Gainesville, FL City Commissioner Thomas Hawkins on land use and economic development

Gainesville, FL's Depot Park
A former train station and brownfield site will become home to a restaurant, café and a flexible space for events as part of the Depot Park project in Gainesville, FL. Photo via the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency.

Thomas Hawkins, a Commissioner for the City of Gainesville, FL and member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, is using smart growth strategies to attract economic development while protecting Gainesville’s quality of life.

Hawkins is a lifelong resident of Gainesville and a graduate of the University of Florida, which is located in the city. As a full-time attorney focusing on land use issues, Hawkins has both a passion for and understanding of the connection between land use and economic development and how better development policies can benefit Gainesville’s residents.

Gainesville City Commissioner Thomas Hawkins.

“Gainesville must grow its tax base by attracting business and by allowing the people who have jobs here to also live here. Better growth management can bring jobs while protecting our neighborhoods,” said Hawkins an interview with the Gainesville Sun ahead of his election in 2011.

One local project where Hawkins’ land use knowledge is proving valuable is Depot Park, a 32-acre brownfield redevelopment project aimed at reclaiming and repurposing an old industrial property into an urban public park and regional stormwater treatment system. Located directly adjacent to downtown, the vision for Depot Park is to create a public greenspace that will serve as Gainesville’s Central Park.

The project began in 2005 with a cleanup of industrial pollutants and disassembling a historic train depot building. More recent phases in 2011 and 2012 saw the depot building restored and rebuilt on the site, a modernized stormwater system and further soil cleanup.

“We changed the zoning to allow for much higher density development around the park. We’re working on further changes to the code to make sure the surrounding context [of the park] is really great urban form,” said Hawkins.

In addition, the City is working on a zoning code overhaul that would apply to approximately 30 percent of Gainesville. The proposal calls for a form-based code using transect zones to better define and shape Gainesville’s public areas. Currently in a drafting stage, local residents will have multiple opportunities to weigh in on the zoning proposals in the coming months.

Hawkins is also a believer that a multi-modal city with robust mobility options is essential for economic competitiveness—something that his constituents increasingly agree with.

“When people speak with elected officials, what I hear mostly is concerns about bicycle and pedestrian mobility. The reason people focus on it is because it’s where people are trying to use their community in a different way than it was originally designed.”

Some of the projects in this area Hawkins is working on are adding paint and striping to the city’s many unofficial crosswalks, and creating more bicycle infrastructure including bike lanes and rail-to-trail paths. Hawkins recently supported a “road diet” project to resurface an existing roadway while adding bicycle and pedestrian facilities on an important cross-town route.

To Hawkins, encouraging active transportation is not only about safety. “Walkbaility,” said Hawkins “is key to our economic future.”

Local Leaders Council