Duck Pond opposition spurs Plan Board to reject probation office's move

Decision poses a problem for city homeless center plans


Published: Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 11:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 11:15 p.m.

Stalled out for years at a prior location, the city's longstanding plans for a homeless shelter and assistance center east of Gainesville may have hit another stumbling block.

After hearing hours of opposition from dozens of residents of the Historic Duck Pond neighborhood Thursday night, the city's Plan Board denied a permit application to relocate the state's downtown probation office to a building along Northeast First Street just west of the neighborhood.

The state was to take ownership of the building, a former law office just north of City Hall that more recently housed the police department's detective division, in a land swap that was part of the agreement for the city to get the shuttered Gainesville Correctional Institution on Northeast 39th Avenue for the homeless assistance facility.

The Plan Board has decision-making power on special-use permits. An appeal would go to a hearing officer.

Assistant City Manager Fred Murry said he's uncertain until he talks to state officials what effect, if any, the decision will have on the city acquiring the former prison .

The probation office currently sees some 70 to 100 criminal offender clients on weekdays at a location that is about four blocks to the south — and separated by University Avenue from the site voted down Thursday.

Duck Pond residents' opposition focused on concerns of diminished property values, increased crime and the possibility of jeopardizing the safety of children living in the area.

They worried about the effect on the day-care center and churches nearby and said there was already an issue with crime from homeless who crossed through their neighborhood on foot. One woman said the city did not need to "trade a homeless problem for a convicted felon problem" in its effort to get the former prison property.

Recently retired Acting County Manager Rick Drummond was among the opponents. Talking about the criteria to approve a permit, Drummond said city staff hadn't proved a probation office was compatible with the surrounding area.

The denial of the permit passed 5-1, with plan board member Erin Condon in dissent. Condon said the courts had decided individuals on probation were safe to society and she felt the board was assuming the authority of the judicial system to vote down the permit because of concerns they were not.

Condon said it "sends the wrong message from the city of Gainesville" to vote down the probation office because a large crowd showed up in opposition.

Plan board member Bob Ackerman said the board "heard a lot of fear tonight" and he didn't know "whether that fear was justified or not." But he said the board had grounds to deny the permit because the number of clients a day made the probation office too intense a use for the area and raised issues with limited parking.

On the potential effect on the city's acquisition of the shuttered prison, Ackerman said, "The fact it could kill the swap and affect the homeless center cannot be the basis for our decision."

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