GNV starts zoning repeal process, charter search

Commissioner Ed Book (right) speaks at the city's regular meeting Thursday as Commissioner Casey Willits listens.
Commissioner Ed Book (right) speaks at the city's regular meeting Thursday as Commissioner Casey Willits listens. (Photo by Seth Johnson)
Photo by Seth Johnson

The Gainesville City Commission on Thursday took the first step toward repealing zoning changes the previous commission passed in October.  

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut offered the motion that directs staff to draft an ordinance that reverses changes a trio of ordinances made last year. Those ordinances made Gainesville the first city in the state to eliminate single-family zoning, which is also known as exclusionary zoning because it places restrictions on the types of housing that can be built on a property.  

More than 60% of the city’s residential properties were zoned single-family. The October zoning changes replaced four single-family zoning categories with a neighborhood residential zoning, which allows small-scale multi-family homes like duplexes, triplexes and quadraplexes in neighborhoods across the city.  

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The move came only hours after three new members joined the commission and replaced three of the four votes that narrowly passed the changes in October.  

Bryan Eastman
Courtesy of City of Gainesville Bryan Eastman

Two of the new members, Bryan Eastman and Casey Willits, voted with Commissioner Reina Saco against Chestnut’s repeal motion. But new Commissioner Ed Book voted with Chestnut, Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker and Mayor Harvey Ward to create a new 4-3 majority on the zoning issue.  
   
The motion will put Chestnut’s reversal ordinance on the same path the original ordinances took.  
 
Staff will put the proposal in front of the City Plan Board for a recommendation before returning to the city commission. The commission would then take a vote on the first reading and send the reversal ordinance to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) and Alachua County for opinions.  
 
After the DEO’s comments, the commission can take a final vote.  
 
Interim City Attorney Daniel Nee said this path will be the cleanest legally. He said the administrative challenges currently in the courts could fade once the commission returns to the previous development code.  
 
Ward called the path bulletproof since the city has used this method hundreds of times to change its code. Many public commenters thought the city could avoid the plan board through various technicalities.

But trying to bypass the plan board and reinstall single-family zoning quicker would be a legal gamble, Ward said. 

Reina Saco
City of Gainesville City of Gainesville Commissioner Reina Saco

“I want to make absolutely sure that what we do does not expose us to lawsuits back in the other direction,” Ward said. “That we proceed in a legally defensible manner so that it works.” 

Earlier in the week, Chestnut told Mainstreet Daily News that she didn’t know where the legal experts would land on the issue.  

Ward, Eastman and other commissioners said once the city repeals the sweeping changes to single-family zoning, the commission can take up other issues like lot splits, accessory dwellings and occupancy limits. 

“The prior commission put things within this that I certainly disagree with, and I would like to see rolled back, but there are certain portions that I don’t disagree with,” Eastman said.   

Public commenters in the chamber spoke in favor of Chestnut’s repealing ordinance just as they spoke against the zoning changes in October.  

Saco said some members of the community do support the elimination of exclusionary zoning. She said the commission received 24 emails on Thursday from residents who couldn’t attend but wanted to keep the new zoning changes.  

“I just want to make sure that does get noted on the record,” Saco said. “That this isn’t 100% against or for, but there are many people on both sides of this.” 

Willits echoed Saco’s point, saying many in his district supported exclusionary zoning when he spoke on the campaign trail.  

The City Plan Board is scheduled for its next meeting on Jan. 26. The ordinance could return to the commission for its first vote after that. A final vote to repeal the changes to single-family zoning and return to the previous code will likely take place in late February or March. 

Casey Willits
Courtesy of City of Gainesville Casey Willits

Charter officers search 

The City Commission also voted to move forward with a search for five permanent charter officers. The plan will cost around $250,000 and last until late September. 
 
The commission voted 6-1 in favor of the plan, with Saco in dissent. Saco placed a motion on the floor to convert Tony Cunningham’s appointment from interim general manager of Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) to the permanent position, but the motion failed when no one seconded it.  
 
Gainesville has four interim charter officers now, but after City Auditor Ginger Bigbie leaves on Jan. 13, Brecka Anderson will step into her role as the fifth interim out of six officers. 

In addition to Cunningham, Anderson and Nee, the city also has an interim city manager and an interim director of equity and inclusion. 
 
Thursday’s motion authorizes the city to hire two executive search firms to advertise the open positions. The commission also will compile job descriptions and preferences for the applicants. 
 
An initial motion by Eastman would have delayed the start of the search process, allowing the new commissioners to acquaint themselves with the interim charter officers and decide whether to search for all five positions or give current charter officers permanent positions. 

Ed Book
Courtesy of City of Gainesville Ed Book

However, the motion failed after a vote. Commissioners also discussed delaying the search process until August or October to avoid the middle of the budget cycle but didn’t move forward with that option.  

Other city business 

The commission also authorized staff to move forward with $3.7 million in renovations to Forest Park off SW 20th Avenue. The renovations will improve the drainage of the soccer fields, add a fourth, small soccer field, add pickleball striping to the basketball courts, add covered bleachers and lighting for all the fields.  

The state awarded Gainesville a $200,000 grant that will help with the project.  

The commission also eliminated two committees: Digital Access and Environmental Justice Subcommittee. Commissioners approved the creation of an ad hoc Public Safety Committee, which could become a standing committee down the road.  

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

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Kurt Johnsen

Excellent reporting. Timely, clear, thorough and unbiased. A breath of fresh air. From a former Gainesville sun subscriber of 10 years.

Mike

This reversal of the zoning changes is curious. If it’s done this way, does that mean that there is a short period where some builders can start projects using the zoning that isn’t wanted?

If so, it sounds like it was a temporary change to accommodate certain builders who wanted to do something that wasn’t allowed but they were able to get to go ahead just for them. Special people, I guess. I hope that I’m wrong.

Gary Gordon

Don’t let Eastman squirm, wiggle, and sleeze out of his campaign commitment to overturn the elimination of single-family zoning. Write about it.