Building up the community
Published: Sunday, January 1, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 30, 2011 at 10:47 a.m.
Matt Webster, the 2012 president of the Builders Association of North Central Florida, said local builders are trying to overcome the adversarial relationships they have had in the past with Gainesville and Alachua County governments over development regulations.
Occupation: President, Builders Association of North Central Florida; vice president, diversified projects division of Charles Perry Partners Inc.
Personal: Married to Anita for 13 years, three children: Odessa, Arabella and Phoenix
Pets: One dog (Lady), two rats, one rabbit, 11 chickens
Dream partners for lunch: His grandfather and daughter – to see how they are doing.
Last book read: “Talk Less, Say More” by Connie Dieken
Last movie seen: “Horrible Bosses”
Playing in his car: News talk
Hobbies: Fishing, running/exercise
Education: Bachelor of science in building construction, University of Florida; Certified General Contractor, Certified Plans Examiner, Certified Building Inspector — LEED AP BD+C, Green Globes Certified
"We were frustrated trying to navigate the processes and when you get frustrated you stop communicating," he said. "The communication has broken down more than anything."
Webster, who also is a vice president at Charles Perry Partners Inc., said his top priority for the association this year is to get more involved in local government. Specifically, the association plans to work with planning staffs to try to influence changes to the land development codes early in the process.
"Let's get out there and have a stronger voice rather than a reactionary show-up-at-a-county-meeting-and-vent, because at that point in time any serious change is very difficult to make happen," he said.
"A lot of times the builders feel that we're being forced to build something that we can't sell," Webster said.
He points to rules to build second-story space over retail space in certain areas that may look good but often sit empty because of a lack of demand, such as at Plaza Royale by Regal Cinemas on Newberry Road or the new CVS stores.
The association has already been talking with county government staff about ideas to code amendments covering rules about open spaces, landscaping, fence heights, setbacks, streets and other amenities, and recently met with county commissioners to push a moratorium on impact fees.
The association also has submitted ideas to the city of Gainesville to create "form-based code areas" — areas with streamlined permitting for pre-approved uses similar to the one spearheaded by the Community Redevelopment Agency for Innovation Square on Southwest Second Avenue, but with housing and/or commercial uses appropriate for each area.
The idea is to keep the best of what Gainesville has to offer but make it cheaper and easier for infill and redevelopment, he said.
"It's meant to simplify the process and it still has the requirements you have to follow and there's still going to be environmental sides to that, but it alleviates the red tape," he said.
In the past, local builders may have been able to pass regulatory costs on to consumers, but with the economy down are looking to cut costs where they can, he said.
Webster said the local building industry has hit bottom and stabilized, but without some kind of boost 2012 may see more builders go out of business. Many of those who jumped in during the good times are already gone and longtime builders are burning through their cash reserves.
Serving in the builders association is Webster's way to "try to make a little bit of a difference where I can."
"Being an Army brat, I never was rooted in any one community, so to be here now 12 years … I just enjoy giving back and being part of the community where I can."
Webster studied building construction at the University of Florida and then joined the Army Corps of Engineers for four years handling construction, repairs, demolition and road clearance for combat operations.
"I got to blow a lot of stuff up," he said.
After spending five months in the desert in Kuwait in 1998, he decided he wanted to see his kids grow up, so he left the Army and returned to Gainesville, where he got a job as a project engineer for what was then Charles Perry Construction.
He rose through the ranks and now serves as vice president of the diversified projects division for Charles Perry Partners Inc., overseeing 13 contracts for state and local government renovations and additions around the state.