The Comprehensive Plan is Gainesville's Vision for Growth

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By Bradley Osburn

The City of Gainesville Planning & Development Services Department is responsible for making sure that the land in Gainesville is put to proper use according to a set of standards. And those standards are laid out in a massive, meticulously written document called the Comprehensive Plan.

“The Comprehensive Plan is the vision created by this community for this community,” said Planning & Development Services Director Steve Dush. “It is the reflection of a healthy community.”

The department approved the 2013-2023 plan in October, and that plan will determine whether someone can build a home or a business or a park in different areas of the city according to the city Land Development Code, which can be found at www.cityofgainesville.org. The plan also provides a place for business owners and potential home owners to find out if what they want to do with a certain plot of land is legal.

The Comprehensive Plan has several elements that all have to be balanced to create a community that has areas that work together and provide all of the elements necessary for their prescribed uses. These elements include future land use; transportation mobility; housing; conservation, open space and groundwater recharge element; recreation; historic preservation; potable water and wastewater; solid waste; stormwater management; capital improvements; intergovernmental coordination; urban design; cultural affairs; and public schools facilities.

As an example of how the Comprehensive Plan works, the new transportation planning element contains new policies for “complete streets,” which looks at all modes of transportation.

“These multiple elements are manifest in city goals. They are molded to fit Gainesville’s goals,” said Principal Planner Onelia Lazzari, “from single family detached homes to commercial areas.”

Lazzari has been with the department for almost 28 years. She said that in 1985 the state laid out a series of requirements for land development called the Growth Management Act.  Gainesville was already very interested in land use, she said, because it had grown out to its limits, and the state requirements provided a guideline for redevelopment and growing up, instead of out.

The catalyst for growing upward is redevelopment, which sometimes requires changes to the future land use map. Changes can be suggested by members of the community or the city itself. All changes pass through the city commission and the state has a review process to make sure it meets requirements. The text of the Comprehensive Plan can be changed to be more broad or focused as needed, Lazzari said.

When changes are made, they are reflected in the overall zoning map, which states what can be built where, Dush said.  A recent change to the plan came from Butler Plaza, which requested up to one million more feet of development for commercial and office purposes while they continue to redevelop their older facilities.

Part of the decision-making process, Dush said, is looking at the infrastructure requirement for proposed changes and whether that area already has what’s needed.

“For instance, businesses need roads,” Dush said, “and you can’t have 10 million square feet of development with two-lane roads. Roads, as well as other infrastructure, must be evaluated as it all comes into play when we look at the appropriate land use. We want to maximize the economic investment of our infrastructure and balance land uses.”

“But it’s all ultimately decided by the community,” he said. “The plan reflects how the community wants to deal with growth and development.”

The city also plans to make the process of development easier by introducing a new form-based code that will allow people to, at a glance, understand what sorts of business can go in certain areas and buildings. It will fit businesses into certain buildings with certain sizes and certain streetscapes according to the community vision for certain areas.

For those interested in the process, the department will host a workshop with the city planning board on Jan. 30 at 6:30 p.m. in the City Hall auditorium

 SPECIAL AREA PLANS

The Comprehensive Plan features eight overlays on the zoning plan for certain neighborhoods, known as Special Area Plans, which are marked for redevelopment. Here are four examples:

Plan for NW 39th Avenue

The widening of NW 39th Avenue has left many existing structures with insufficient setbacks, rendering most of the properties less desirable for residential uses. The plan is set up to redevelop the area into a more heavily residential area or small- to medium-sized office spaces without aggravating traffic by a encouraging joint access to lots.

Plan for College Park

The intent of the College Park plan is to provide consistent, quality construction which will protect and enhance the stability, scale and pedestrian character of the neighborhood, and promote lasting redevelopment. Standards in the plan include: providing two shade trees for every 1,200 square feet of private outdoor space; paneled exterior doors; prohibitions against drive-throughs, auto dealers or gas service stations.

Plan for Central Corridors

This plan is designed to promote business, especially small, local businesses, and support a healthy economy by providing a mix of commercial, office, retail and residential uses. Streetfront walls will be designed to provide convenient access to customers and be aesthetically vibrant with large windows. The plan says that vibrant streetfronts attract healthy business and pedestrian traffic helps to deter theft.

Plan for SW 13th Street

This plan is is designed to redevelop the corridor from Paynes’ Prairie to the university along 13th Street for commercial purposes with buildings that will butt up to the property line on the sidewalk and a clean aesthetic exemplified by parking lots behind the buildings, mechanical equipment on the roof or behind the building, and the prohibition of concrete construction materials.

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