Gainesville shelves zoning change

The Gainesville City Commission on Thursday rejected 5-2 an ordinance on second reading that would have removed a minimum acreage requirement for transect zones.

The proposed change was sent back to the City Plan Board for discussion and to gather additional input from city residents.

In addition to conventional zoning designations, the city has 10 transect zoning districts in its land use plan. Transect zoning differs from conventional zoning in that in addition to specifying things like size, setbacks and building uses. The transect zones also include requirements about building design and architectural elements, said Andrew Persons, the city’s director of sustainability. 

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For example, transect zones may include requirements about sidewalks, the number of windows and the look of building facades.

The 10 transect zoning designations in Gainesville range from Urban 1 (single family homes) to Downtown (high density buildings with up to 12 to 14 floors). In general, transect zones allow for higher densities and taller buildings that some of the city’s conventional zoning designations.

Example requirement transect zone

A proposal that passed on first reading at a special city commission meeting last week would have deleted a 10-acre minimum requirement for property owners seeking to rezone property into a transect zone.

The first reading of the ordinance passed by a narrow 4-3 vote, with commissioners Desmon Duncan-Walker, David Arreola and Cynthia Chestnut in dissent.

The vote to drop the 10-acre minimum was the first of three votes requested by a family trust seeking to rezone its property on the edge of Depot Park from general industrial to downtown zoning.

While the commission passed the transect zoning alteration, it did not pass a requested land use change from industrial to urban core.

The transect code change came back to the city for a second reading at its regular meeting Thursday afternoon.

As with the special meeting, several Gainesville residents spoke to the commission about their opposition to dropping the 10-acre minimum, citing concerns that the change would lead to spot zoning and tall buildings in the middle of single-family neighborhoods.

Spot zoning, which is when a small piece of land is rezoned to a category different from surrounding properties for the benefit of the land owner, is illegal and contrary to the zoning criteria of the city, Persons told the commission at the special meeting.

Commissioner Harvey Ward, who had voted for dropping the 10-acre minimum on first reading, was one of the people to vote against the change on second reading. 

“It was attached to a project that is no longer before us and to me it doesn’t make sense to move forward with it right now because there’s not enough understanding of what a transect zone is,” Ward said. “We should have a broader discussion about the concept of transect zones outside the context of one owner’s land-use petition.”

Ward said that he had heard from several constituents who were concerned that dropping the minimum acreage requirement would bring 14-story buildings in neighborhoods.

“We shouldn’t think about it like that,” Ward said. “My hope is that through that process we all become better at understanding the land development code.”

Commissioner Reina Saco, who along with Commissioner David Arreola, voted against sending the proposal back to the plan board. She said did not want to waste staff time and effort sending it back.

“I see this ordinance as inoffensive,” Saco said. “It is deleting an arbitrary requirement. It doesn’t harm neighborhoods.”


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