At a joint meeting Monday, the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted unanimously to register their opposition to the City of Gainesville’s proposed changes to single-family zoning.
The zoning changes, which are on the Gainesville City Commission’s agenda for Thursday, would collapse the four existing categories of single-family zoning into a neighborhood residential category. It would allow duplexes, triplexes and quadruplexes into neighborhoods that currently are limited to single-family homes.
The proposal also would change allowed lot dimensions and housing density in existing neighborhoods.
The county voted to make an advisory recommendation to the city, and passing the motion doesn’t alter the process or interfere with the city’s vote on Thursday.
County Commissioner Ken Cornell, who made the motion, said his constituents “have been hollering at me for two weeks” about the city’s proposed changes.
“I represent the folks that are telling you ‘We don’t think this is a good idea,'” Cornell said. “And so I think it’s important that you … at least consider that.”
Cornell said the city and county have other ways to address affordable housing, adding that he thinks the city’s effort to end exclusionary zoning will have the opposite effect on the creation of affordable housing.
County Commissioner Anna Prizzia ultimately voted for the motion along with her colleagues but said initially she was reluctant to make a decision without additional discussion and input from the county’s staff.
“I have a hard time as a county taking a stand to oppose something without having substantive information about the impact that it would have on the county,” she told her fellow BOCC members.
However, she also made it clear that her reluctance was not because she supported the zoning changes.
“As an individual, as a neighbor, and as somebody who lives in your city, I oppose it,” Prizzia said to the city commissioners. “And I oppose it primarily, I have to say, based on process and the fact that the community was not involved, and was not engaged in a meaningful way, in having the conversation about what you were trying to get to. The potential options for how to achieve what you’re trying to achieve were not presented.”
Prizzia said she has heard similar things from different communities across the city.
“I have heard from every sector, everywhere I go, in this town,” Prizzia said. “[It’s] the only conversations being had when people are talking about policy. They are not in favor, and they don’t even like it, and most of them actually don’t even understand it.”
Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe said he objected to the county’s motion at the joint meeting, saying it was inappropriate and suggesting it could infringe on the city’s authority for independent self-governance, also known as home rule.
“I would have been fine, hearing your individual positions on this and taking them into consideration just as I had every other person I’ve heard from,” Poe said. “But it is not in the best interests of the relationship between these two bodies, for us to be telling the other how to do one of their most basic functions that is exclusive to them.”
He also said that the number of people speaking against the zoning changes isn’t an indication of the quality of the measures being considered.
“Sometimes there is overwhelming community opposition to things that end up being a good idea,” Poe said.
Several of the county commissioners suggested that the city commission take more time in making their zoning decisions.
“[The motion] is not intended to take away your home rule at all,” Cornell said. “It’s intended to tell you directly, since we’re together, how we feel about a pretty significant issue that is affecting the entire city that we represent, as well as you. … So the motion is simply just saying as a county commission, we are opposed to that change. And maybe that prompts you to say let’s take more time.”
Cornell said he would welcome another joint city-county meeting where they discussed and took public comment on the proposed zoning changes.
And repeatedly, the county commissioners asked the city to listen to their shared constituents.
“It’s not for me to dictate [how you vote], but it’s just for me to suggest to you to reconsider, or look at it again, to reconsider or at least at least listen to the public during the comments that you receive,” said County Commissioner Chuck Chestnut.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.