No to proposed rezoning of S. Main St.: Too much of a good thing, way too much

by John Barrow

Just a few years ago I, along with many others, participated in a series of workshops to develop a vision for the South Main Street corridor. City of Gainesville staff and their consultants turned our vision into reality, designing and rebuilding South Main into a beautiful, pedestrian-friendly, and multi-modal street, which is already transforming the corridor.

As is generally the case, following good planning and design of public infrastructure, the private sector is investing in and rebuilding the businesses and property along the corridor. Most would agree, that’s a good thing.

But apparently for some it’s not big enough, or fast enough, or both. The City Commission is poised to vote on land use and zoning changes proposed for a large property on South Main Street just south of the Cade Museum and adjacent to our beloved Depot Park (a project that was 30 years in the making).

I am a longtime advocate of quality urban infill with higher density that supports multi-modal transportation, but I am vehemently opposed to these petitions being considered by the City Commission. Keep in mind that “higher” is a relative term.

The consensus from the required neighborhood workshop for the proposed rezoning was clearly supportive of the ongoing redevelopment of the area, but participants felt strongly that this parcel, given its location, should not have the same zoning as the downtown core, and that such a rezoning would be a bad precedent for the South Main Corridor all the way to 16th Avenue.

Based on much of the discussion at the workshop and that I’ve heard and read since, the rezoning, as proposed, is not consistent with the “community vision” for this corridor, and it is certainly not in keeping with my vision for the corridor.

It is problematic, to say the least, that the rezoning would be from the lowest density and shortest (Industrial 2) to the highest density and tallest (Downtown) allowed by City Codes on a parcel this far from University and Main and adjacent to Depot Park.

If approved, this radical change in land use and zoning would be textbook “spot zoning.” As such it would potentially be precedent setting for property anywhere in the City limits.

In a separate but related petition, PB-21-13 TCH, the City staff report states, “In designating Transect zones, the code assigned transects that are tailored to the unique character of the specific geographic area of the City.” This section of South Main currently has and should maintain a different character from that of the downtown core, which is properly zoned DT.

Not to get too wonky, but the paramount concept of Transect Zoning is that development steps down, in height, scale, density and intensity, as it gets farther away from the city or town center.

These parcels and others along South Main Street should be considered for rezoning to facilitate redevelopment of the corridor, but the new zoning should provide for a transition from the downtown urban core to the residential neighborhoods farther down Main Street and around the corridor.

An appropriate “Transect” zoning, and one that would be more consistent with the Comprehensive Plan (and our community vision), would be U6 or U7. This zoning would allow for appropriately scaled mixed-use development at four to six stories. Whereas the proposed DT zoning would allow a 200 foot tall, 14 story monstrosity.

Approving this rezoning would actually be counter to the continued redevelopment of our downtown core. Underdeveloped parcels in the downtown area north of Depot Avenue, which are already more difficult to develop for a number of reasons, would likely be skipped over if this property is zoned DT and the property around it follows. This is “leapfrog” development, just on a smaller geographic scale and with much taller buildings.

Gainesville citizens are grateful for Depot Park and the major improvements to South Main Street. It would be counterproductive to start rezoning parcels in the corridor that would allow grossly out-of-scale projects. I hope that the City Commission will vote down the rezoning as proposed and they should suggest that the property owner comes back with a reasonable request to upzone in a way that is appropriate for the area.

John Barrow is a former Gainesville City Commissioner, Chair of the CRA, Chair of MTPO, Urban Design Consultant for Florida Main Street. 

His UF Master of Architecture Thesis was a Redevelopment Plan for the Porters Neighborhood (a few years back).

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