Another ‘broken promise’: Blues Creek Residents wait, oppose proposed rezoning development plan
Flooding has been an issue in the Blues Creek neighborhood since its beginning. Now, residents must wait even longer to have their concerns addressed.
Blues Creek is a small community tucked away in Gainesville’s northwest corner with wetlands surrounding the quiet bustling of families with young children and pets. The first development was built in the early 1980s, just half a mile north of the Blues Creek ravine preserve and hiking area that served as its namesake. The 160 acres of pristine floodplain and upland habitat have been protected by the Alachua County Trust as a natural preserve since 2002.
Katrina Alford has lived in Blues Creek since 2019 with her husband, Nick. The pair have raised their two young sons, Andrew and John, for the past four years and introduced their third son, Matthew, to the residence earlier this week. The Alfords love their home.
But Gainesville’s rainfall is an issue for Alford’s 2011 house. Alford said that after heavy summer downpours, her front driveway becomes menacing for her children, who have nowhere else to play outside.
“During the summer months when it rains, there are large sections of the sidewalk that are a deathtrap,” Alford said. “My youngest son ended up slipping on the sidewalk because of just how much water was pouring out. Thank goodness he did not get a concussion… I went down trying to catch him and landed on my thumb. And that was just us trying to literally go to the end of the driveway to pick something up.”
The natural area directly behind her home is best described as an untouched sinkhole, Alford said. With no other designated common playing areas, neighborhood children wander into the natural greenery in search of entertainment.
Alford said she fears the pre-existing drainage and stormwater runoff issues will only continue to worsen. Seven-year-old Andrew said he fears for the safety of the deer that live in the natural area across the street from their home. But the fates of either won’t be certain for at least another month.
The undeveloped land next to Alford’s home is currently under review for a zoning and land use permit change to build 36 new homes. After reducing the number of residential units from 44 to 36 and setting 89% of the property aside for conservation, Blues Creek land developer Scot Ross said he is sure this plan is an improvement from the original blueprint presented at its first City Commission hearing in June.
But before it could be reintroduced to the City Commission, Thursday’s City Commission meeting had its agenda edited at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. According to the City Clerk, the Early Development Agreement petition was postponed by the applicant, Clay Sweger, director of planning of EDA Consultants, Inc., not to be heard again until August 17.
Blues Creeks residents scheduled to speak at the hearing were notified the night before the meeting. Some were disappointed but not surprised -- they’ve been brushed aside before.
Residents organized to raise their concerns about the proposed builds at the June 15 city commission meeting. Affected residents, like Gouri Kumar, were not able to share their complaints until around 10:45 p.m. despite the meeting beginning at 5 p.m.
Blues Creek’s zoning permit change was the 26th item to be heard. Multiple community members were forced to return home before the remaining Blues Creek representatives were each given three minutes to explain their opposition.
“We asked for a postponement at the last meeting, but the applicant refused,” Kumar said. “He decided he wanted to cancel at the last minute this time, so we just have to go with it, no choice.”
When questioned about the reasoning behind the hearing’s postponement, Sweger declined to comment, following company policy to avoid public comment about any potential controversial projects and to maintain his comments to the public hearing portion of commission meetings. Whether the proposal is being revised before the rescheduled hearing is unknown.
“We are confident that this final phase will be a ‘win/win,’” land developer Scot Ross wrote about the blueprint in an email two weeks ago. “Our plan also reduces the residential density for this area, which will reduce traffic impacts and includes larger landscape buffers and setbacks from the adjacent homesites to ensure compatibility and to be respectful of the neighbors who currently reside adjacent to the property.”
Some residents, like Kumar, disagree. Kumar said the commission’s perspective is short-sighted because the proposal goes against reasonable resident expectations of how they believed Blues Creek might develop when they made a verbal agreement with the developer after first buying their home in 2016.
Regardless of buffers, the pre-existing residents expected 11 to 12 new single-family units to be built, not 36 multiple-family units. Kumar says the increase in traffic may decrease road safety as the path to the new townhomes cuts right through her neighborhood. Other considerations, like environmental protections, are minimal. According to the blueprint, only one dumpster is allotted for the 36 units in the proposed townhomes, which could lead to overfilling and littering, and recycling is not considered.
“We are not opposed to building,” Kumar said. “But these were supposed to be single-family detached homes. So, we’re saying stick with what you promised us and build those.”
Indigo Landing, the first townhome section of Blues Creek, has displayed similar structural inadequacies in the past, like insufficient waste disposal options and flooding. Some residents, like Homeowner’s Association board member Stacey Cricchio, said these concerns have yet to be effectively addressed in the proposed zoning permit petition.
Cricchio has served on the HOA board for four years and has lived in Blues Creek for 20 years with her husband and two children. As a mother, she wishes that the HOA board meeting times could be put to more effective use, like improving community gathering areas and events, instead of focusing on community guideline violations.
“I would object to the townhomes being built where they’re being suggested because we spend 90% of our meetings discussing violations because of renters,” Cricchio said.
Cricchio explained some renters, although not all of them, do not adhere to the HOA’s neighborhood bylaws, such as bringing trash cans in, street parking rules and overnight parking. As a result, Cricchio said, some neighborhood fines have had to increase in the past year by up to $75.
“It’s not necessarily the townhomes that will bring the property values down. It’s the rentability, if you will.”
Some commissioners agreed with and understood resident perspectives. Commissioner Ed Book expressed his support at the June 15 hearing but declined to provide additional comments until the rescheduled hearing.
Others, like Commissioner Reina Saco, emphasized the importance of a “yes, in my backyard” attitude in neighborhoods with housing development opportunities. By increasing the amount of housing in Gainesville, affordable housing can eventually become more accessible for residents across the city.
The townhomes’ starting prices will likely range between $200,000 to $300,000. Housing advocate and Gainesville city planning board member Jason Sanchez said that through the law of supply and demand, regardless of price, additional housing will make it easier for lower-range market homes to open for less affluent community members.
“This particular project wasn’t really about affordability,” Sanchez said. “But it felt worthwhile because you’re really increasing the density and allowing for conservation land… A lot of that land can be protected from being developed, and then you still have as many housing options, if not more, within the city.”
But the nearest RTS bus stop is a four-mile walk from Blues Creek’s nearest main road. The reduced area patrol due to staffing shortages, low job concentration, and stretched-thin city services provided in the isolated corner of northwest Gainesville are not ideal to support an affordably housed community.
City of Gainesville public information officer Rossana Passaniti said that Blues Creek residents with questions, such as trash location and drainage issues, can report these concerns through the City’s Code Enforcement portal, PermitGNV.
The city’s official recommendation is that the commission adopts the land use and zoning change to approve the building of the 36 new homes.
Blues Creeks residents are maintaining their patience to have their voices heard, as well as thinking positively in hoping for a compromise.
“We are very hopeful that we will be able to come to a resolution with the city commissioners and the developer,” Alford said. “The current vote was a win for conservation, and it was a win for the developer. But it was not a win for the community.”