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  • Writer's pictureTom Reilly

Top Local Headlines 2022 That Will Affect Gainesville & Alachua County Real Estate Moving Forward

The Gainesville Sun

Exclusionary zoning

Single-family zoning in Gainesville is no more.

After much debate and several public meetings, a split Gainesville City Commission voted to eliminate single-family zoning rules across the city, a move championed by Mayor Lauren Poe.

The city became the first in Florida to do so, causing a stir from state lawmakers and leaders.

Supporters of the decision say the change will help provide more affordable housing options in Gainesville, while opponents say it will result in deteriorating home values and ruin the make-up of the neighborhoods they live in.

A majority of the candidates who ran for the City Commission races said they did not support the zoning change, while some even vowed to try and reverse it once in office.

It’s unclear how the move will ultimately impact neighborhoods citywide though, as the change simply allows developers the option of building multi-family units on empty lots depending on the size of open space. It does not prevent single-family homes from still being built.

Hyatt Hotel, future projects highlight Gainesville and Alachua County development in 2022

The Gainesville Sun

While Gainesville and Alachua County have seen significant changes as far as development goes in 2022, including a new downtown hotel, this year might mostly be remembered for the introduction of projects that could one day have a significant impact on local, everyday life.

Three major development plans that could bring as many as 13,000 homes to Gainesville and the surrounding areas — impacting schools, businesses, transportation and more — are currently being examined by both the county and city commissions.

Here are the biggest local development stories from this past year:

Hyatt Place Gainesville Downtown

The much-anticipated Hyatt Place Gainesville Downtown officially opened its doors on Sept. 8 at 212 SE First St.

The $45 million, six-story project, which broke ground in January 2021, includes ground-floor retail, 145 guest rooms, a second-floor elevated pool, a market, a restaurant and a business center. It also features a 1,650-square-foot event space, 24/7 valet parking, Wi-Fi and free hot breakfast. It offers a pedestrian-friendly environment with sidewalks and trees that don't obstruct those walking by.

"I think it's the next step on the increasingly vital year-round downtown," Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe said in September. "It brings more than just bars and restaurants. It adds a vibrancy."

The building also includes 39 loft-style apartments — known as the Magnolia Street Residences — with many units showcasing floor-to-ceiling windows with sweeping city views.

Anthony Lyons, vice president of AMJ Group, the developer of the hotel, said the new building adheres to Green Globe standards and includes tankless water heaters, "robust and thick" windows, multi-use soap dispensers and more.

The hotel's variable refrigerant flow HVAC system, which costs about $1.5 million more to install than traditional in-room systems, allows front-desk employees to adjust the thermostats in unsold rooms.

Innovation Square high-rise

The Gainesville City Commission voted 4-3 in mid-September to approve a zoning change that will allow for a new 12-story apartment complex to be built next to Innovation Square, over the objections of its own advisory groups and some residents.

The project is planned for a 1.1-acre site at the northwest corner of Southwest Second Avenue and Southwest 10th Street, on a current parking lot across from the University of Florida’s Infinity Hall.

A 12-story apartment building and a second five-story building are slated to be constructed on the property. Developer CA Ventures agreed to set aside 10% of available apartments for workforce housing in perpetuity, in exchange for the city increasing the height and density allowed at the location.

Poe, who voted in favor of the changes, said the complex is appropriate for a location that is bikeable, walkable and close to the university and jobs. The workforce housing requirement will help address the city’s huge need for affordable housing, Poe said, at the expense of the developer rather than taxpayers.

“We need to take advantage of every single unit of affordable housing that we can add to our stock that does not tap into the city’s limited resources,” he said.

The 12-story building would be among several high-rises around campus that have been built in recent years and drew criticism from some residents. It would be two stories taller than The Standard, a high-profile student housing complex at the intersection of Northwest 13th Street and West University Avenue.

Proposed 'Lee Property' development

Alachua County commissioners are still considering plans for a "grand community" on just over 4,000 acres west of Gainesville off Southwest 122nd Street/Parker Road.

