The Gainesville City Commission voted 4-3 on a housing and zoning reset at its Thursday meeting, officially repealing three ordinances that opened single-family zoning to other uses and sparked community action in support and dissent.
The commission also decided to meet jointly with the City Plan Board and will bring ideas for the next stage of housing talks to the July 27 General Policy Committee.
Mirroring their January and April stances, commissioners Bryan Eastman, Reina Saco and Casey Willits voted against the repeal. These commissioners reiterated the community’s need for affordable housing, including affordable multifamily housing.
"I'm not going to change my vote on this because multifamily people are my people,” Willits said. “People who live in duplexes and townhouses and quadplexes. My district are people who are forced into my district because it's the only place, to a large degree, where they can find multifamily housing."
The debate started when the previous commission passed a sweeping set of housing, land use and zoning changes.
The changes removed the city’s four single-family residential zoning categories and replaced them with a neighborhood residential zoning category that would have allowed the building of duplexes, triplexes and quadraplexes in neighborhoods across the city. The changes also included new lot split regulations and new bedroom occupancy limits around UF.
The changes prompted widespread protests and impassioned arguments from both supporters and opponents. Despite those protests and a lack of support for the changes at the state-level, the previous commission passed the ordinances 4-3 on Oct. 17, calling the changes one step toward addressing the housing crisis.
Elections in November 2022 revolved largely around the zoning issue. Citizens, joined by Alachua County, also filed a challenge to the new zoning regulation.
Three term-limited commissioners left the dais in January, and when the new commission took over, the majority's opinion shifted from supporting the changes to opposing the changes.
Willits called the single-family zoning and land use system racist and said exclusionary zoning only started because of race and class issues. He said single-family homeowners aren’t racist for buying homes in single-family neighborhoods but said its time to move forward with new housing regulation.
However, Commissioners Cynthia Chestnut and Desmon Duncan-Walker, the commission’s two African American members, both voted in favor of repeal.
Chestnut said the issue revolves around neighborhood preservation and wealth building. As soon as the Black community understands the rules of the game, Chestnut said, the rules get changed, referring to the trio of ordinances.
Commissioner Ed Book said that, overall, the neighborhoods and residents across the city agree with the repeal.
"At least in the city of Gainesville, it seems to me, majority community support for exactly the action we're attempting to take right here,” Book said.
Commissioners sounded off on their positions, keeping in line with past votes and arguments. The commissioners did agree that housing discussions need to continue, but disagreed about how and when the next phase should start.
Eastman brought forward a motion that scheduled the joint meeting with the City Plan Board and also directed staff to begin analysis of his Feb. 17 housing proposals, which support changes to the lot split regulations and propose lot size minimums that allow for greater housing density.
Eastman has supported keeping elements of the October changes while repealing only the sections that the commission thought went too far.
But the majority wanted to continue to a full reset before tackling any housing issues.
With the repeal enacted, Eastman said it's time to move forward by directing staff to begin work on just the lot split issue. He said the commission should start deciding on issues one at a time in contrast to the previous commission.
"The last commission seemed really interested in these big omnibus bills that [were] going to have 100 policies all wrapped up into one that was going to solve all of the problems,” Eastman said.
Still, commissioners questioned the motion, pointing to strained staff time and process.
City Manager Cynthia Curry said staff remains strained with the budget process in full swing. Plus, the state advanced its in-person review of audit findings by one month, adding to the pressure.
She said any review and analysis of new proposals, especially with community engagement, will lack full quality until the city gets past Oct. 1.
Mayor Harvey Ward recommended Eastman return to the lot split discussion on July 27. He said an item on that agenda can start the next round of housing discussions. Commissioners can bring forward ideas and consider which proposals to have staff investigate.
Ward said staff could begin crafting ordinances based on those discussions in the fall, once the busy budget season ends but before the start of the next one. In the meantime, he said commissioners should speak with community members and groups on what housing changes they support.