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1,778-Acre Site Planned Development Could Be Rezoned As Agricultural Land

Tim Jackson, director of real estate development for Weyerhaeuser, speaks in favor of having a public hearing during public comment. (Eve Rosen/WUFT News)
Tim Jackson, director of real estate development for Weyerhaeuser, speaks in favor of having a public hearing during public comment. (Eve Rosen/WUFT News)

Gainesville City Commissioners say it will be a long time before a decision will be made about a 1,778-acre site that is a massive mixed-use development area.

The site is located east and west of State Road 121, about two miles north of the northwest Gainesville Walmart.

Gainesville City Commissioners voted unanimously on Thursday to amend and update the land-use and zoning map so that it is considered Gainesville agriculture instead of Alachua County agriculture to which it was previously zoned.

The decision was made after four extensions in which a Planned Development rezoning ordinance had to be adopted. The most recent extension was set to expire on July 26.

“We are here seeking direction. In the agenda item there are three options that have been laid out by staff,” said Andrew Persons who is the interim director for the City of Gainesville.

Option one was the one that the City Commissioners chose and voted for.

The developers had hoped that the City Commission would vote to hold a public hearing on the zoning application, which would have been heard at a later City Commission meeting.

They claimed that not having the hearing before the City Commission after it was recommended by the City Plan Board is against code.

“We decided that everything staff asked for we’ll do. Period,” said Tim Jackson, director of real estate development for Weyerhaeuser, during public comment. “We are just asking for fairness.”

The developers had no comment on the decision.

An amendment will be made to the original land use amendment, which was approved over a decade ago. Over this past decade, significant changes have occurred that have impacted this land use amendment. To name a few, there have been changes to the City Land Development Code and environmental regulations, the wetlands on the property have expanded and the city commissioners themselves have changed.

“We are looking for more of a forward vision than what we did in 2008 or 2007 when we initiated your proposals,” said City Commissioner Helen Warren.

The property is home to nearly 1,200 acres of planted pines and contains wetlands, both of which are in conservation management areas.

Weyerhaeuser, which owns this large site, is the largest private owner of timberland in the U.S. with more than 13 million acres of forests. The entire property has been used for logging for approximately 50 years. The action taken by the commissioners will not change this.

On the application for planned development rezoning, Weyerhaeuser set aside approximately 500 acres of land for development with the remaining land being used for conservation. Within the land used for development, some will be set aside for affordable housing.

The rezoning would allow for single residential, multi-family residential, mixed-use development and the previously mentioned conservation areas.

This was the first City Commission meeting that Michael Hill has ever attended. He recently moved to Gainesville from Orange County.

Hill felt that if the City Commission voted in favor of the Weyerhaeuser project then it would be very difficult to afford houses in that area. He used the example of River Cross. It was a controversial development in the rural east of Seminole County in Orlando.

“I come from Orange County - if you want to talk about a concrete jungle, that’s a concrete jungle,” Hill said. “Judging by where this property is on the map, I’m getting flashbacks to the days of what people in Orange County called the high-intensity area of River Cross.”

Everitt is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by emailing news@wuft.org or calling 352-392-6397.