GNV approves zoning, density ordinances 4-3  

Residents filled the Gainesville City Commission residential zoning meeting on Thursday.
Residents filled the Gainesville City Commission residential zoning meeting on Thursday.

After five hours of public comment, the Gainesville City Commission voted Thursday night to approve three ordinances that will combine four single-family zoning categories into a unified zoning category allowing higher density and multifamily units. 

The split votes came just before midnight with each ending 4-3 with Mayor Lauren Poe and Commissioners David Arreola, Reina Saco and Adrian Hayes-Santos voting in favor and Commissioners Desmon Duncan-Walker, Cynthia Chestnut and Harvey Ward in dissent. The commission will need to confirm the votes in a second reading before going into effect. The ordinances must receive state approval.  

Current Single-Family Zoning: 

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  • Residential Single-Family 4
    • Maximum of 8 units per acre 
    • 2.3% of total residential land 
  • Residential Single-Family 3 
    • Maximum of 5.8 units per acre 
    • 5.9% of total residential land 
  • Residential Single-Family 2 
    • Maximum of 4.6 units per acre 
    • 10.9% of total residential land 
  • Residential Single-Family 1 
    • Maximum of 3.5 units per acre 
    • 42% of total residential land 

Community members sported signs outside City Hall and filled the building, forcing many to wait on the steps outside. The majority spoke in opposition to the ordinances and wore neon orange stickers to signal their position.  

About a dozen commenters lent support to the zoning change, while more than 75 people spoke against them. 

The Gainesville Fire Rescue tracked how many people could be inside the building, and commenters filtered in and out. Some commenters said the commission should have moved to a different venue that would accommodate everyone instead of leaving people in the August heat. 

The ordinances allow duplex, triplex and quadruplex buildings within the new neighborhood residential zoning. The commission also agreed to amend its setback and density requirements.  

Initially, the city staff recommended a density cap of eight units per acre, but the commission, at the suggestion of Hayes-Santos at an earlier workshop, increased the density limits. 

The new zoning, called neighborhood residential, would allow to up 12 residences per acre, and those units may be single-family, duplex, triplex or quadraplex. Landowners can still build single-family homes by right, but they may also opt for a multifamily option.  

Juan Castillo, planner with the city, noted that the changes will restrict the multifamily buildings to the size of a large home, limited to two stories with façade requirements.  

“The desire with this type of development is to allow for the opportunity to increase the city’s capacity for housing while mitigating their impact to single-family neighborhoods,” Castillo said.  

He said the city hopes to increase the amount and type of housing in residential areas, decrease the cost to build the houses and increase the options for the use of existing housing. 

Since June, citizen groups have opposed the zoning change, crowding a city workshop and holding a rally the day before the vote. More than 2,500 people also signed a Change.org petition opposing the vote. 

Opponents fear the change will alter the nature of Gainesville’s neighborhoods by adding multifamily homes and rental units aimed at UF students in areas where it’s currently mostly single-family homes. 

Neighborhood advocates have also been concerned that the zoning changes will disproportionately affect historically black neighborhoods and raise prices in low-income but strategically located sections of the city.  

Public commenters also said the measure would reduce homeownership, which is a way of building wealth. Around 40% of the homes in Gainesville are owner-occupied and 60% are rented, according to city staff. 

Commenters also questioned whether higher density would increase parking and traffic problems and put a strain on water and wastewater infrastructure in existing neighborhoods. 

Peggy Carr, director of Gainesville Neighborhood Voices, also raised procedural questions at the meeting, like whether the public notice counts and when items were added to the agenda. 

“Please recognize that proceeding with these proposals is an act of utter futility,” Casey Fitzgerald, president of Gainesville Neighborhood Voices, said. “It will only result in the further waste of our city staff time and financial resources.” 

He said the group is prepared to litigate until a new commission, confirmed in January, can reverse the process. Fitzgerald also pointed to other groups opposed to the changes like 1,000 Friends of Florida.  

The Gainesville City Commission approved three ordinances that will combine four single family zoning categories into a new neighborhood residential zoning on Thursday.
Photo by C.J. Gish The Gainesville City Commission approved three ordinances that will combine four single family zoning categories into a new neighborhood residential zoning on Thursday.

Meanwhile, proponents called the exclusionary zoning changes a step toward more affordable housing, allowing denser developments to fill in neighborhoods.  

Duncan-Walker presented a motion first to delay vote on the ordinances until after Nov. 8, but the motion failed to carry, 3-4.  

Saco amended the three motions presented to have staff study the feasibility of a sunset clause within the ordinances.  

The sunset clause would allow the high density for a certain number of years before dropping off. Gainesville would then have its own data to analyze and determine whether to continue.  

Chestnut said she had not seen an issue unite such a diverse swath of the community in 40 years of public service. Mayor Lauren Poe agreed, saying he hoped affordable housing would remain an important issue to many. 

On Monday, the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted unanimously to demonstrate its opposition to the zoning changes. BOCC Commissioner Anna Prizzia said her problem with the ordinance had to do with process not content. She said citizens had reservations and the city’s outreach had faltered. 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

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Bill

Great reporting, thank you! Quite an issue…

Guest

Last night was a perfect example of what government by socialists looks like. Forget that we have a representative government and that the ultimate power resides with the people. Forget that our representatives have a constitutional obligation to follow the mandate of the people when that mandate is clearly expressed. SOCIALISTS SEEK TO GOVERN YOU. It is past time for the silent majority to become active and get rid of these anti-American extremists on both sides of the political spectrum. The Poes, Hayes-Santos’s, Sacos, and Arreolas of the world have no place in positions of leadership in our society. They are no different, and no better, than the Gaetz’s, MTG’s and Boeberts of the world. It is time to get rid of all of them. VOTE

alex

Letting people build stuff is socialism?

Guest

Apparently you didn’t read the comment, so let me help you understand: when the citizens clearly express their wishes to their elected representatives, and their elected representatives (who have held themselves out to be socialists in the past) ignore them, then they are acting in conformity with how a socialist government acts (i.e., the clear will of the people doesn’t matter because they believe they govern the people).