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Thursday, October 06, 2022

Gainesville City Commission to hold workshop for community input on Suburban Heights development

The workshop will include affected residents, the development group and the Commission

A "Suburban Heights" sign sits at Northwest 23rd Avenue on Thursday, May 20, 2021.
A "Suburban Heights" sign sits at Northwest 23rd Avenue on Thursday, May 20, 2021.

The Gainesville City Commission didn’t vote on whether to build near the Suburban Heights neighborhood after a meeting Tuesday night, faced with three hours of public comment against the development.

The City Commission discussed a new development plan for about seven acres on 4315 NW 23rd Ave. It included a six-story building with 220 residential units, of which 10% would be affordable housing. As it stands now, the plan has room for retail, professional and restaurant services.

Over 50 concerned citizens, including residents of Suburban Heights, a neighborhood near the property, aired their concerns with the project during the meeting’s public comment. Many were concerned about their privacy, the area’s traffic and the aesthetics of the area.

The area behind Suburban Heights has been fraught with controversy since 2018 when St. Michael’s Episcopal Church was torn down before a meeting where it was supposed to be considered for historical preservation. In April, residents thwarted plans to build a drive-thru business behind the neighborhood for fear of increased traffic. 

Several commissioners agreed that the city needs more housing, but they are listening to the residents of Suburban Heights.

Commissioner Harvey Ward said the city needs more housing because the demand for housing in Gainesville is outstripping the current supply, but he understands the community’s concerns.

“I don’t dislike the proposal,” Ward said. “I don’t think it works where we’re talking about putting it.”

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said the plan will give 220 families a chance to be within walking distance of restaurants, grocery stores and a park.

“Will we give 220 families the ability to pick the type of housing that they want to live in?” he asked. “Will we give 220 families the ability to live in Gainesville and to not have to live further and further out from our city?”

But residents are still concerned about the current plan, which the city has not voted against. Instead, it voted to hold a workshop at a later date with residents, the Commission and Wilson Development Group.

A public commenter, who lives three blocks away from where St. Michael’s used to stand, said the Commission hasn’t been listening to the residents’ complaints about developmental plans. She said the potential six-story building is out of sync with the rest of the area and aesthetically unappealing.

“Even though you let us come and speak like this, which we greatly appreciate, it seems like you don’t really pay attention to what we do say as far as the long term consequences of your decisions,” she said.

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Marsha Mott, a resident of Suburban Heights for more than 20 years, also said she’s concerned over the new developmental plan, including traffic.

“We have reached a boiling point, Mayor Poe,” Mott said. “We don’t want The Standard at Millhopper. We support reasonable growth and the safety of all of our residents.”

Harry Shaw, a resident of Suburban Heights for 47 years said he doesn’t know of one Suburban Heights resident in support of the plan. During public comment, he read from a list of grievances that the Suburban Heights community made against the plan. Among them were concerns about traffic, safety and the look of the area.

“It would be a development autocratically forced by the City Commission on neighbors strongly opposed to it,” he said. “We are victims of the City Commission’s apparent violation of due process and citizen’s rights.”

Two candidates for the open at-large City Commission seat also spoke at public comment, both agreeing that the Commission should listen to its citizens.

Matt Howland said he’s spoken with hundreds of citizens in and around Suburban Heights, and he hasn’t met one person who supported the development plan. Cynthia Chestnut urged the Commission to listen to citizens speaking against the development, especially with the lack of traffic impact studies done in the area.

“Sometimes good government is about deciding not to do something,” Howland said. “I encourage the Commission to listen to the overwhelming majority of residents who are opposed to the recent land use changes.”

The Commission is scheduling a special workshop to discuss the development plans with Suburban Heights residents, developers at Wilson Development group and members of the Commission. It is unclear when the special workshop will be held.

Contact Meghan at mmcglone@alligator.org Follow her on Twitter @meggmcglone.

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Meghan McGlone

Meghan McGlone is a UF junior majoring in journalism and English, and this year she’s the City and County Commission reporter. In past years, she’s served as the University Editor, the Student Government reporter, and other positions. Her favorite past time is eating gummy worms and reading a good book.


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