City, county talk CRA future

Virginia

Southeast / Virginia 114 Views

The CRA, which aims to develop blighted areas in the city, has been a contentious issue among the boards for several months.

Elected officials are beginning to kick around ideas that would reshape the structure of the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency.

Commissioners for the city of Gainesville and Alachua County met Monday to discuss each side’s future funding and representation goals.

The CRA, which works to develop blighted areas in the city, has been a contentious issue for both boards, of late.

The meeting comes nearly a month after Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, tabled a bill that would have mandated that county commissioners be given the majority of seats on the CRA, which is currently made up of seven city commissioners.

The bill, which came as a surprise to commissioners in January, sailed through two committee hearings before city and county officials agreed to patch up their differences.

Monday, the boards discussed potentially placing county commissioners on the CRA board, though city officials made it known they hope not to make drastic changes.

“I have no appetite for a three-three board,” Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe said. “I think that's a recipe for disaster.”

Poe suggested the two sides nail down common goals and work together to address those ideas, but with the city holding a majority on the board.

City Commissioner David Arreola said he sees no need to change the board's structure, at least not until the County Commission has more consensus on what they want.

Some commissioners expressed interest in creating an "independent" district, though specifics weren't discussed. Currently, the four CRA districts include: Eastside, Downtown, College Park/University heights and Fifth Avenue/Pleasant Street.

County officials have said they want more say in how funding is spent.

County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson has previously said the only way to get county representation on the board would be through legislation. In an interview after the meeting, Pinkoson mentioned possibly blending the CRA districts together, creating a new one that would be equally funded by city and county government. Then, he said, the city would have to go to the county for approval to move forward.

“That’s our voice,” he said.

County Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said the CRA has been successful and he wouldn’t want to shake up the board in a way that would damage future success.

However, he said, he's disappointed that few projects have been completed in east Gainesville, while the city has poured additional funds into projects in other CRA districts. Chestnut referenced the $348,000 lighting project on University Avenue, one of two completed projects in that area.

Chestnut said the lights haven't been cleaned and bulbs haven’t been changed, diminishing what was accomplished.

The Eastside CRA is the largest of the four CRA districts and the least funded. Funds from districts are paid by taxpayers living within each district. County officials, however, contest they use general fund dollars — paid by county resident — to cover gaps in its budget from paying twice as much into the CRA compared to the city.

City officials pointed to other ongoing projects, like Cornerstone and the Heartwood residential development on Southeast Eighth Street, as examples of money being spent in the Eastside CRA.

The two projects are expected to cost almost $3 million and were approved last year.

At the next joint meeting, the boards are expected to come up with more specific plans relating to the CRA.

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