by Olysha Magruder and Tyler Foerst
Porters Quarters is a small but historic community in the center of the Downtown Gainesville area. The residents of Porters are working class people, many of whom are African American and whose families have lived here for generations. Indeed, one neighbor, Olivia said, that the house and land she and her husband own in Porters is their legacy.
Porters has felt the pressure of UF’s ever-expanding campus and the cry for urban density, especially in the past couple of years. The need for student housing and office space is huge for such a large university and the Innovation District of our City.
Many feel that the fate of the Porters Community is sealed with deals hashed out by developers and the powers that be.
What they didn’t count on was that the community of Porters – a community that demonstrated resilience through decades of growth within the City of Gainesville – would band together to fight to protect the area surrounding our historic community.
The story of this attempted land transfer from the City to a developer is mired in legalese, zoning laws and codes, and the “quasi-judicial process.”
It all began when John Fleming, the owner of Trimark Properties, emailed a city employee titled, “Deal of the Day!” and requested that the process to vacate a parcel of land on the southern portion of SW 5th Terrace and an adjacent alley located east of the intersection of SW 6th Street and SW 4th Avenue. The land is approximately .35 acres.
In exchange for the City-owned land, Fleming offered to enter a memorandum of understanding that his company would provide landscaping to the SW 6th St. roundabout and a small section of land nearby. (The email thread between Fleming and the city employee was obtained through a public records request.) Trimark purchased the adjacent land for a million dollars.
According to the code rules, only a few surrounding houses were required to be notified of the proposed land grab. A meeting was set up at 9 in the morning across town, and only the people living with 400 feet of the proposed vacation of land were sent notification.
Luckily, in Porters, neighbors help each other out and word travels fast. We were able to organize and mobilize within an incredibly short time frame. After the initial meeting, it became clear that we had to petition the City Plan Board to deny the request to vacate this land.
We met at the Porters Community Center and at Shady Grove Primitive Baptist Church to discuss this issue and other community concerns. Our neighbors, most of whom are African American and have lived in Porters for decades, came together on this issue. On April 26, we met at City Hall at 6:15 pm and to our delight, many others within the community joined in the fight.
We were able to apply enough pressure to the city planning board to reject the petition. While we won this fight, it won’t be the last. They are not finished and neither are we. This can provide a model for the future to protect Porters. After all, how can we justify tearing down a neighborhood that is as rich with history as any building at UF or in this city?