Carr: City Commission has the opportunity this week to correct previous commission’s exclusionary zoning error

Letter to the editor

On April 19 at 6:00 p.m., a special meeting of the Gainesville City Commission is scheduled to consider the repeal of three ordinances the previous Commission passed on a 4-3 vote in October 2022. The three ordinances adopted last fall combined to radically change existing protections in single-family neighborhoods by eliminating single-family zoning throughout the city, allowing up to 15 units per acre in areas previously zoned single-family, and eliminating both bedroom and occupancy limits. Just imagine de facto fraternity houses in any of our existing single-family neighborhoods! Fortunately, however, public positions taken by four members of our current Commission suggest that repeal is in the offing.

In the run-up to their 2022 adoption, the ordinances were opposed by four of the City’s advisory committees; the Alachua County Commission; the Florida Department of Transportation; the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity; 1000 Friends of Florida; many former Gainesville mayors including Goldstein, Chalmers, Gordon, and Greene; the non-profit organization Gainesville Neighborhood Voices, Inc. (GNVoices), of which I am a director; and over 4,000 citizens from all across Gainesville who signed petitions opposing their passage. And yet the previous Commission stubbornly persisted.  

Those opposed to the October 2022 adoption of these ordinances articulated good reasons it should be repealed:  

  • the inevitable increase in student rental housing in single-family neighborhoods – particularly historically black neighborhoods near the UF campus and Depot Park; 
  • the additional burden that increased density will place on already-stressed infrastructure like wastewater, stormwater, and roads; 
  • the continued loss of tree canopy that will result from higher densities; 
  • the likelihood that investors, rather than homeowners, will be the beneficiaries of the changes; 
  • the crudeness of the one-size-fits-all approach; 
  • the lack of data to demonstrate that additional “missing middle housing” is needed; and 
  • the lack of evidence that this strategy produces more affordable housing, as touted by its proponents.  

And yet the previous Commission stubbornly persisted.  

Last year’s process was characterized by a lack of meaningful exchange between the public, planning staff, and the Commission. Members of the public were not allowed to ask questions but were relegated to making 3-minute statements about all three complex ordinances in combination. As my fellow GNVoices director, Kim Tanzer, recently put it so aptly, “It was like everything, everywhere, all at once”. And yet the previous Commission stubbornly persisted.  

With repeal, our newly-constituted Commission has the opportunity to correct the error of our previous Commission and to instigate positive change. Here are three recommendations I hope they will follow:  

First, our planning staff must provide the public with a detailed analysis of our existing pattern of land use. This should include the percentage of our city in every land use category and every zoning category. It would answer questions about how much “missing middle” housing already exists, what percentage of our city is in parks and open space, commercial use, single-family residential use, rights-of-way, water, etc. Only by fully understanding the existing situation can appropriate change be made. 

Second, a new method for public participation must be adopted. Opportunities for discussion, questions, and give-and-take are sorely needed. The public needs to become a partner rather than an adversary in the planning process.

Third, established planning concepts may well provide a more nuanced strategy for increasing density than the one-size-fits-all approach the three ordinances represent. These include New Urbanism, Transit Oriented Development, and a respect for neighborhood integrity.  

New Urbanism calls for different land use patterns and densities within any given community. Andres Duany, a founder of the New Urbanism movement, said, “Nature in its pure form has a lot of natural diversity… The common currency [of New Urbanism] is diversity.” A healthy city will provide a wide array of housing types to accommodate all its citizens.  

A common and successful strategy focuses on increased density along transit corridors. St. Petersburg, FL has recently adopted an ordinance that will allow quadruplexes on properties that were previously zoned single-family, providing they are within 175’ of a major road and an alley is present. This approach leaves the heart of existing neighborhoods unaltered.  

Minneapolis, MN, often cited as a shining example of rezoning to increase density, strategically selected which neighborhoods could be up-zoned. This is a fine example of concern for neighborhood integrity that Gainesville, given its very large student population, could well follow.

Regardless of your reason to support ordinance repeal, please contact the City Commission via email, phone, or in person at the April 19 meeting. Let’s put this unfortunate chapter behind us and move forward to work on proven and broadly supported steps to improve the availability of housing while preserving the heritage and beauty of Gainesville’s neighborhoods.

Peggy Carr, Gainesville

The opinions expressed by letter or opinion writers are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of AlachuaChronicle.com. Letters may be submitted to info@alachuachronicle.com and are published at the discretion of the editor.

  • This out of touch ,misguided , Joe Biden loving group will soon be refocused and relived of many duties and authority. They have no soul and sense.

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