Poe: GNV zoning changes will get second vote

Mayor Lauren Poe listens during Thursday's City Commission meeting.
Mayor Lauren Poe listens during a City Commission meeting.

Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe said the City Commission is moving forward to schedule a second reading of three zoning-related ordinances a day after the state recommended Gainesville withdraw its planned changes.

“We are thankful we got the responses back from the state and the county because that means we can go ahead and move forward with the second and final reading of these ordinances and the commission can take action,” Poe said in a Friday phone interview. “Our housing crisis is not going away, and it’s certainly not going to improve with inaction.”

The city is eliminating its four current classifications of single-family zoning and replacing it with a neighborhood residential category. Under the neighbor residential classification, property owners can build duplexes, triplexes and quadruplexes on land that currently only allows single-family homes. 

The ordinances also allow for greater housing density so more homes can be built on an acre of land than under existing single-family classifications.

The goal of these changes is to encourage the building of more “missing middle” housing aimed at workforce and low-income residents, Poe said.

The city voted 4-3 to approve the changes in early August but was required to send changes to its comprehensive plan to Alachua County and to the state Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for comment before proceeding with a second reading.

The DEO got back to the city Thursday and in its comments criticized Gainesville’s planned changes as being “scattered, unplanned, unfocused and untenable.” The letter from the state said the city’s ordinances are inconsistent with Gainesville existing comprehensive plan and “must be withdrawn” while Gainesville considers other ways to address affordable housing.

However, the state’s comments don’t bar the city from continuing.

Gainesville has three choices as outlined by the state: pass the ordinances on second reading without changes, amend the ordinances, or withdraw the ordinances. The state warned the city that if it did not address the county and state comments that the new regulations could be open to official challenge.

Poe said the commission would work with staff and each other to address the comments, but the city didn’t intend to withdraw the planned ordinance.

“I think everything in there can be addressed,” Poe said. “We’ll work on clarifying responses, and point out how it is not only consistent with our comp plan, but is a really necessary step to ensure that we provide an adequate supply of affordable housing.”

The mayor said Friday that the state’s comments had several inconsistencies and that the letter indicated the DEO was not familiar with city’s comprehensive plan, pointing out that one of the state recommendations was for the city to look at allowing accessory dwelling units as a way to increase affordable housing.

But the city already allows property owners to build accessory dwelling units, a type of small housing unit that shares a lot with a larger home, such as garage apartments and mother-in-law suites.

“[The letter] shows a real lack of understanding or knowledge of our existing comprehensive plan,” Poe said. “I am not surprised. It’s very consistent with what we’ve seen out of [Gov. Ron] DeSantis’ administration, really wanting to take over local responsibilities.”

Poe said because they had just received the letter, he hasn’t talked yet with city staff and the commissioners haven’t discussed it among themselves because they would have to do that in a publicly noticed meeting.

“I’ll be working with staff to make sure we’re able to professionally and fully respond to the comments,” Poe said. “That’s the purpose of doing this – to get feedback. So we’ll incorporate that feedback into our decision-making process. Whether or not that leads to some modifications or not, I just don’t know at this point.”

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut, who was one of the three commissioners who voted against the ordinances, said she was “delighted” by the state’s response.

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut speaks at a zoning town hall last month. (Photo by Seth Johnson)

“It’s a victory for the people,” she said in a Friday phone interview, referring to the significant community opposition to the changes. “Had we not had the public engagement in this issue, I’m not sure we would have been victorious.”

However, Chestnut said she was “somewhat disappointed” after hearing that Poe planned to move forward to a second vote.

“I think we need to direct our energies – the entire commission – to inclusionary housing,” Chestnut said. “I think it’s time to work together and look at something that’s going to address the needs of our neighbors.”

She said the comments from the state captured several of the problems with eliminating exclusionary zoning: that affordable housing has primarily gone to UF students and that existing infrastructure is not there to support the more intensive density.

“As far as I’m concerned, [the plan] does not meet the needs of the community,” Chestnut said.

But the second reading, like the first, may come down to the number of votes. Chestnut and commissioners Harvey Ward and Desmon Duncan-Walker have voted against the zoning changes, but Poe and commissioners Adrian Hayes-Santos, David Arreola and Reina Saco have provided the necessary majority to pass the ordinances on first reading. 

