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Is Gainesville Getting Overbuilt?

If you follow Gainesville real estate, it’s hard not to wonder if Gainesville is getting overbuilt. You may have heard that SweetBerries on NW 13th Street and 5th Avenue is closing, to make way for a five-story apartment block on the surrounding site.

The new building is by the people behind the Standard, and will bring 231 bedrooms to Midtown Gainesville. We can expect a brick-veneer building with courtyard parking and (chain) retail on the street level. Not terribly exciting, but not the end of the world either, as some would have it.

An opinion piece in the Gainesville Sun rightly called out Gainesville’s planning board for failing to preserve the mature live oaks on the surrounding parcels and missing an opportunity to negotiate for a building design that blends better with the surrounding single-family detached homes and duplexes of Fifth Avenue. Apparently the City granted the developer a density increase without getting anything in return, and without much public input.

The op-ed writer, however, got a few things wrong. First of all, SweetBerries sold their property two years ago and has been scouting out new locations for a while. According to a recent Facebook post, SweetBerries remains open for business and has not yet announced a closing date.

Another thing we want to clear up: The new building isn’t just for students. Not that that would be the worst thing in the world in that location. But we get it. There is a fear among single-family homeowners that large student-oriented buildings like the Standard are cropping up all over the place without much sensitivity to the neighborhoods in which they’re being built.

This isn’t the first large apartment project to be met with pushback from homeowners. Nimby-ism (nimby = not in my back yard!) is on the rise in Gainesville, with some people up in arms about the city’s shift to more dense development, especially in neighborhoods where there is no precedent for buildings taller than two stories. We’re thinking of the Gathering at Arbor Greens and Noble on Newberry, both of which generated some out from suburban traditionalists about their appropriateness for those areas.

The question of whether Gainesville is getting overbuilt is a legitimate one. The thing is, these places are all leasing up. Because we have a housing shortage.

Let’s look at the numbers. Our ratio of new permits pulled to build single family homes to new jobs is 1 to 5. That’s a rough measure of how few homes are available to people looking to buy.

Map illustrating Housing shortage in Gainesville
Map by National Association of Realtors Housing Shortage Tracker showing Gainesville’s housing shortage situation

If you look at the map above, you see Gainesville is marked red for “housing shortage”. Other areas marked red include Pittsburgh, which is experiencing a Carnegie Mellon-driven tech boom, and your usual suspects — Miami, Boston, San Francisco.

When you’re experiencing a housing shortage caused by everything from a growing economy to  supply chain issues to rising interest rates, you get a lot more people renting who would ordinarily be looking to buy. These people need places to live, and whether you like it or not, they’ve got to live somewhere. And they’re not all undergraduate students. People are moving in from all over to work in Gainesville and attend advanced degree programs.

We think dense rental communities (four and five stories) work well in areas that are already building up, like Midtown. We feel like this one at NW 13th and 5th is another project that makes Gainesville’s downtown core more walkable and urban. We know a lot of people living in this area between Midtown and Downtown who aren’t students. They work in the area. They’re bike riders. They walk to work. They enjoy being able to walk down the street and get a drink or a bite to eat. There’s a Publix and a Target within walking distance, which is pretty unheard of in Gainesville.

If these apartment buildings weren’t leasing up, it would be a different story. But since they are leasing up, it’s showing us that it’s really needed for this area. One could argue that putting in another dense apartment block in Midtown takes some of the pressure off the more uniformly low-rise neighborhoods further from campus.

We’d also make the case that the three- and four-story apartment communities well west of campus, such as Noble, help Gainesville grow in a smarter direction by reducing sprawl with their tighter building footprints. And when these kinds of projects are combined with walkable retail options and on-site amenities, they can help ease congestion.

Now, we may be a little biased because our offices are here, but we think Haile Village in the Haile Plantation neighborhood is an excellent model for multi-family development that is walkable, visually appealing, and blends with the surrounding single-family homes to create a vibrant and diverse community. The Flats at Tioga Town Center is another good example of a well-planned, walkable apartment community that plays well with others.

To return to the opinion piece in the Gainesville Sun that sparked this conversation, we do think Gainesville can afford to be choosier in the way it works with developers to bring new rental units onto the market. Yes, we are experiencing a housing shortage, but we also have an opportunity, and an obligation, to get it right for folks who’ve made Gainesville their permanent home for many years, and love the balance of nature and city amenities that we enjoy here.

The last thing we’ll say to this project’s detractors, or to people who think the process could be more transparent is: Get out and vote in the next election!

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