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 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:
- 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 Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos at an earlier workshop, increased the density limits.
Now, parcels can accommodate up to 15 residential buildings per acre with four units per building, whether 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.
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.
Commissioner Reina 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.