Poe, Hayes-Santos and Arreola are term-limited and will leave the commission in January, but it’s unclear whether the new commission would be able to unwind the zoning changes. If the effort is successful, Gainesville would become the first city in the state to eliminate exclusionary/single-family zoning. 

—J.C. Derrick contributed to this report

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TeachYourChildren

Poe is a socialist and and could care less about the taxpayers of GNV! His goal is to destroy American families in GNV, doesn’t matter what demographic! Listen to his anti any other party rants! He has found socialist allies ($$$$) in the other three pay for play anti-American commissioners. Find the money trail for these four and you will find out who pulls the strings on these idiots, developers or even Soros!

Dennis

I’m against the zoning changes like you but to call it socialistic, Soros funded and anti-American reflects just how messed up, divisive and insane we have become as a nation. If we continue down this path, we will never come together in good faith to solve problems in a reasonable and thoughtful way. That’s what’s anti American and that’s what will doom us all. Grow up!

Mike

You’ve read much more into that comment than I did.

TeachYourChildren

Do you own a home in GNV? I think not. Poe and his cronies voting for the elimination of single family zoning will negatively effect every neighborhood with hard working residents who have saved and scrimped to build a home and raise their family. In spite of the majority of residents who lined up to tell them not to do it, Poe and Co are going to ignore them and pass the ordinance anyway! They are also ignoring the input received from state and county offices, adding merely they are glad that formality is out of the way so they can forge through with their plan to destroy neighborhoods on their way out the door! For them, the taxpaying residents of GNV are irrelevant and they know what is best for the masses! You will never have a good faith discussion with these four socialists and yes, they are mimicking the actions of their “Idol” living in the peoples White House! A discussion is between two parties listening to each others’ point of view, they don’t listen!

Linda

Let’s hope this can be blocked, our city is being run over by those that are making money and causing huge problems ….. flooding for one.
No one stops this infernal building of subdivisions, new apartment buildings. Etc.

Cory Brunson

Including the DEO’s, Mayor Poe’s, and Commissioner Chestnut’s comments here together is helpful. However, having recently moved to Gainesville, it’s not clear to me how to understand the DEO—their responsibilities, their interests, and their accountability. I gather that it’s an agency of the executive, but does it comprise career civil servants or political appointees, and to what extent do they function as arm of the DeSantis administration versus an independent agency? I can easily look up the Commissioners’ records, but where can i learn about that of DEO except at the agency’s website?

Anon

So when you looked up commissioner Hayes-Santos’ record, you saw that he is a real estate agent and owns large plots of land that he has submitted applications to develop? You saw that, right? I sure hope you noticed that the decisions he is making on the city commission will benefit him, personally.

John Robert

I, for one, am outraged that Mayor Poe and his band of co-conspirators intend to move ahead with such an ill-conceived plan. We all know the ‘ol cliche` “actions speak louder than words,” and clearly Lauren Poe, Adrian Hayes-Santos, David Arreola and Reina Saco are continuing the Gainesville City Council’s tradition of utterly ignoring the will of their constituents and moving forward with what they had decided long before the public was even informed.

As with the Biomass Plant, this “plan,” which seems to be designed to benefit large property owners and developers (likely from out-of-town) more than it ever will those in need of affordable housing, is destined to fail at accomplishing what Poe and his allies are trying to sell us. Having already failed at selling this “bag of horsefeathers” to the public, the county, or the state; these “4 horsemen,” in all their arrogance, intend to simply ram it down our collective throats.

Wait and see – just as the Biomass Plant turned into an anchor around our collective necks, running up our bills from GRU; this attack on our zoning regulations will result in many of the folks who CAN afford to, moving out of the city. Add these multi-unit buildings to our single family neighborhoods, especially sans the necessary infrastructure, and Gainesville will end up with entire sections of blighted neighborhoods, abandon by those who can afford to. We have seen it before in large cities, and it is what will result from Poe, Hayes-Santos, Arreola and Saco’s pompous and pretentious attitudes. Their actions clearly are in step with a Republican mindset, and it is unconscionable they call themselves Democrats.

And we all know, the reality is, this will happen primarily on the east side, and NOT to the neighborhoods the mayor and his allies live in, nor the more affluent neighborhoods in Gainesville.

Mike

None of the Republicans I know think this is right. In fact, nobody I know thinks this is right. The side of their politics doesn’t play into it at all. Is jumping to conclusions part of a Democrat mindset? I wouldn’t have thought so before.