excluded from the CRA district," Lowe said.

He owns property near the neighborhood but said the city attorney's office made the determination there was no conflict of interests.

"I just think it's unfair for the residents of this area to be carved out," Lowe said.

Commissioners voted to allocate up to another $10,000 to study if including more of the surrounding neighborhood would result in a finding of blight.

The next step in the process is a vote by the city commissioners when they meet as the CRA board.

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