By Chris Eversole
For five hours on February 19th, the Gainesville Plan Board, city staff and representatives of Butler Enterprises debated over the rules that will govern the shape of the city northwest of the intersection of Archer Road and Southwest 34th Street.
In the end, the plan board accepted most of the changes Butler Enterprises suggested to the project, which will more than double the size of Butler Plaza.
The city commission had approved the project more than a year ago, but Butler Enterprises said some requirements of that approval were unworkable.
The turning point in the meeting came when Robert Gibbs, who is considered to be one of the top experts on designing shopping centers, came to the podium.
Butler Enterprises had changed the location of its planned “town center,” a compact shopping area featuring ample walkways between stores, fountains and other features like those in historic downtowns, Gibbs noted.
Originally, Butler Enterprises planned to build the town center on undeveloped land behind the existing Butler Plaza. The company made a change in part due to a comment from the city commission and city staff, said Gibbs, who was representing Butler Enterprises.
“They asked if we could do something to clean up Archer Road,” he said.
Butler Enterprises took up the challenge, moving the town center location to the entryway of the project—the intersection of Archer Road and Southwest 34th Street, Gibbs noted.
“We’re going to have a fabulous town center along Archer Road,” he said.
The longest discussion was about parking in front of stores in a new section of the development that is intended for a mixture of department stores and smaller stores.
City staff was adamant that no parking be allowed in front of stores in that area. “We don’t want to see a sea of parking,” said Principal Planner Onelia Lazzari. “That’s old school.”
Butler representatives were equally firm. Department stores insist on building stores that fit their prototype, said Everett Hatcher, who heads Butler’s architectural team. “We want the pull of the anchor tenants,” he said.
“If they don’t go here, they will go somewhere else along I-75, creating more urban sprawl.”
Plan board members found a middle ground. They agreed to allow parking lots in front of stores along the planned extension of SW 62nd Boulevard, which will be the major road through the project—linking the Butler Plaza area and the Oaks Mall area.
Plan board members seemed to accept Gibbs’ argument that 62nd Boulevard served as a “highway,” not a local street. “It’s not fair to force a retailer to be up to a highway without any parking,” he said.
The modifications that Butler Enterprises sought were essential to moving the long-awaited project forward, said Gerry Dedenbach, director of planning for Gainesville-based Causseaux, Hewett & Walpole (CHW), the engineering firm for the project.
He said that some restrictions in the plans that the city commission originally approved—based on the work of another engineering firm—would make it impossible for the project to proceed, in the opinion of CHW President Robert Walpole.
“Robert scratched his head and said, ‘How are we going to build to that?,’” Dedenbach said.
The plan board did not resolve a few issues, including the percentage of the area of the buildings that must have windows. City staff and Butler’s representatives will work to resolve those issues before the project’s revisions go to the city commission. The date for commission’s hearing on the project has not been set.