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Fair Street man recruits community to preserve area
Emory Turner, a member of the Fair Street Area Neighborhood Planning Unit steering committee, has been trying to get people in the Fair Street neighborhood to sign on to a rezoning effort preserving the residential nature of the neighborhood.

Emory Turner, 61, still lives in the Gainesville neighborhood where he was born and raised.

But a bank that now sits in the location of his childhood home in Jewell’s Alley is only a small example of how, over the years, commercial interests have eaten into what used to be his childhood stomping grounds.

Turner and the other members of his neighborhood planning unit are now doing what they can to preserve what’s left of the residential area.

"We’d just like to make an effort to be sure all that remains as it is, because it means a lot to us and it is very historic," Turner said.

Turner is on the steering committee for the Fair Street Area Neighborhood Planning Unit, the first planning unit of its kind in Gainesville. The unit is a chance for neighborhood residents to be involved in the future planning of their areas of the city.

When it first formed in 2007, the Fair Street planning unit spent its first year organizing and meeting with members of various city departments and determining goals and objectives for the future of the 330-acre area situated on the south side of the city.

Most of the group’s goals are simple: Members want to protect the residential nature of the area they call home, get rid of the blight and make others appreciate the area.

An attempt to rezone as Neighborhood Conservation an area of the neighborhood stretching from Race Street to Fair Street is the planning unit’s first step toward those goals.

Because of the smaller lot sizes in the neighborhood, the area actually is zoned to allow multifamily uses, such as apartments. That multifamily zoning allows some commercial uses with a special permit.

The Neighborhood Conservation zoning the planning unit is seeking would freeze the neighborhood’s current zoning from Race Street to Summit Street and not allow any new commercial interests to establish there.

"It means that it is going to stay just like it is unless a person tears down a house," said Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras, who has been active in the rezoning effort. "If they tear it down ... it has to be rebuilt as a single-family home."

For the past few months, members of the planning unit’s steering committee have been knocking on neighbors’ doors to ask them to agree to rezone the neighborhood to keep any new businesses out.

"It is long, tedious and hard, because I tell you we’ve been working since 2007, but we have gotten 93 percent ... of the people to say ‘yes’ to rezone this," Figueras said.

Of the 129 properties, at least 120 approve of the rezoning. The owners of four properties have declined, and the owners of the remaining five had not been reached.

And since not all of the property owners in the area have agreed to the rezoning, the City Council is initiating the rezoning. Figueras filed an application on behalf of the council on Aug. 28 and the request will go before the city’s Planning and Appeals Board in October, said Gainesville’s Special Projects Manager Jessica Tullar.

The group hopes to do something similar in the Newtown area once the rezoning between Race and Summit streets is complete, Figueras said.

"We understand progress, but this gives us a chance to keep progress confined to a certain area," Turner said.