GNV amends setbacks, criteria for substandard lots 

Commissioner Ed Book, right, speaks at Thursday's regular commission meeting with Commissioner Casey Willits, left, listening.
Commissioner Ed Book (right) speaks at Thursday's regular commission meeting with Commissioner Casey Willits listening.
Photo by Seth Johnson

The Gainesville City Commission passed two housing changes on Thursday that will allow more flexibility for 794 single-family lots along with lots currently deemed substandard due to size.  

The commission passed the changes 4-3 with Commissioners Ed Book, Cynthia Chestnut and Desmon Duncan Walker in dissent. The passage was on the first reading, and the commission will need to finalize the change at a future meeting. 

Staff presented the changes based on feedback from a developer who ran into the issues while trying to develop 16 lots.  

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The first change amends the setback requirements for lots within Residential Single Family 4 zoning, also called RSF-4, from 7.5 feet on the sides to 5 feet. Commissioner Bryan Eastman noted that the 5-foot setback on the side matches Alachua County’s requirements.  

The setback on the front, currently at 20 feet, would also change to allow attached porches or stoops to enter the setback territory by up to 5 feet. The home structure, though, would still need to maintain the 20-foot setback.  

Gainesville City Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker
Courtesy City of Gainesville Desmon Duncan Walker

City planner Juan Castillo said the changes will not increase the 8 units per acre density currently in RSF-4, the smallest single family zoning section with 794 total lots spread across the city. He said developers will now have more flexibility when building and more incentive to add porches.  

The second change also increases options for developers using lots that are substandard because of size. Castillo ran through the criteria that places lots within this category:  

  • Has less than 5,000 square feet of lot area in a district where the minimum required lot area is 5,000 feet or greater 
  • Has less than 80% of the minimum required lot area in a district where the minimum lot area is less than 5,000 square feet 
  • Has a lot width or lot depth that is less than 50% of the minimum required lot width or let depth in a specific district. 

The change will remove lot size as a factor. Instead, these lots will need to show that, as already written in code, the lot in question is within 500 feet of two or more lots that have principal structures and generally share the same size characteristics that would disqualify the lot. 

Castillo called the change a cleanup to the code that will allow options for smaller lots across the city.  

Andrew Coffey brought the request to the city. He owns 16 lots the changes would impact. Because the lots are currently considered substandard, the city’s variance process would deny his lots for setback modification.  

He said the only options after that would be to combine lots and build bigger homes, eliminating the affordability he’s aiming for, or to build those larger homes with accessory dwelling units that could be rented.  

Coffey pointed to the need for smaller, affordable homes. He said the average cost of a 1,500-square-foot home has risen from $213,000 in 2020 to $319,500 in 2023. He said the Heartwood subdivision, affordable housing supported by the city, has 5-foot setbacks on the sides.  

During public comment, Monica Frazier and Casey Fitzgerald both supported Coffey’s project but disagreed with the commission amending hundreds of lots across the city to make the change, especially without notifying the homeowners.  

Fitzgerald serves as president of GNVoices, a nonprofit started last year in response to the city’s single-family zoning proposals. Frazier also sits on the board of directors for GNVoices.  

City of Gainesville Commissioner Reina Saco
City of Gainesville City of Gainesville Commissioner Reina Saco

“To take one private request and make it a citywide, sweeping cleanup seems an inappropriate mechanism to do that,” Fitzgerald said.  

Book, Chestnut and Duncan Walker agreed.  

“I would like to see some streamlining of process that still considers process and still considers community feedback,” Book said. “We need to do that on the big picture.”  

Frazier said the city should amend its variance process to allow lots like those owned by Coffey to pass through.  

Commissioner Casey Willits noted that while Coffey brought the change forward, the city’s code should be amended. It’s just a citizen who found the change instead of city staff. He said the city relies on developers who run into these code snags to come forward so that the city can smooth out the process.  

Commissioner Reina Saco also asked about the impacts of changing the variance process versus the code for the 794 RSF-4 lots.  

Forrest Eddleton, acting director of sustainable development, said changing the code keeps developers on the same page.  

“When you get into liberalizing that variance process, it really opens up both the city and then, of course, property owners to uncertainty and a less stable footing to be able to defend itself on any of the decisions,” Eddleton said.  

Thursday’s vote was on first reading, meaning the City Commission will need to finalize the change at a future meeting.  

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The city needs 750 added property and GRU sites built up, for the revenue. I’m surprised the entire board didn’t see that. Do opponents want less govt services, and if so where do they start choosing?


Sounds like they’re grandfathering new projects.
Kind of a contradiction in why the codes were written in the first place, isn’t it?