Mixed use vs. single-family homes: Disagreement persists

Published: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 9:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 9:55 p.m.

Amid ongoing tensions between proponents of mixed-use developments and single-family homes, panelists and audience members pointed to mostly positive growth trends in the local economy and real estate segments at the fifth annual Real Estate Forum Tuesday night.

Several major mixed-use projects will come up for approval this year with the potential to add nearly 20,000 homes and 20 million square feet of commercial space.

More business prospects are considering moving to or expanding in the area. Commercial real estate has followed residential into recovery mode, especially with office and land sales picking up. Lending is starting to loosen up. Local government is becoming more responsive to business.

The forum was held by Beau Beery and Todd Rainsberger of Coldwell Banker Commercial M.M. Parrish Real Estate at the Gainesville Woman’s Club with more than 250 people in real estate and related professions in attendance.

Panelist David Coffey is the land use attorney for several large mixed-use projects that he expects to come up for approval this year. He said the preliminary development plan for Springhills surrounding the I-75/39th Avenue interchange will be submitted today with plans for the Plum Creek timber company’s developments on State Road 121 and in eastern Alachua County expected to come up for approval later this year.

Coffey said the projects are the type of dense, urban mixed-use supported by public transportation that “every reputable source” says baby boomers and young professionals are looking for. Changes to local land use regulations that used to separate retail from residential allowed those to be developed, he said.

“That’s why Innovation Square is destined to be incredibly successful and hopefully why other areas are likely to be successful,” Coffey said.

Panelist Barry Bullard of Barry Bullard Homes said a lot of people are questioning the economic viability of such projects since smaller-scale examples have struggled in this market.

“That’s the big question, whether those types of projects can sustain themselves over a period of time,” Bullard said.

Coffey said it is hard to gauge the market for mixed use here because so little of it has been built.

Bullard also questioned where such projects leave small independent single-family home builders such as himself.

While new home construction is up and signs bode well for that to continue in the short term, he said he sees a pending shortage of buildable lots for small builders since most new lots are held by builder-developers who build their own homes and a lag time of three to four years exists before new developments can be approved

“Small builders like myself have relied on developers to provide with lots. That landscape is changing,” he said.

Home builder Kara Bolton echoed that concern and also questioned the demand for compact, mixed-use developments.

“One buyer in 10 years wanted to build a house where they could bike to work, one out of 200,” she said. “That’s not enough to support my livelihood and continue to offer product.”

Realtor Laraine Teiss of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Trend Realty said aside from young people and buyers who are downsizing, people come in from all over the country looking for an acre or a half acre with privacy.

Coffey said market demand will determine what gets built and county land regulations now allow the market to determine that instead of prescribing what will be built.

“Revisions to the regulatory framework are moving in an incredibly positive direction by both the county and the city,” Coffey said. “The systems are more market-driven than they’ve ever been, which can also be coupled with the trauma that everyone has been through the last five, six years in this field, which includes city and county governments and the recognition of how vulnerable we are when we don’t allow the community to grow and prosper.”

City government has already implemented 10 of 27 recommendations from the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce on how to make it easier for small businesses to do business with the city, and the county is also interested in working with the Chamber.

“The county has asked for the same type of collaboration. They came to us and said this looks like a good initiative,” said Susan Davenport, vice president of economic development for the Chamber and Council for Economic Outreach.

Davenport said they are working on a pipeline of 35 to 45 relocation or expansion prospects and hope to double that amount by the end of the year, saying more prospects mean more closed deals and more jobs. She encouraged Realtors working with prospects to contact the Chamber for help closing the deal.

Panelist and student apartment developer Nathan Collier of Collier Companies countered the talk of business-friendly government by saying simply, “Gainesville doesn’t like business,” drawing cheers from the audience.

Asked about prospects for building more multifamily units downtown to support the growth of innovation, Collier said the cost of land and construction doesn’t add up compared to current asking prices for condos.

Regarding student housing, he said a lot of new construction is in high-end luxury apartments that have seen the most recovery, while affordable and mid-level apartments rents are still 10 to 15 percent below where they were pre-recession.

Moderator Mike Ryals of Bosshardt Realty Services said the market for office space shifted to leases because sellers didn’t want to sell when prices plummeted, but that has started to reverse as office sales pick up again and sellers are putting inventory back on the market.

Beery said he is also seeing prices for retail property start to pick up. He is concentrating a lot of time on land sales, which has faced a steep increase for agriculture and timberland.

Lakeland land specialist Dean Saunders of Coldwell Banker Commercial Saunders Real Estate said agriculture land is hot because prices for agricultural commodities are up, but those commodity prices are likely to go down.

“It concerns me, but it’s working for me so I’m going with it,” he said.

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