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Norton Agency pushing for expansion
Nearby residents worry addition could detract from historic area
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Residents of Boulevard in Gainesville are pushing back against a proposed business expansion in the neighborhood.

Norton Agency Insurance, which is headquartered on Green Street adjacent to Boulevard, is proposing a zoning change for the historic house on 424 Boulevard.

The proposal is to use the structure as additional meeting space for the insurance agency and the property as overflow parking for its operations center.

Residents of the neighborhood opposing the expansion say Norton's plan would harm the historic aesthetic of the neighborhood and contribute to traffic hazards.

"We're losing our neighborhood," said Fred Powell, a home and property owner on Boulevard.

The Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board entertained the proposal Tuesday night at its meeting and approved the expansion by a narrow 3-2 vote. That approval came with a condition that Norton would have to scale back parking plans.

Bob Norton, president of Norton Insurance, said the agency is "outgrowing" its space on Green Street and needs to expand.

He said the company would prefer to continue growth on Green Street and Boulevard, where the Norton offices already occupy multiple houses, The property in question is across the street from other Norton buildings. Norton said the proposed expansion would contribute to the company's "campus" atmosphere and also provide additional parking for employees and customers.

But some residents who oppose the expansion are saying there is already enough business development in the area.

According to city reports, many historic, single-family houses have been converted to office spaces along Boulevard, Green, Candler, Park and Prior streets.

"It looks like we're getting more cars and more concrete," said Powell, criticizing the proposal's plan to remove old trees from the property.

Odis Sisk, another resident of Boulevard, said rezoning in the historic neighborhood is leaving only a "facade" of history in the area. Sisk said Norton's expansion would only contribute to that trend.

"It's a travesty to see us lose what little historical value that is left in Gainesville," he said.

Other residents feared increased traffic risks with more parking spaces in the neighborhood.

However, Norton leaders promised to be good neighbors in the community.

Frank Norton, president of The Norton Agency and brother to Bob Norton, told the Planning and Appeals Board, "We are improving our neighborhood with our investment."

The biggest controversy over the plan was a request for 20 paved parking spaces on the property, as well as 12 "pervious overflow parking spaces." The city's Community Development Department recommended no more than 11 total parking spaces, calling Norton's plan "too aggressive."

Frank Norton said the company would not be able to complete the purchase of the lot without the agreement of additional parking and argued that without parking on the property, cars would just end up on the street.

Bob Norton said, if the company can't expand in the neighborhood, it would be forced to consider moving its operations center out of the city or even the county.

The board's vote approving the plan with fewer parking spaces seemed to disappoint both parties.

After the meeting, Frank and Bob Norton talked with city staff and the board about alternative parking plans that would satisfy the city's concerns.

The proposal is expected to come before city council next month.