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Commission to consider reworked University Corners plan
Published: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at 4:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at 4:55 p.m.
University Corners — the mix of apartments, retail and restaurant space and a hotel long-planned on a grassy field north of the University of Florida — goes before the City Commission on Thursday evening for what might be the final decision on whether to increase prior development thresholds.
In early May, the commission delayed a significant vote on the developer's request amid concerns over traffic impacts and the size of the building, which would reach a height of 110 feet and have a footprint of more than 1.3 million square feet.
University Corners is planned to stretch along the west side of Northwest 13th Street from University Avenue north to Northwest Third Avenue.
That delay in May prompted a series of four meetings between local representatives of the University Corners developer, the Miami-Dade based Swerdlow Group, and residents in the adjacent University Park neighborhood.
Following those neighborhood meetings and talks with city staff, the Swerdlow Group has devised an alternative plan to bring to the City Commission.
David Coffey, a local land use attorney representing Swerdlow, said the intent is a less-imposing look.
"One of the strong objections was the magnitude of the project in terms of height and sheer mass of building," Coffey said. "The architects were charged with trying to minimize the height and building mass."
A memo the Planning & Development Services Department sent to commissioners on Monday identified some proposed changes:
* Breaking the development into three separate buildings to create "three distinct blocks." Elevated pedestrian bridges would link the buildings.
* Along University Avenue, the building height would begin at eight stories and 89 feet and, moving north, gradually rise to nine floors and then 10 floors and 110 feet.
* The brick building facade will be replaced by a more varied look that includes stone, tile and glass.
* The hotel, a 250-room Hyatt, will have a different design than the rest of the project.
* The 1,200-space garage will be reserved for residents, hotel guests and employees and customers of businesses in the complex. That prohibits a commercial parking operation that could draw in more traffic.
Many details of the Swerdlow Group's request remain unchanged from May. The developer still seeks approval of as many as 500 apartments, to increase the maximum building height from eight stories and 95 feet to 10 stories and 110 feet, and a 380,000-square-foot parking garage with 1,200 spaces.
Plans have a supermarket on the first floor of the parking garage building.
The prospects of a taller building and a larger parking garage have been points of contention for the adjacent University Park neighborhood.
Thomas Hawkins Sr., the president of the University Park Neighborhood Association, said that at the neighborhood workshops since the May commission meeting, representatives of Swerdlow have been responsive to resident concerns.
Hawkins, the father of City Commissioner Thomas Hawkins, said that response has included breaking the project up into multiple buildings and the change to the facade. He said the University Park Neighborhood Association has taken no vote to support or oppose Swerdlow's proposed alternative.
As commissioners mull the new proposal Thursday, traffic is likely to again surface as an issue for a development planned at the intersection of two of Gainesville's busiest roads.
Back in May, Swerdlow's team of contracted consultants did not present any data on traffic impacts. A vehicle trip generation report submitted for Thursday shows an initial count of 9,629 daily trips from the project.
But the formula then uses projected bicycle, pedestrian and bus traffic numbers — and credit for the prior development on site, which was razed several years back to make way for University Corners — to whittle the daily vehicle impact from new development to 5,573 trips.
If the development changes receive approval Thursday, one major decision still looms. The Swerdlow Group seeks tax incentives in the form of a rebate of the majority of the property taxes that the project would generate for the city's Community Redevelopment Area.
In an application sent to the CRA, the Swerdlow Group seeks 80 percent of the property tax revenues the development would generate for the CRA for 30 years, which is projected to be nearly $69 million.
In upcoming months, the City Commission would consider that request while seated as the board for the CRA.