Residents mobilizing to block expanded superdevelopment
Kim Davidson
January 2007

Massive traffic jams and pollution of local drinking water are among concerns about a proposed super-development in Northwest Gainesville that has led residents to mobilize to block the project.

The Coalition for Responsible Growth, a grassroots organization of residents from across Alachua County, is an effort calling upon county commissioners to vote "no" on SpringHills, a Philadelphia, PA developer's project that is much larger than Butler Plaza or the Oaks Mall.

"We call upon the Alachua County Commission to abide by the intent and provisions of its own comprehensive plan," said Kim Davidson, M.D., vice president of the coalition. "The comprehensive plan is our best assurance that growth will be managed so it does not cause sprawl, massive traffic jams, raise taxes, close local businesses, pollute our drinking water, and increase poverty.

"SpringHills violates so many of the commission's guidelines that it is clear they must vote no on the project."

SpringHills is the largest single development in the history of Alachua County. County documents show it will cause traffic congestion at least as far as NW 13th Street to the east, Jonesville to the west, and south to gridlocked Newberry Road. The county is also considering another development where Fort Clarke Boulevard connects with Newberry Road just west of the Oaks Mall.

The largest feature of SpringHills is 1.5 million square feet of mostly big box stores, which studies show generate large volumes of traffic, pay low wages, and force the closure of local businesses. According to studies, smaller businesses place three to five times as much of their income into the local economy than big boxes, which send most of their profits out of the region or state.

SpringHills sits atop a fracture in the county's underlying limestone rock, providing a direct path for pollutants to flow straight into the Floridan aquifer, the source of the area's drinking water. A large sinkhole above the aquifer is also on the SpringHills site.

The county commission approved a scaled-down original SpringHills in 1999. The development, while large enough to cover some 600 acres of land, connected to only NW 39th Avenue which is now deemed by the county as an overcrowded road.

With little notice to residents, the developer returned with a vastly expanded project that includes 1.5 million square feet of mostly big box stores, 125,000 square feet of offices, 460,000 square feet of warehouses and distribution warehouses, hotels with 625 rooms, and 2,238 dwellings.

By comparison the stores alone of SpringHills are much larger than sprawling Butler Plaza, and to it are added tightly packed houses and the warehouses and hotels.

To realize its ambitions the developer wants to six-lane NW 39th Avenue like nearby Interstate 75, build a bridge over I-75 to connect with the Meadowbrook neighborhood, and punch a road to funnel traffic onto Millhopper Road, designated by the county as one of its five scenic roads.

Yet documents from public agencies show that the developers have repeatedly not complied with their requests for information about SpringHills.

The county's figures show that SpringHills would cost residents by subsidizing the developer with at least $60 million in taxes.

Opposition to SpringHills is based upon the county's comprehensive plan, the product of numerous public meetings. The county's guiding vision for our comprehensive plan is to "slow sprawl in the county's rural areas and western Gainesville while encouraging higher density infill."

The commission's vision statement for the comprehensive plan also advocates:

The coalition's positions about the development are that it will:

"The commission cannot abide by the spirit and provisions of our comprehensive plan and approve this development," Davidson said. As a non-profit organization, the Coalition is raising funds to hire an attorney to defeat SpringHills. The coalition Web site is:

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