County plans for growth to the west

Commission may use property taxes on transportation projects


Published: Monday, November 1, 2010 at 8:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 1, 2010 at 11:57 p.m.

Moving forward with its plan to emphasize bus rapid transit and mixed-use developments as the future blueprints for transportation and growth, Alachua County officials are contemplating a move into uncharted waters.

Under a comprehensive-plan change that county commissioners approved on Oct. 26, the county now has the authority to establish specific geographic districts where tax revenues generated by increased property values would be put toward transportation projects instead of going into the county's general operating fund.

The funding mechanism they would use to do so is a transportation concurrency backlog area — an option no local government in Florida has implemented, although the Legislature has provided it to local governments since the first version of Senate Bill 360, which loosened state growth management policies, was adopted in 2005.

Relying on another law that state lawmakers made in the 2009 incarnation of SB 360, a law that is still subject to an ongoing legal challenge, commissioners also designated a largely developed area west of the Gainesville city limits as an "urban service area," where future development will not be subject to state roadway concurrency requirements that focus primarily on road widening projects to accommodate increased traffic or the state's Development of Regional Impact review of large-scale development projects.

Following the County Commission's Oct. 26 vote, neither of those state-level review processes apply to future development within a 16,195-acre swath of unincorporated county, which stretches from the Gainesville city limits west to almost Southwest 122nd Street and from the northern edge of the SpringHills and SantaFe Village properties north of Northwest 39th Avenue south past Archer Road to Southwest 47th Avenue. Currently, that area has approximately 37,000 residents.

The proposed transportation backlog area, which is expected to go to a County Commission vote in 2011, is centered around Archer Road and lies within the southwest part of that larger area the county has exempted from concurrency.

Under state law, traffic congestion must be a documented issue projected to grow worse in the future for a local government to establish a backlog area.

Alachua County's plans now focus on current and projected future traffic volumes on Archer Road and at the Interstate 75 interchange at Archer Road.

If commissioners vote to establish this backlog authority to generate funding for road and transit projects, it would function similar to a community redevelopment area. For the county's general fund, property values would be frozen when the area is established and, for a period of 10 years, tax revenues generated by any increases in value would go toward transportation projects within the area instead of the general fund.

The county's general fund has already felt the brunt of its budget pinch, so some county officials said the proposal to divert money from it toward transportation could meet with resistance when, in the words of County Manager Randall Reid, "our revenue streams are getting narrower and narrower."

"This revenue may be appropriately prioritized for transportation," Reid said during the Oct. 26 meeting. "That may be very appropriate. But in the history of this county there are a lot of different needs, and I imagine there are going to be other needs these developments are going to spin off."

Speaking of the larger urban service area that county commissioners have taken a final vote to establish, Growth Management Director Steve Lachnicht said that exempting that area from state concurrency, a comprehensive-plan change to which the Department of Community Affairs raised no objections, will give the county flexibility to target developer contributions for transportation projects. Instead of the primary focus on road-widening projects, also included in the funding mix would be public transit, including the planned bus rapid transit system, and bicycle and pedestrian paths.

"It certainly broadens how you allocate that money," Lachnicht said. "It certainly isn't just moving cars on roads. Traditional concurrency is just about roads. It was measuring segments of roads for capacity for cars."

Ken Zeichner, the county's principal planner for comprehensive planning, said the move gives local control over matters previously reviewed by the DCA and the Florida Department of Transportation.

"We still have our own standards [but] you don't have to follow state-mandated concurrency," he said.

Contact Christopher Curry at 374-5088 or chris.curry@gvillesun.com.

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