Gainesville plots repeal path for zoning changes

Commissioner Bryan Eastman
Commissioner Bryan Eastman speaks at a city meeting on Feb. 17.
Photo by Seth Johnson

Mayor Harvey Ward clarified the city’s current exclusionary zoning position at Thursday’s meeting after public commenters said they thought the issue had been repealed and resolved in January.  

The topic returned to the dais after the commission discussed scheduling an exclusionary zoning special meeting. Commissioner Bryan Eastman also placed an item on the agenda to discuss lot splits, but the commission voted to continue the path started in January.  

On Jan. 5, the commission voted to repeal a trio of ordinances approved by the previous commission on Oct. 17, 2022. However, the January vote only initiated the process of returning to a Land Development Code without the October ordinances, but did not repeal the ordinances.  

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Now, the commission will hold at least two more votes to enact the change. The commission split 4-3 in favor of repeal on Jan. 5, and if the votes stay the same, the process could finish by June.  

Last month’s vote came hours after commissioners Ed Book, Casey Willits and Eastman were sworn in to replace outgoing commissioners David Arreola and Adrian Hayes-Santos and former Mayor Lauren Poe. Willits and Eastman voted against repeal, but Book voted for it, flipping the outcome. 

While slow, Ward said this path leaves no room for legal action against the city. 

The next steps include:

  • City Plan Board sends recommendation on repeal ordinance—next meeting Feb. 27 
  • Special GNV meeting for first vote—not yet scheduled 
  • GNV sends ordinance to Alachua County and Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for review 
  • GNV receives comments from the county and state 
  • GNV returns ordinance to the agenda for a final vote 

Gainesville is already involved in two legal hearings in the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings. Those challenges came from Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity and two Gainesville citizens who oppose the October ordinances. Alachua County also joined the filing with the two citizens.  

At Thursday’s meeting, the commission looked to set a special meeting for the first vote. The date listed in the backup, April 5, is the first day of Passover, and commissioners said they’d rather avoid the holiday. They did not set a new date.   

Eastman’s proposal 

At the Jan. 5 meeting, Eastman stated support for reinstating single-family zoning, but he said other measures in the October ordinances lacked controversy and could help the housing market.  

“The prior commission put things within this that I certainly disagree with, and I would like to see rolled back, but there are certain portions that I don’t disagree with,” Eastman said at the time. 

He brought forward the issue of lot splits on Thursday and used his own home as an example. His 3-bed/1-bath house sits on 0.16 acres with 6,970 total square feet.  

According to the Development Code, Eastman said his home cannot be built in 96% of Gainesville’s residential zoning.  

The code sets a minimum acreage for a residential lot. In residential single-family 1, a lot must be 0.28 acres or more; in residential single-family 2, a lot must be 0.217 acres or more; in residential single-family 3, a lot must be 0.172 acres or more.  

Only in residential single-family 4, with a minimum of 0.125 acres per lot, could a developer build a home like Eastman’s. But Eastman said residential single-family 4 accounts for only 3.83% of Gainesville’s total residential zoning.  

Commissioner Bryan Eastman presented these homes as examples of houses not allowed by the Land Development Code. Courtesy City of Gainesville

Eastman said the city needs more starter homes and proposed adding lot splits to the Development Code while still returning single-family zoning to the previous map. The lot splits would set a minimum of 0.08 acres per lot.  

Eastman said it would be better to settle the Land Development Code once than to repeal the October ordinances and then return with a new ordinance that reinstates parts of it and adds other parts.  

In addition to lot splits, Eastman requested that the code continue to allow cottage neighborhoods as well.  

“I think that the people of this community are ready to be done with this conversation, this discussion,” Eastman said. “I think people want to know what is possible within their neighborhood, what people can do within their neighborhood and what they can do on their personal property.”   

Commissioner Reina Saco seconded his motion, and other commissioners agreed on lot splits. However, the motion failed 3-4, with Willits joining Saco and Eastman in the affirmative.  

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said the process needed to slow down with more community discussion around lot splits and any other changes. She said the topic could be brought up at an upcoming town hall.  

Ward said something close to Eastman’s proposal would have his support after the commission resets the Development Code in the coming months. He suggested Eastman bring back the motion then.  

New 12-story apartment complex  

Also on Thursday, the city commission finalized land use and zoning changes for a 12-story apartment complex near UF. The project drew mixed reviews from residents during the initial vote on Feb. 2.   

The site borders the University Heights South Historic District, and residents said the proposed building would be out of scale with its surroundings. Proponents said the building will have easy access to transit services and high walkability. The project also comes with an inclusionary zoning add-on, providing 20 units below market rate. 

RTS grant  

The commission accepted a $2.4 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation for the city’s Regional Transit System. The grant will go toward operating assistance, according to backup documents.   

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Who in the world wants to build a single family home and Gainesville and get abused by GRU and local government funded crime?

Local tax payer

I don’t trust the Mayor or this city commission.