Gainesville to put zoning changes on schedule

Community members crowded the chamber for the housing workshop, required the city to bring in extra chairs and use its overflow room on Tuesday.

The Gainesville City Commission will put single family zoning changes and the removal of some occupancy limits on the agenda of its July meetings, city officials said at a crowded workshop Tuesday.

Because it was a workshop, the commission did not make motions regarding the proposed changes, but Mayor Lauren Poe and other commissioners indicated that the changes would appear on commission meeting agendas in July.

The commission chamber was full 20 minutes before the start of the 1 p.m. workshop, and additional attendees spilled into the hallways and the overflow room. More than 50 people signed up to speak Tuesday before the meeting even started with most of the speakers opposing the proposed changes.

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Juan Castillo, a city planner, walked the commission and the crowd through the proposed changes to Gainesville’s comprehensive plan and the land development code, which included:

  • Revising the single-family land use category to include multi-family buildings with up to four units
  • Consolidating the city’s four single-family zoning districts into a single Neighborhood Residential zoning district
  • Increase the allowed housing density per acre in the Neighborhood Residential
  • Reduce required lot size for Neighborhood Residential zones
  • Shrink the distance homes have to be setback from the property lines
  • Remove occupancy limits
  • Increase the bedroom limit within the UF Context Zone.

Castillo said the proposed changes were aimed at increasing availability and the range of options for housing in Gainesville.

Photo by Seth Johnson Community members watch the meeting from Room 16 in the basement, waiting for their turn to go upstairs and speak.

“We’re trying to create a flexibility for the development of more housing within the city of Gainesville,” Castillo said. “We want more people to be able to have the ability to live within our city.”

The city has held three workshops on zoning and affordable housing, and the city plan board has discussed the proposed changes and heard from residents.

The citizens who spoke to the commission Tuesday reflected many of the opinions expressed at well-attended community and plan board meetings.

Speakers were worried that multi-family homes would change the character of existing neighborhoods and that those neighborhoods didn’t have sufficient infrastructure like water and roads with street parking to handle an influx.

UF student renters moving into primarily residential neighborhoods was an oft-repeated concern with several home-owners talking about the problems they’ve experienced in neighborhoods with high numbers of student renters.

Andrew Persons, the city’s director of sustainable development, said in Gainesville approximately 40% of homes are owner-occupied while 60% are rented.

Several speakers also were skeptical that the proposed changes would result in the positive changes that were being suggested.

Approximately 63% of Gainesville is in an area that allows single family land use, which only allows for the development of one house per parcel, Castillo said.

The proposed changes would allow for multi-family homes with up to four units per building – so in addition to single-family homes, property owners could build duplexes, triplexes and quadruplexes.

Photo by Seth Johnson Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos pushed to continue with the staff’s zoning changes at the Tuesday workshop.

“I don’t want Gainesville to be a horrible, sprawling city like the rest of Florida,” said Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos. “And the reason is because they build a lot of just single family homes suburban development, and I am more supportive of protecting our environmental land and keeping that natural…and then develop inside the city.”

The proposed neighborhood scale multi-family homes would have additional requirements, according to the staff presentation, including being limited to two stories with only two entrances off the front and a maximum of two parking spaces visible from the front of the building.

The existing single family zoning categories – RSF-1 to RSF-4 – all have minimum lot requirements from 8,500 square feet for RSF-1 to 4,300 square feet for RSF-4. Those minimum lot sizes would drop to 3,000 square feet, which is consistent with the city’s existing residential conservation zone, under the new proposal.

Required setbacks from the street and the rear property line would drop to 10 feet with setbacks from on the sides of the property dropping to 5 feet.

Current land use regulations allow for a density of up to eight units per acre, but Hayes-Santos said he would like to see that limit raised to 12 units per acre under the proposed changes. Twelve units per acre is the limit in residential conservation zones, which is a common zoning type in the city’s historically black neighborhoods such as Duval, Pleasant Street and Fifth Avenue.

“Black areas of town shouldn’t have to have higher density than historically white neighborhoods,” Hayes-Santos said. “That’s not fair. And that’s why you’re seeing more development in those neighborhoods. We need to change that incentive around by making it a level playing field.”

Initially, the Neighborhood Residential zone allowed for single-family homes to be up to three stories in height, but at the suggestion of Commissioner David Arreola, the commission directed staff to reduce that allowed single-family home height to two stories.

The city is also looking to drop its occupancy limit, which currently restricts more than two unrelated adults from living together in a single-family home, Castillo said.

Photo by Seth Johnson Commissioner Harvey Ward speaks at Gainesville’s housing workshop on Tuesday.

“We are proposing to remove that in order to allow for a more diverse and more flexibility of housing for people that may not be related,” Castillo said. “So say three roommates or four roommates that are not related are still able to live together in the same house.”

Commissioner Reina Saco said that when she was in law school at UF the occupancy cap sometimes meant she couldn’t rent a home in a quiet neighborhood because of the restrictions on unrelated roommates.

“I think lifting that cap lets folks have roommates of their choice and homes of their choice,” Saco said. “And that way, they can have a little bit more control over their personal finances and where they can go.”

By removing the city’s occupancy restrictions, occupancy limits would be based instead on state housing regulations, said Andrew Persons, the city’s director of sustainable development.

The proposed changes to land use and zoning are part of an effort to increase housing stock and especially affordable housing stock in Gainesville.

“When you take 63% of the residential area in our city, and disqualify it from anything but the most exclusive type of development, you’re never going to be able to get [affordable housing],” Poe said.

While Arreola, Hayes-Santos, Saco and Poe all expressed support for the changes, the commission is not unanimous in support for moving forward.

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut urged her fellow commissioners not to move ahead quickly with any changes and instead leave those discussions for the next commission. The mayor and three of the commissioners are term-limited so four of the commission’s seven seats are up for election in August.

Photo by Seth Johnson Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut speaks during Gainesville’s housing workshop on Tuesday.

“At this point, I think that we need to proceed with continuing listening, hearing from our neighbors, knowing that there is no need to rush to amend the comprehensive plan at this point,” Chestnut said. “Because this commission doesn’t need to do that.…We should not put our community at risk because people want to leave a legacy.” 

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said she too wanted to wait and not act quickly on the proposed changes.

“My problem right now is that we don’t have a plan,” Duncan-Walker said. “Right now, I am uncomfortable with this. The level of analysis that I believe needs to be put into this, I don’t yet see. I would love to see us do that in a very meaningful and intentional way in terms of allowing our neighbors input to be implemented.”

Commissioner Harvey Ward described making the changes in July “as the ripping the band-aid off approach.”

“We need to make sure people understand the benefits of something before we say we’re gonna do it,” Ward said. “We didn’t do that.…And that’s why I don’t support it.”

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