City board OKs zone change north of Butler

The approval could now result in the doubling of the center's retail space.

Published: Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 11:12 p.m.

The City Plan Board recommended approval of a land-use change on 164 acres north of Archer Road marked for a development that could potentially double the retail space of Butler Plaza.

The land, owned by developer Deborah Butler, had been in unincorporated Alachua County until it was voluntarily annexed in 2008. The county designated the vacant land located just north of the existing Butler Plaza for a variety of uses, including residential and industrial.

Butler, president of Butler Enterprises, petitioned to have those permitted land uses changed to a combination of commercial, like the existing Butler Plaza, and "planned use district," which is a land-use category used for "unique, innovative or narrowly construed land-use proposals."

City staff recommended approval of the petition with a number of modifications. On Tuesday, the Plan Board - composed of citizen volunteers - also recommended approval of the petition with one large change.

The board voted to eliminate commercial zoning on the property and instead place the entire area under the "planned use district."

"Both staff and the plan board worked very hard to bring about a fair resolution, and while there are some individual conditions that we may have differed on, we certainly feel like they were trying to do what they thought was in the best interest of the community and at the same time do what's fair to the developer," said Ron Carpenter, land-use attorney representing Butler Enterprises.

The Plan Board's recommendation will now go before the Gainesville City Commission for final approval.

However, before that step, the Plan Board will also make a recommendation for the zoning of the land, which is a step that further tightens how the land could be used.

As it stands now, Butler is proposing a development with a maximum of 1.25 million square feet of retail, 200,000 square feet of office space and 400 hotel rooms.

The Plan Board also voted to require an inclusion of 175 dwelling units, which they cited from the city's comprehensive plan goal of mixed-use development.

"The question is, does this work without housing?" asked Plan Board member Randy Wells. "A city's thriving comes from people living and working and eating all in the same place."

Carpenter said that Butler Enterprises understands the desire for a mixed use but added that, "we have not yet seen the (planned development zoning) conditions which would perhaps dictate when that residential will need to be built."

Butler had maintained in the meeting that there was substantial housing available around the proposed development and that there was also no market for housing in Gainesville.

However, the development will be built over a span of many years and the market could change.

Other concerns included block sizes. The comprehensive plan promotes small, interconnected blocks in a grid pattern, which is thought to be more pedestrian- and transit-friendly.

The Plan Board recommended that block size not exceed 2,000 feet throughout the entire area and also stipulated that Butler should dedicate land to accommodate an east-to-west multi-use trail that has been envisioned as a connector between the University of Florida and the Haile Plantation subdivision.

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