Alachua County joins challenge to GNV zoning

Protesters showed up in front of Gainesville City Hall at the Aug. 4 city commission meeting.
Protesters showed up in front of Gainesville City Hall at the Aug. 4 city commission meeting. (File photo by Megan V. Winslow)

Alachua County has joined a challenge against the city of Gainesville filed by two local citizens in response to the replacement of single-family zoning by the city’s new neighborhood residential zoning.  

Margaret H. (Peggy) Carr and Faye L. Williams filed the challenge with support from local nonprofit Gainesville Neighborhood Voices (GNVoices). A judge for the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings will hear the case via Zoom conference Dec. 13-15.  

The city of Gainesville sought an “expeditious resolution” on Nov. 14, forcing an administrative hearing within 30 days. Casey Fitzgerald, president of GNVoices, asked the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) to join its challenge at the board’s Nov. 8 meeting.  

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The BOCC has opposed the city’s zoning changes before, voting unanimously in opposition on Aug. 1. But the county has no legal control over city zoning.  

Most candidates running for city office in November also voiced opposition to the changes, including both finalists for mayor. Commissioners-elect have said they will try to reverse the zoning once in office.  

The filing claims the zoning change will diminish Carr’s quality of life from increased traffic and noise at her single-family home within a mile of UF. Williams anticipates the same at her home in Porters Quarters. Carr also serves as a director with GNVoices.  

Carr and Williams say the zoning amendment is out of compliance with Florida Statutes and inconsistent with existing provisions in the city’s comprehensive plan.  

The new neighborhood residential zoning increases the density, from 8 to 15 units per acre, of all previously single-family zoning. The measures also allow duplexes, triplexes and quadraplexes in areas where only single-family homes were permitted.  

The change impacts around 61% of all residential zoning in the city of Gainesville. Gainesville is the first city in Florida to eliminate single-family zoning.  

Gainesville officials said the changes will allow more housing and a diversity of housing throughout the city. The ordinances passed 4-3 each time, and while the commissioners in-favor said the measure isn’t a silver bullet, they plan that the new zoning category will help make housing more affordable.  

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the nature of the challenge as an administrative hearing, not a lawsuit.

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Cory Brunson

This story has been consistently covered—not only by Mainstreet but by the Sun and others—as a debate purely of values. It would be helpful to be provided with an understanding of the history of single-family zoning and the consequences of ending it, both of which are central to the debate but largely absent from the coverage.

Based on the City Commission meetings i’ve viewed and attended, GNVoices is not just an advocacy group but a disinformation campaign. They deny science (e.g. claim that residential density worsens climate change), whitewash history (e.g. distract from the racist origins of single-family zoning by accusing people who acknowledge it of racism), and ignore research on the impacts of zoning changes on property values and crime.

But those are just my impressions. I don’t have the time or remit to interview advocates (on both sides of this issue) or review their materials. I don’t have the prerogative to contact experts on these issues in order to gain a more complete context. And i certainly don’t have the platform to communicate what i learn to the rest of the community.

I’d like to think that our local newspapers are equipped and inspired to inform the community about not only the content but the merits of the arguments being used to influence public policy.

Robert Mounts

No, this is not about racism (our Black community also wants to preserve their family neighborhoods); it is about greed. If upheld, it will allow non-resident homeowners and property managers to build more rooms for rent by students, especially in areas close to the University of Florida and Santa Fe’s new Blount Center. Both parties in the legal challenge live in such threatened neighborhoods. If it were about racism, you would expect our Black representatives on the Commission to support it, but they are among its greatest critics. It is simply an assault on family neighborhoods to benefit a few. No one has produced a whit of evidence that it will provide “affordable housing”; it will all be market-rate.

Cory Brunson

I didn’t say either campaign (to preserve or to end single-family zoning) is about racism.

(That said, i do believe the campaign to end it is justified in pointing out its racist origins. And i believe the campaign to preserve it should have an answer to why they wish to preserve an historically racist policy.)

As to its impacts, many whits of evidence have been referred to in the City Commission meetings. I don’t recall any that ending single-family zoning will directly create affordable housing, but rather that it will better provide for market-rate buyers and thereby make more affordable units available to those who need it. (I might be an example of this: I rent an apartment at a comparatively low rate, but i’m looking for an opportunity to buy a unit in a quadruplex or similar, since i don’t want a single-family home and might not afford one if i did.)

For those who have the time and savvy to search for it, evidence of these and other impacts is easy to find in the research literature and national media outlets—though not, so far as i know, in local ones. My main point is that our newspapers should, i think, help inform their readers about the evidential basis for the arguments made by both campaigns, rather than simply reporting the arguments and leaving readers to guess which are well-grounded.

Mike

While having UF in the city has many benefits, there are nearly as many detriments. While this change isn’t directly connected, the results – for anyone who cares to use common sense – are obviously NOT in the best interest of the large majority of the citizens. Arguments can be made in either direction, but a rational, honest evaluation can come to only one conclusion.