After a monthslong process, on Monday the Gainesville City Commission finalized three zoning ordinances that will allow multifamily units to go up in neighborhoods previously set aside for single-family dwellings.
The divided commission voted 4-3 on each ordinance, mirroring previous decisions. Mayor Lauren Poe and commissioners Adrian Hayes-Santos, Reina Saco and David Arreola all voted for the changes, while commissioners Cynthia Chestnut, Desmon Duncan-Walker and Harvey Ward dissented.
The approved motions do not contain a sunset clause and authorize Poe to sign and send rebuttal letters to the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners, the Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO).
The ordinances prompted resistance from citizens, town hall meetings, new nonprofits and promises of litigation. The public comment lasted two-and-a-half hours on Monday, mostly in opposition. The changes have drawn more comment than any other measure the commission has passed this year.
Public comment included a handful of supporters, including the nonprofit Gainesville is for People. They agreed with the commission majority and said the measures will help the housing situation in Gainesville.
The ordinances will combine all single-family zoning into a new neighborhood residential zoning category that allows high density and multifamily units. Single-family zoning constitutes 61.1% of the city's total acreage of residential zoning—and with Monday’s vote, Gainesville becomes the first city in the state to eliminate it.
“We can’t just have a portion of our city sitting in amber,” Commissioner Hayes-Santos said. “We have to allow more people to live there or our city will continue to get unaffordable.”
He said the three ordinances will not solve the city’s affordable housing problem but would be a tool that can assist along with other measures working through the city process. The higher density will also combat climate change, Hayes-Santos said.
“These are incremental changes that are not going to solve the issues overnight,” Hayes-Santos said. “There are multiple things that have to happen, and the City Commission is working on other things, too.”
However, both the Alachua County Commission and the DEO expressed concern over the zoning plan. The DEO asked Gainesville to withdraw the changes, but Mayor Lauren Poe said in early September that the commission would continue with a final vote.
Before Monday’s meeting, local candidates in next month’s election and members of Gainesville Neighborhood Voices, a nonprofit started in opposition to the ordinances, held a rally on the steps of City Hall.
Both mayoral candidates, Ed Bielarski and Harvey Ward, spoke in opposition and said they would work to reverse the changes, if instituted. City Commission candidates Ed Book, Dejeon Cain and James Ingle also said they would oppose the zoning change, if elected next month.
The opponents say the changes will destroy existing neighborhoods, especially in historically African American areas. Residents also worry over where the increase in people will park when some neighborhoods already seem full.
“This is a very sad day for East Gainesville,” Chestnut said before the vote. “And the reason it’s so sad is because you all have opened the flood gates for gentrification. Our neighborhood has been destroyed in Porters. Next comes Springhill. Next comes Duval, and, probably, they’ll try to get Hollywood if they can.”
At the start of the meeting, Ward tried to stop the vote entirely.
Supported by the other two dissenters, he said the items should be tabled until January for the new commission to decide. Waiting would avoid any potential litigation and financial burdens from approving the ordinances in order to repeal them in a few months with a new commission, Ward said.
The other commissioners disagreed, and the meeting continued.
“I wish this had been easier,” Poe said. “I wish I had the persuasive ability where there was fanfare and excitement on this day. And in that, I have failed.”
Among the four votes for the zoning changes, only Saco will remain on the commission beyond January. Poe, Hayes-Santos and Arreola are all term-limited.
At the opposition event before the meeting, Ingle said the opposition already won, pointing to the Nov. 8 elections.
“The vote today isn't about whether or not single-family zoning is going to be eliminated in the city of Gainesville,” Ingle said. “This vote today is about whether or not this continues to divide our city and cause a lot of heartache over the next couple of months until we get another commission in there who’s going to overturn it.”
Welcome to Communist Gainesville, where citizens have NO input.
Glad to finally be getting rid of Comrade Poe.
Our elitists obviously have been entitled to know more than the residents of many of our communities. How one party in this town can say they represent diversity - while clearly failing in every aspect of change is beyond me. These are the same elitists who overtax our poor on energy consumption, force rental increases, and year in and year out fail our children educationally, I am not saying the GOP has the answers - but our elected fools do not even have the questions.
Like this will help with affordable housing. You all are money grubbing … can’t finish.
It's corruption, pure and simple. City commissioners are in bed with the developers. They are the ONLY ones profiting from this unbelievable decision.
Poe brought us the Biomass plant against the will of the people now he rams another disgraceful project against the will of the people.
May he go away and never come back! Take Saco with you!