Santa Fe Village project moving ahead

Published: Monday, January 4, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 4, 2010 at 1:47 a.m.

After more than five years on the drawing board, the long-lingering plans for Santa Fe Village and its mix of residential, retail and office development are moving ahead.

In mid-December, the county's Planning Commission, an advisory board to the County Commission, voted unanimously in favor of the proposal for 219,700 square feet of commercial development, 443,720 square feet of office space and 1,473 residences on approximately 159 acres located northwest of the intersection of Northwest 39th Avenue and Northwest 83rd Street.

County senior planner Missy Daniels said the application for a land-use change likely will go to the County Commission in March or April, after the commission's late January vote on a new transportation policy that would emphasize bus rapid transit and pedestrian and bicycle paths over road-widening projects.

David Coffey, the land-use attorney on the Santa Fe Village project, bills it as the first project that would "implement directly" the county's plans for more dense, pedestrian-friendly urban developments that include residential and shopping areas linked to planned bus rapid transit lanes.

Eventually, through developer contributions, local government money and federal money that Sen. Bill Nelson is working to secure, the approximately $185 million bus rapid transit system is envisioned to connect the area near Santa Fe College, including Santa Fe Village and the still-in-limbo Springhills development, with The Oaks Mall, Butler Plaza, the University of Florida/Shands at UF, downtown Gainesville and east Gainesville.

In lieu of road-widening projects, Santa Fe Health Care, the developer of Santa Fe Village, would pay more than $15 million toward that transit system, including bus-only lanes along 83rd Street from Northwest 39th Avenue to Northwest 23rd Avenue. The developer's contribution also would include nearly $5 million paid over a 16-year span for Gainesville Regional Transit System bus operations.

One possible point of contention is the potential construction of a road north out of the development to Millhopper Road.

County staff has recommended that the developer be required to build that road as a condition of approval for the project. Coffey opposed that condition on behalf of Santa Fe Health Care, and the Planning Commission did not include it in its recommendation to the County Commission.

Some advisory board members said the extension would open up rural areas for urban sprawl development.

"That extension to Millhopper Road scares me," Planning Commission member Taylor Brown said.

When the County Commission votes on the land-use-change application, the decision will be whether or not to send it to the Florida Department of Community Affairs for review and potential objections. The land-use change application then would come back to the County Commission for its final vote and then need final approval from the DCA.

The project's Development of Regional Impact dates back to 1986 and was originally to include a satellite location for Alachua General Hospital.

In 1993, the boundaries of the proposed development were expanded from 39 acres to 155 acres and, in 1994, the proposed development pattern was changed to a mix of medical office space, specialty hospitals and an assisted living facility.

The current mix of development now planned was first proposed in 2004. Some medical office buildings have been constructed on-site.

Still looming are the planned changes to the Springhills DRI.

Located west of the Santa Fe Village property in the vicinity of Interstate 75, Springhills was targeted for 1.5 million square feet of commercial space a few years ago, but county commissioners voted down that application.

The county and the property owner, Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, could not reach an agreement on how much the developer should pay for road improvements.

PREIT filed suit against the county, but the litigation has been put on hold the past several months as the two sides have tried to work out an agreement on a new development plan.

During the Dec. 16 Planning Commission meeting, Alachua County Growth Management Director Steve Lachnicht said the talks were going well but, because of the extreme slowdown in the market, PREIT no longer had a sense of urgency to build the project.

PREIT officials could not be reached for comment through one of their local attorneys.

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