The new Gainesville City Commission will tackle a loaded agenda come Thursday, with items on zoning and interim officer positions.
The meeting will start at 1 p.m. instead of the usual 10 a.m. time because of the swearing-in ceremony that morning. The swearing-in ceremony will happen at the Historic Thomas Center at 10 a.m.
Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut placed three items on Thursday’s agenda that will reinstate single-family zoning and pull back the trio of zoning ordinances that the commission passed in 2022.
Chestnut’s ordinances allow the new Neighborhood Residential zoning category to remain viable moving forward. But the category won’t apply immediately to any land if that ordinance passes. Instead, single-family zoning will regain its old territory.
“What I am most opposed to is removing the whole category of single-family zoning across the whole city,” Chestnut said in a phone interview. “So, neighborhood residential is a new zoning category we created, and it may be a useful alternative in the future.”
Chestnut said she is ready to move past the single-family zoning issue toward other alternatives for affordable and workforce housing. However, she said any path the commission takes must include the public input and support that the single-family zoning issue lacked.
She also said any future attempts to bring back exclusionary zoning should do the same.
“At this point, citizens do not support the blanket removal of single-family zoning,” Chestnut said. “Now, in the future, they may consider certain pockets or proposals to come to them. But no one wants the whole blanket removal of single-family zoning.”
The three ordinances passed in October also included increases in density, occupancy limitations and new rules on accessory dwelling units. Chestnut said the city is still wading through whether these items need to be returned to the City Plan Board or if the city commission can handle the repeal itself.
Because of legal challenges, the October zoning ordinances have been held in abeyance, Chestnut said, helping the city avoid legal issues if the repeal moves forward Thursday.
If the repeals don’t need plan board approval, Chestnut said a final vote would take place Jan. 19, and she’s confident the votes will weigh in favor of her ordinances.
“It’s a very important vote because candidates gave their word to the citizens, and now the citizens will get to see if the candidates are going to stand on their word,” Chestnut said, noting that Commissioner-elect Casey Willits was the only candidate to not oppose the October ordinances.
Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker voted against the ordinances in October along with Mayor-elect Harvey Ward. However, the ordinances passed 4-3 at the time.
Read our 2022 timeline of the zoning issue here.
Moving forward, Chestnut said a meeting between city officials and citizens, particularly on the Eastside, is needed for the public to bring forward ideas and solutions. The city should also reach out to find partnerships on the issue, she said, mentioning Alachua County.
Chestnut said inclusionary zoning may also be part of the answer along with bringing living-wage jobs to the area.
The City Plan Board discussed inclusionary zoning in the fall and could send the item forward to the commission this year. But again, Chestnut emphasized, the city must educate on what inclusionary zoning is and how it may impact neighborhoods.
Recruitment plan for charter officer
Also on Thursday’s agenda, the commissioners will vote to start a search for permanent charter officers. The plan began in the fall and, if approved, would cost $250,000 to implement.
The backup documents from November include four positions—the city attorney, city manager, general manager of Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) and equity and inclusion director—and a 33-week timeline.
But since then, City Auditor Ginger Bigbie submitted her resignation and will leave on Jan. 13. The city commission will appoint an interim, but Chestnut said then that position will be added to the other five.
According to the plan, the city will hire an executive search firm to find candidates, the commission would select finalists and then conduct interviews. The current interim officers would also be able to apply.
The commission on Thursday will also consider pay raises and performance ratings for the charter officers following evaluations from the past fiscal year.
Another item would award Blackwater Construction Services with the contract to complete renovations at Forest Park. The renovations, paid for by Wild Spaces Public Places funds, will total $3.7 million.
Commissioner-elect Ed Book also placed an item that opens a channel for citizens to make suggestions for improving the community input process. The suggestions need to be turned in by Jan. 12 at noon to be available for the city’s retreat on Jan. 13.