Changes to University Corners get initial OK


Published: Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 10:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 10:15 p.m.

Proposed changes to the long-planned and long-stagnant University Corners development received initial approval from the City Commission on Thursday evening.

Nearly a decade after the mixed-use development spanning several blocks northwest of the corner of University Avenue and 13th Street was first proposed, Miami-Dade developer the Swerdlow Group has entered the picture with plans to resurrect the project and potentially start construction by summer.

On Thursday, the City Commission voted 6-0 (Commissioner Susan Bottcher was absent) to have staff prepare ordinances for future consideration that would implement the developer's requested changes to prior zoning and land-use approvals for the project.

The most significant change sought is an increase in the allowable building height from eight stories and 95 feet to 10 stories and 110 feet.

The developers also seek the following changes:

- An increase from 247 condominiums and 243 hotel/condo units to 500 apartments or condominiums and a 250-room hotel.

- An increase in the square footage of a parking garage from 350,000 square feet to 380,000 and the number of parking spaces from 1,000 to 1,200.

- An increase in the total building area, including the garage, from 1.185 million square feet to 1.33 million. The building itself would increase from 665,000 square feet to 950,000.

- A decrease in retail square footage from 115,000 to 100,000.

David Coffey, the Gainesville-based land-use attorney representing the developers, said tax incentives also will be sought through the city's Community Redevelopment Agency. Coffey said the developers will request that the city adhere to a 2005 approval of up to $37 million in tax reimbursements.

"The only way the project can work is with a continuation of the commitment already made to the project," Coffey said.

The request would be for a long-term refund of 90 percent of the property tax revenues that the development would generate for the city's College Park University Heights CRA.

Coffey said planned upgrades to the building facade as well as the planting of trees along Northwest 13th and University and the construction of a colonnade along the sidewalk hinge on the tax incentives.

The requested height increase has drawn some concerns from residents of the University Park neighborhood to the north and west, who feel the taller building would not mesh with their nearby residential area.

At their early December meeting, some members of the University Park Neighborhood Association raised those concerns. Some sent emails to commissioners and one resident spoke in opposition Thursday.

At the Dec. 20 City Commission meeting, a representative of the Holiday Inn Gainesville-University Center, the six-story hotel across Northwest 13th Street from the University Corners site, also opposed increasing the building height.

Coffey has said the two additional stories were sought to add more apartments or condominiums and make the project more financially feasible.

Some adjacent property owners did not express opposition.

"You heard of karma? We accept this as inevitable," said Carl Woodham, the chaplain of the Krishna House, which is west of the site.

Woodham said his group felt the project was good for Gainesville and the Krishna House was mulling moving to open up its site for redevelopment.

In an interview last week, University Park resident Stephen Packard said he feels the Gainesville condominium and apartment markets are flooded and there is no need for the city to offer tax incentives to add more units.

"I am concerned, particularly if the city is subsidizing it, about the building of more apartments or condos," he said.

The next steps after Thursday are two public hearings on the ordinances for both the requested zoning and land-use changes.

Seated as the CRA, commissioners also will consider the requested property tax reimbursements.

More detailed traffic studies still loom as well as a decision on the payment the city will require from the developer for transit enhancements and transportation improvements.

Commissioner Todd Chase said traffic is one issue he plans to track moving forward, since University Corners represents a "huge project" at a busy intersection.

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