Gainesville’s elimination of single-family zoning grabbed the top spot in Mainstreet Daily News’ top stories of 2022, and the item is poised to return early in 2023.
Mayor-elect Harvey Ward told WCJB that while he can’t make motions as mayor, he believes the single-family zoning topic will appear at the city’s Jan. 5 regular meeting. The meeting will start at 1 p.m. with a 10 a.m. swearing-in ceremony for Ward and three new commissioners.
Commissioners and candidates have discussed repealing the trio of ordinances that folded all single-family zoning into a new neighborhood residential category that allows duplexes, triplexes and quadraplexes in those areas. The ordinances also increased the allowed density.
Single-family zoning represented 61% of all residential zoning in Gainesville.
Even if the item fails to appear on the Jan. 5 agenda, two hearings have already been slated for February.
The state’s Administrative Hearing Courts will host the first hearing on Feb. 14, with two Gainesville citizens and Alachua County bringing the joint hearing. The second hearing, brought forward by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), will begin on Feb. 27.
Both hearings ask for the repeal of the ordinances because of perceived adverse impacts brought forward by the parties.
While the zoning topic entered city discussions earlier, the zoning issue came to the forefront over the summer.
Citizens packed a June workshop when the commission decided to take up a vote on zoning. In the months to follow, citizens held meetings, formed groups and returned with the majority in opposition to the changes.
But the city commission passed the first reading of the zoning changes with a 4-3 vote and finalized the decision on Oct. 17 with another 4-3 vote. Commissioners Desmon Duncan-Walker, Cynthia Chestnut and incoming Mayor Harvey Ward dissented.
Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos supported the ordinances but said more steps will be needed to address housing struggles, calling the ordinances a series of incremental changes.
“We can’t just have a portion of our city sitting in amber,” Hayes-Santos said at the Oct. 17 meeting. “We have to allow more people to live there or our city will continue to get unaffordable.”
The former single-family zoning restricts developers from creating anything but single-family homes, and commissioners hope the new zoning will allow a greater mix of housing types and locations to fill city needs. Gainesville became the first Florida city to strike the zoning category completely, and one of few across the nation.
The proponents say the change will help affordability and allow various income levels to live across the city.
But citizens and three commissioners disagreed, calling the change rash and misguided. They said the new zoning will hurt low-income neighborhoods, destroy historic districts and lower home values.
“This is a very sad day for East Gainesville,” Chestnut said before the Oct. 17 vote. “And the reason it’s so sad is because you all have opened the flood gates for gentrification. Our neighborhood has been destroyed in Porters. Next comes Springhill. Next comes Duval and, probably, they’ll try to get Hollywood if they can.”
The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) also voiced opposition. In a symbolic vote, the BOCC opposed the change during a joint meeting with the Gainesville City Commission.
The DEO also recommended that Gainesville stop to rethink the ordinance before the final vote, but at the time, Mayor Lauren Poe told Mainstreet Daily News that the vote would continue.
“We are thankful we got the responses back from the state and the county because that means we can go ahead and move forward with the second and final reading of these ordinances and the commission can take action,” Poe told Mainstreet at the time. “Our housing crisis is not going away, and it’s certainly not going to improve with inaction.”
After the final passage, the two administrative hearings were petitioned, first by Gainesville citizens Margaret H. (Peggy) Carr and Faye L. Williams and then by the DEO.
The DEO claims that Gainesville’s zoning change will negatively impact a strategic state resource: affordable housing. The state also leveled charges that the ordinance counters both the city’s own code and Florida statutes.
During the November election, zoning also played a part. Candidates for the city commission vowed to repeal the ordinance and joined protesters on the steps of Gainesville City Hall before the final vote.