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Newberry is growing, and residents are taking note

Barista Isabella Dyer has witnessed the growth in Newberry the last couple of years, saying it now takes her 30 minutes to get to places two miles away. (Ashley Weinstein/WUFT News)
Barista Isabella Dyer has witnessed the growth in Newberry the last couple of years, saying it now takes her 30 minutes to get to places two miles away. (Ashley Weinstein/WUFT News)

Dylan Melendez wants a slower-paced environment without forfeiting a hometown feel.

A former Miami resident, Melendez, 29, who works as a barista at Joel’s Coffeehouse in Newberry, is in a better spot than most people moving into Alachua County amid a housing shortage: She has moved in with family.

Knowing it may be some time before she can buy a house, Melendez said, “I know that I would have a better chance here than Miami.”

Newberry has created a three-step strategy to increase room for growth, with plans to impose impact fees on new development, create an overlay district that would require stricter and more visually appealing construction and expand the existing urban service area to provide more access to public services like water, sewage and transit, city officials said. 

City officials will hold a public workshop Thursday at city hall to discuss the strategy.

Joel’s Coffeehouse employees have seen an influx of new residents in recent years.

“I’ve lived within an hour of the area for about four or five years now, I have worked here for three months, and we have progressively gotten busier,” said Isabella Dyer, 18, of Cross City.

The recent increase in people working remotely due to the pandemic has also caused more people to move to Florida. For example,900 people a day moved to the state in 2021, according to the Business Development Board in Palm Beach County.

Newberry allocated about 150 housing permits in 2020, followed by 130 last year, which is on par with the yearly average, Mayor Jordan Marlowe said. 

“One of the things the pandemic has uncovered is that people do not have to live in big cities,” Marlowe said. “They can live where they want to live and work remotely.”

Newberry is marketable because its urban service area allows builders to add basic services with a simple transaction. Builders tend to favor individual ownership, making the city a hot spot for expansion, the mayor said. 

“Certainly, we believe in affordable housing,” he said. “We don’t want to price people out of Newberry, but we also want to protect our corridor when you come into Newberry.”

While aiming to maintain its distinctive character, Newberry plans to begin building more upscale subdivisions along Florida State Road 26 and U.S. Highway 27 with pricing that’s higher than other local areas, Marlowe said. 

Impact fees are likely to be imposed before the end of the year, city officials said. These one-time fees will be placed on new residents that buy into Newberry to ensure everyone is paying for the infrastructure they need, the officials said. Existing residents will be excused.

The imposed fees are not expected to be implemented for several months, City Commissioner Tim Marden said.

“Additional time allows the public and impacted parties to digest and consider,” Marden said.

An impact fee is needed so that future Newberry generations will still have room for development, and about 3,500 homes have been pre-approved to pay one, Marlowe said. 

Real estate agents will likely have to relay the prospect of impact fees to new buyers, putting some in a tough position to sell.

“It is going to impact affordable housing which is already an issue in our area,” said Gia Arvin, who works for Matchmaker Realty in Alachua County. 

Arvin said areas such as the City of Alachua and High Springs may waive impact fees to entice new building and development. 

Bill McMahon, a Newberry resident of 18 years, said the city’s growth has led to heavier traffic and higher-priced homes. 

“It costs way too much money now, these people moving in,” McMahon said. “I got 40 acres, so it doesn’t bother me, but I worry about traffic.”

McMahon said he supports impact fees and believes city officials are meeting the moment. 

The Newberry City Commission was not always in agreement about impact fees.

City Commissioner Rick Coleman initially voted against the idea because he did not agree with taxing all homeowners. He said he supports the plan that exempts existing ones.

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