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County Commission votes against proposed West End development

County Commissioner Ken Cornell asks a question at the October 11 meeting

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At their October 11 meeting, the Alachua County Commission voted 4-1 to deny an application for a 70-unit residential development on the former West End Golf Course property, leaving it zoned Recreational. Commissioner Raemi Eagle-Glenn was the sole vote in favor of the development, which she said was a compromise between the developer, who originally wanted 487 residential units and a hotel, and the neighbors, who wanted the property to remain as open space.

The golf course closed in 2019, and the property is currently overgrown. Sayed Moukhtara with Tara Group is purchasing the land and would be the developer, and JBPro is providing civil engineering and land planning services for the developer.

History

Tara Group had originally proposed a Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) in 2020 with 247 single-family residential units, 240 multi-family residential units, and 83,000 square feet of commercial space, including a hotel. Neighbors of the property objected to the plan, particularly the hotel and the multi-family residential units. Neighbors complained that the development would result in too much traffic and would reduce open space in their area. 

In 2021, the developer proposed eliminating the hotel and agreed to add more active recreation to be shared by the West End neighborhood and the new development. The plan reduced the amount of commercial space, but the reaction from neighbors was again negative. 

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The developer withdrew the application and went back to the drawing board; he removed the hotel, the multi-family residential units, and the commercial space and decreased the number of residential units from 487 to 140. The plan included 37 acres of open space, proposed as a County park. The developer also agreed to build a walking trail through the entire development. A 9-hole golf course would be possible if desired, and views from surrounding neighborhoods would remain the same as they are now, with the residential units at the center of the property, surrounded by green space.

The developer presented that plan at a workshop in December of 2021, and neighbors were still against development of any kind on the property; they wanted it to remain 100% recreational. 

The latest plan is for 70 single-family residential units, with no multi-family or commercial space; over half the property would be open green space, and the developer offered to donate about 37 acres to Alachua County for use as a County Park. 

Staff and neighbors object, for opposite reasons

However, County staff recommended denial of the application for opposite reasons from neighbors: staff concluded that the site should have more density. Staff said the proposal “does not present the optimal use of land within the cluster as envisioned by Strategy 2 of the Plan’s Future Land Use Element” and the “Plan envisions compact development at densities to support mass/rapid transit whenever possible.”

Over 30 people spoke during public comment, and all but one opposed the application.

Following public comment, Moukhtara said it was unfair to say he had disregarded the neighbors’ opinions because his company had spent three years and $600,000 to develop the proposal. He said, “Owning the property is my dream.” In response to a question from Commission Ken Cornell, Moukhtara told the board that he doesn’t have a recreational plan because “I’m not in that world, I just don’t know what to do with it in the recreational world.”

Cornell acknowledged that in his eight years on the board, he had never seen a plan change so much after public input.

After County staff explained how development of the land surrounding the former golf course has made it impossible to build roads that were once envisioned to provide more connectivity to the north, Cornell said, “So the flaw isn’t that it’s not dense enough; really, the flaw is connectivity of any density.” 

Although the developer estimated that 70 homes would result in fewer trips on Newberry Road per day than the golf course had, there was no data to support the estimate of the golf course traffic. Several people pointed out that a busy park might add a considerable amount of traffic, but those concerns were not discussed in any detail.

Cornell said he had originally intended to continue or postpone the decision, but after hearing from the community and staff, “I’m not hearing any compromise; I’m actually hearing the opposite, that the [Comprehensive] Plan is our community’s plan for the vision of the future, and we need more recreational spaces.”

He moved that the board follow the staff recommendation to deny the application. Commissioner Chuck Chestnut seconded the motion.

Moukhtara said his plan was the best that could be done with the land and that in exchange for the board’s approval of his plan to put 70 homes on it, he was offering to give half of it to the County. Cornell responded that “the land use drives the use for the community, and it’s Recreation unless three of us change that.”

Eagle-Gleen said, “I see this as a public-private partnership to bring something to the community that would be under the purview of the County for all people. This is a compromise.” Eagle-Glenn said she didn’t see the property remaining recreational much longer since it’s on a major transportation corridor. She said that given the population growth in the county, it is likely that the property will become a Traditional Neighborhood Development with up to 200 residential units and commercial uses within 10 years. 

The board voted 4-1, with Eagle-Glenn in dissent, to deny the application.

  • Watch for the county to purchase, I mean taxpayers, in the next couple years. Problem is, taxpayers will suffer the consequences for the remainder of their lifetimes because of higher property taxes due to it coming off the tax rolls.

    If you live in Alachua County, you only rent property – it’s never really yours.

  • While I’d love to see this space permanently used for recreation, I fear the locals should have accepted the compromise. In ten years the commissioners will install all multi-family, surrounding a ‘GRACE Marketplace West End Division’ with an Alachua BLM HQ.

    • From the way things have been going, they’ll have quad-plexes in your neighborhood that function as group homes for all sorts of mentally ill and drug-addicted people. And illegal immigrant housing, of course.

  • So the other 4 are holding out for the bigger developers so they make more money!!! Got it..

  • BOCC Democrats just putting off approval until 9 November! They have to let the sheeple believe they are getting tough on adding more unaffordable housing to AC and GNV!

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