Gainesville’s newest City Council member will likely see the city grow and change in downtown and midtown — and both candidates look forward to working with the community on the challenges that may bring.
Bill Bush and Juli Clay are running to represent Ward 5, which has been represented by Councilwoman Ruth Bruner since 2003. Bruner previously announced she would not seek re-election.
Gainesville elections are nonpartisan and held at-large, so any registered city voter can participate, even if they do not live in Ward 5.
Occupation: producer at Allstate
Political experience: none
Occupation: assistant vice president of executive programs at Brenau University
Political experience: none
The candidate elected will join the council as the city prepares for a new mixed-use development with 400 apartments on the midtown side of the Jesse Jewell Parkway pedestrian bridge, as well as the addition of condominiums and commercial space on the Spring Street side of the downtown square.
Officials hope the property on the midtown end of the bridge, which the city purchased back from developers last year, could kick off development in midtown, which is mostly industrial with some vacant lots.
Bush said the recently announced developments could inspire others to move in — a small grocery store like a Trader Joe’s or Sprouts could draw people in, he said. Bush said he is also looking forward to seeing more residents in the area.
“Finally getting some stable structure to midtown where there’s going to be people living there, that hopefully gets more businesses excited. ... Hopefully, these announcements are just the catalyst for growth in midtown,” he said.
Bush said he supports the tax allocation district in midtown and downtown that offers incentives to developers. Developers can apply to use the TAD funding for the development itself, with the idea that once improvements to the property are made, the city will recoup that money in higher tax values.
“It will cost money to develop midtown, and a lot of the properties have been vacant for a long time. They will need to be completely wiped so new structures, new buildings and new parking lots can be put in,” Bush said. “... In the long run the benefits will come back through taxes and property taxes for having the land developed, plus it becomes a more enjoyable city when you can come to the downtown and midtown area, park your car in a parking deck and just go walking for a few hours, shop at a couple stores, eat at a restaurant, grab dessert at another one and just enjoy the city.”
On the TAD program, Clay said the Council, the governing body that makes the final decision on whether a property will receive funding, should ensure it can make an informed decision on the issue.
“It’s the responsibility of the Council to do its due diligence to gather all necessary data and information and get information from all parties affected,” she said.
Clay said she also sees the new developments bringing more people into town.
“The community has already made strides in downtown and midtown, and I think that that effort will continue and we’ll be able to see really great things happening because of that connectivity between downtown and midtown, and being able to expand the usability of our intown area,” she said.
Clay said the Highlands to Islands Trail, which her family enjoys running on, could also spur growth. The Midtown Greenway is part of the planned countywide trail network that already has some portions open.
“It has potential to be a lifeline through midtown,” Clay said. “As we continue to develop those live, work and play areas in midtown, we’ll be able to see some growth and revitalization.”
Both candidates said working with community partners such as the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, nonprofits and schools can give council members a better idea of how growth affects community members and how to plan for more people in the city.
“As we grow, there’s an impact on the school system. As we grow, there’s an impact on the health care system. As we grow, there’s an impact on our transportation and our roadways,” Clay said. “... There’s also an impact on the people who live in our community, so listening to organizations like the United Way, the food bank, and getting input from those organizations on how the growth affects the constituents of those groups is very important.”
Bush said that officials need to be proactive and start planning for growth as soon as they find out it’s coming.
“If they’re building 400 apartments in midtown and downtown, that’s going to be a lot of potential families, a lot of potential students living there, and the city needs to go ahead and start predicting out — if these are finished in four years, we need to start preparing for a bunch of students to be moving into our school system,” Bush said. “And realistically, across the board with businesses, maybe to be proactive in planning the infrastructure and making sure that roads and stop lights and turning lanes are prepared for the known growth that is coming.”
Clay said planning for sustainable growth will take some extra effort.
“That takes a lot of research. It takes looking at comparable cities and seeing what has worked and what hasn’t worked in their community,” she said. “I think it takes truly listening to all the entities that would be impacted by the decisions of the Council.”
As people move into the area, they will of course need to find a place to live, and both candidates said they would like to see more discussion on affordable housing.
“We are not just trying to market ourselves to a certain clientele, so we want to be diverse. And if we want to be diverse, we have to create our city to be so,” Bush said.
Bush pointed to the Walton Summit community on E.E. Butler Parkway as an example. The mixed-income development is a partnership with the Gainesville Housing Authority to provide public, affordable and market-rate apartments. The housing authority has similar plans for the Tower Heights Apartments off of Tower Heights Road near Pearl Nix Parkway.
Clay said she hopes to speak with stakeholders to find out more about what they would like to see.
“I certainly would not want to make a decision before I talk to developers in our area, before I talk to those that are assisting with this or having struggles in the area of affordable housing,” she said. “It takes listening and having an informed dialogue with those that are already working in this area to get all the necessary information and data before moving forward on a decision or policy that would affect that.”
One issue the new council member could be voting on early next year is regulations on the city’s vape shops. The Council issued a moratorium on new ones at its Oct. 1 meeting so officials can draft a new ordinance.
Clay said she was glad officials were taking the time to research vaping from multiple angles.
“The Council, by asking for additional time to gather more information, is (making) a smart move,” she said. “They are trying to gather as much information about how that affects both commerce and industry as well as public health.”
Bush said he also was glad to see officials looking into the issue.
“It's encouraging to see that the city is recognizing the health issues that are important to our community. I look forward to seeing the city's effort to provide a healthy and safe environment for both our community and businesses,” he said. “Local businesses are a fabric of the Gainesville community and I will enjoy finding ways to support them once I'm elected a City Council member.”
Both candidates would like to see that community involvement, with council members spending time speaking with those involved and getting to know constituents.
“Creating the opportunity for the community to be involved, I think can create more buy-in into the process as a whole,” Bush said.
Clay said that while residents are always welcome at City Council meetings, and she would like to see more involvement, council members should also be proactive in reaching out to people.
“It takes a conscious effort of councilmembers to be involved in the community,” Clay said. “… There’s also a responsibility of councilmembers to seek input from those affected and impacted by decisions.”