The "Lee family property," as the development site is known, sits along both sides of Parker Road, west of Haile Plantation and south of Oakmont and the Town of Tioga.

Current plans for the proposed mixed-use development call for home densities similar to Haile Plantation — a 2,600-household community on 1,700 acres — and include a bustling town center with offices, stores and recreational opportunities. About 50 acres would be dedicated to affordable housing.

The project has received backing from top University of Florida officials.

County officials held a workshop centered around the Hickory Sink strategic ecosystem special area study, which is designed to determine the area's critical environmental elements that need to be set aside and maintained if the development is approved.

The study is required due to the strategic ecosystems on the property and its overall size.

Stephen Hofstetter, director of Alachua County's department of environmental protection, discussed during his presentation that the Hickory Sink meets the county's standards for a strategic ecosystem, largely in part because of its value as a Floridan aquifer recharge area and a wildlife habitat.

County staff recommended that commissioners — who have yet to vote on the project — accept the special area study and authorize the initiation of a special area plan based on a series of conditions and parameters.

Under current zoning, the Lee family has the ability to develop 813 homes with wells and septic tanks.

Weyerhaeuser Company proposal

The Gainesville City Commission gave initial approval to a massive development project that will significantly increase Gainesville’s housing stock through affordable homes.

City officials voted 4-3 in October to approve the Weyerhaeuser Company’s bid that could bring between 668 to 7,880 homes to northwest Gainesville.

A second vote is still required for the plans to be finalized.

Weyerhaeuser owns 1,779 acres of undeveloped property, featuring timberlands and wetlands, in northwest Gainesville. The property was originally owned by Plum Creek before Weyerhaeuser acquired it in 2015.

The site is located along the east and west sides of State Road 121, just north of U.S. 441. A flurry of public comments opposed the plan, mostly citing traffic concerns and the preservation of wetlands.

The current proposal sets aside 68% of the property from development, a substantial part of which is to be managed through a strict conservation management plan, according to the city planning staff, which recommended approval of the project.

The project would also require the concurrent development of affordable housing together with market-rate units; the installation of community gardens allocated for each unit; and a low-impact design with clustering, maximization of pervious surfaces, narrowed streets and reuse of stormwater.

The City Commission will meet again to discuss the issue on Jan. 19.

Springhills project revisited

The Alachua County Commission on Dec. 14 heard from staff, engineers and the public regarding a revised development plan that was previously approved in 2014 and could have a major impact in the area of Northwest 39th Avenue at Interstate 75.

The Springhills Transit Oriented Development, as it is called, is broken down into three quadrants and includes plans for up to 3,036 residential units and more than 1.3 million square feet of non-residential space across approximately 390 acres.

About two-thirds of the development would be located in its northeast quadrant, on the east side of I-75, behind the Publix at Springhill Commons. That area would connect to the northwest quadrant via a new bridge over I-75 and surround the Best Western Gateway Grand hotel. The majority of the project's northwest quadrant is slated for non-residential uses and a stormwater runoff area.

The southeast quadrant is located behind the area across from the Springhill Commons Publix that includes a Burger King, Wendy’s and Sonny’s BBQ. This quadrant could include as many as 353 residential units and 92,850 square feet of retail space.

Much of the Dec. 13 meeting centered around tree retention and stormwater runoff.

While the revised development plan preserves almost 37% of the tree canopy — the majority on about 97 acres at the north end of the project — commissioners are concerned with the possible loss of heritage live oaks with diameters of more than 60 inches.

Under the 2014 plan, the trees could legally be removed. But due to the requested revisions and new county regulations that stipulate that all trees with diameters of at least 60 inches must be retained, commissioners must approve their removal.

Commissioners also asked county staff to work with engineers to mitigate the loss of the mature trees before a final development plan is approved.

“This community really values its live oaks,” Commissioner Ken Cornell said. “I want to approve this, but what I really want, is I want to continue it because I really want y'all to take another shot at this.”

As far as the stormwater runoff, the revised development plan increases areas for water retention from 30 to 70 acres.

"I really appreciate the work that was done to fix some problems that are really important in this area," Commissioner Mary Alford said.

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