The Gainesville City Commission moved forward on an affordable housing project and parking ordinance at a special meeting on Tuesday that considered five items delayed from the city’s Nov. 17 meeting.
The city had delayed nine items from the previous meeting that ended abruptly after sparing between commissioners, but Mayor Lauren Poe said at Tuesday’s meeting that four development items, including a 1,778-acre rezoning, had been removed at the request of the applicants until next year.
Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker brought up the Nov. 17 meeting during commissioner comment.
“Last Thursday was one of the most difficult meetings that I’ve ever sat through, and I think that probably applies to everyone up here,” Duncan-Walker said.
She said she wanted to create a way to hold each other accountable. Currently, she said standards are implied and silently expected. Duncan-Walker made a motion, seconded by Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut, that the city attorney investigate guidelines the commission could take to regulate itself.
Duncan-Walker mentioned censure or temporary suspensions as options other cities use. Poe added that a code of ethics for the commission could also be written—an effort that has failed in the past he said.
“I think it would be very easy for us to let things be as they are, but the truth is, we’ll never know who’s sitting here,” Duncan-Walker said. “I think it’s a protective mechanism for us all.”
The commissioners voted unanimously to move forward on the motion with Commissioner Reina Saco absent. Poe said Saco had made clear that she would likely be absent for the rest of the year.
Because of her absence and position as mayor pro-tempore, the commission voted to move Commissioner Harvey Ward into the mayor pro-tempore position until he takes over in January.
The commission also discussed having the city attorney create guidelines for how commissioners interact with staff employees and what level of involvement the charter officer over that employee should have.
Of the five items discussed, all passed unanimously.
The commission gave the green light to help finance a 96-unit affordable housing project backed by the Gainesville Housing Authority (GHA). The financing will come through a $460,000 loan with 1% interest over an 18-year term.
The funds will come through the city’s ConnectFree program that collects revenue from a surtax on new utility connections to Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU).
The project, Woodland Park Phase 2, would demolish 48 duplexes and build a three-story building on part of the land. The rest of the land would remain available for a third phase, giving the city more units than it currently has.
The city issued a notice of funding availability on July 7 for project submissions and received two applicants. The city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee (AHAC) ranked the projects, picking the Woodland Park submission.
However, the project will also need state support. Tallahassee is scheduled to decide on Jan. 27 and, if approved, the project will go through challenges, underwriting, permitting and construction. A process that city backup documents say typically takes several years.
The state plan to fund six projects of this type and perhaps a couple more. GHA applied for the funds in 2020 and 2021, but through a lottery system, the state did not finance the Gainesville project.
Justin Corder with NorStar Development USA said the state will prioritize projects who applied with local backing in previous years.
Corder told Mainstreet Daily News that tenants currently occupy all 48 duplexes. He said GHA and NorStar will work to move those tenants to other properties during construction, approximately 14 months, and will give those tenants the option to move into the new apartments.
He said that discussion with tenants has already started, but if the state picks different projects, the $460,000 will return to the city and GHA will need to reapply.
The Gainesville commission also finalized an ordinance that eliminates minimum parking requirements for developments. The commissioners discussed the ordinance at its Oct. 20 meeting. Another part of the ordinance expands mid-street parking—for vehicle loading and unloading—to across the city.
When the first reading passed, Chestnut asked for numbers on accidents caused by mid-street parking. At Tuesday’s meeting, she said staff had reported no accidents with mid-street parking.