Developers at odds over I-75 overpass


Published: Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 6:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 6:58 p.m.

Two developers have clashed over the proposed landing point for an Interstate 75 overpass that will connect a pair of major projects planned for the Gainesville area.

Butler Enterprises, with Deborah Butler at the helm, is working on a sizable expansion of Butler Plaza. Meanwhile, plans are under way for Celebration Pointe, a mixed-use, transit-oriented development to be located off Archer Road just west of I-75.

Celebration Pointe has agreed to build an overpass spanning I-75 to connect its property with the Archer Road area, including Butler Plaza, but its landing point has become a contentious issue.

Representatives from Butler Enterprises and Celebration Pointe Partners debated the bridge over I-75 during Tuesday’s Alachua County Commission meeting. The bridge would include four vehicle lanes with accompanying bicycle lanes, a dedicated transit lane and the Archer Braid Trail.

Butler Enterprises has agreed to build Southwest 30th Avenue to connect Southwest 40th Boulevard and Southwest 42nd Street, as well as to build a Regional Transit System transfer station in the same area, said Gerry Dedenbach, who represents Butler Enterprises and works for Causseaux, Hewett and Walpole.

An initial layout placed the bridge landing at the Southwest 30th Avenue site, but Celebration Pointe has developed an alternative plan that sets it farther south.

The new placement would plow through the site of the future transfer station, Dedenbach said.

The Butler Plaza expansion, which would create a town center and other retail space, has been in the works for more than a decade. Butler said she already is negotiating with future tenants, whose plans are dependent upon the existing layout of the roadway network and transfer station.

That layout, and thus her negotiations, would be compromised by Celebration Pointe’s alternative landing site, Butler said.

“It throws my project out the window, and I’ve been at it for years,” she said. “I have been vetted. I did all the right things.”

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Celebration Pointe has purchase options on two parcels of land bordering Butler’s property where it plans to land the bridge, said Jonathan Paul, of Nue Urban Concepts, who represents Celebration Pointe. Its developers changed the bridge’s landing alignment because they maintain that the 90- to 100-foot right of way Butler Enterprises has allotted for the Southwest 30th Avenue site isn’t wide enough.

“We tried a number of ways to figure out how we could get a local road and a bridge together in the least amount of room possible, and it’s just a simple math equation,” Paul said.

The right of way for Southwest 30th Avenue would be 80 feet, while the bridge’s right of way would span from 90 to 100 feet, said Chris Dawson, senior transportation planner for the county.

In a Feb. 14 letter to Robert Walpole, president of Causseaux, Hewett and Walpole, Paul wrote it isn’t possible to fit both “without creating a huge bottleneck.”

To include both, the layout of each would have to be altered to a degree that wouldn’t meet local government design standards, Paul said.

Butler Enterprises does not want to offer a wider right of way because Celebration Pointe can fit the bridge and the roadway in the allotted space depending on how each is designed, Dedenbach said.

Dawson has worked with Celebration Pointe as it plans for the bridge because it is a significant piece of infrastructure the county eventually will own.

Although he is not an engineer, he said the right of way probably isn’t big enough to contain both the bridge landing and the roadway. It might not be impossible, but it would be very difficult, he said.

Butler said she has never asked the city for help with her expansion plans.

“I didn’t ask the city to do my work for me on the taxpayer dime,” she said. “I’ve never, ever asked for special treatment. I’ve always asked for fair treatment.”

Dawson said the county regularly consults with developers on projects within the county’s purview. He emphasized that the county’s concern isn’t where the roadway lands, but how it functions once it is tied into the road network.

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Butler Enterprises has existing agreements with the city of Gainesville, which include building the transfer station as well as Southwest 30th Avenue and several other roads as part of a larger roadway network. Celebration Pointe’s new plan jeopardizes them, Dedenbach said.

“Our perspective is that our original alignment and our obligations to the city of Gainesville is where we stand,” he said, pointing out that this is a “very late-in-the-game request.”

Paul said Celebration Pointe has spent six months and about $60,000 attempting to engineer a feasible way for the initial location to work, but to no avail. As a result, Celebration Pointe plans to move the bridge landing to the south.

At Tuesday’s County Commission meeting, the board approved a letter to Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe outlining an agreement between the two parties in which Butler Enterprises would convey the right of way related to the Southwest 30th Avenue landing site to the city earlier than planned.

Butler Enterprises agreed to grant the city the right of way under multiple caveats, including conveying it within 60 days of the Florida Department of Transportation issuing a permit for the bridge’s construction and Celebration Pointe Partners’ posting of a performance bond for the project.

Paul said Celebration Pointe was not in agreement on keeping the landing site at the initial location instead of moving it to the south, insisting that agreements shouldn’t be made on the fly like that.

“We really weren’t given the opportunity at the end there to speak our mind,” Paul said of the meeting.

Celebration Pointe attended the county meeting to answer questions but not to make a formal presentation, expecting it would concern only the county’s request for cooperation with the city on the project, he said.

Butler Enterprises provided a more formal presentation to the commission, while Celebration Pointe had not prepared one and was “blindsided” by the discussion, Paul said.

“CHW (Causseaux, Hewett and Walpole) and Butler Plaza had a plan,” he said. “It had a coordinated attack, and they went forward with it.”

Dedenbach said Butler Enterprises brought a presentation because it wanted to be able to explain its impending amendments and the importance of preserving its standing agreements with the city.

Celebration Pointe will move forward with plans for the southern landing site, Paul said. It already has committed more than $200,000 to its design and put money down on properties for it.

“It’s like you built something and somebody dropped a bomb on it because they don’t want it,” Butler said of Celebration Pointe’s alternative plan.

Paul said Celebration Pointe requested earlier meetings regarding the overpass with Butler Enterprises that weren’t acknowledged, while Dedenbach said the organization received only a letter informing it of Celebration Pointe’s plans without requesting its input.

A letter dated Jan. 14, which Celebration Pointe Partners submitted to the city plan board, from Paul to Robert Walpole regarding the overpass, included a request for coordination and asked that a meeting be scheduled.

“All this stuff could have easily been resolved with a sit-down meeting,” Paul said.

The city plan board will meet on Tuesday to discuss Butler Enterprises’ proposed amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan regarding its expansion, which include caveats to shift the town center closer to Archer Road and remove language regarding Butler Enterprises’ dedication of rights of way for its planned roadway network to the city because that agreement is already in place, Dedenbach said.

Paul said he plans to attend the meeting to offer alternative ways to incorporate its southern landing point for the bridge with Butler Enterprises’ planned transfer station and area roadway network.

Requests for interviews with the city were not returned by late Friday afternoon.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gvillesun.com.

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