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City commission adds a Development Review Board, schedules affordable housing workshops, approves the next phase of work on improvements to University Avenue and 13th Street

Mayor Lauren Poe tells the audience that “this vilification of people… has got to stop” after commenters criticized recent housing developments on 13th Street

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At their April 7 meeting, the Gainesville City Commission moved forward with a change to their Land Development Code, approved a schedule for affordable housing workshops that will precede a Plan Board discussion on inclusionary/exclusionary zoning, and approved the next step in improvements to University Avenue and 13th Street.

Change to Land Development Code adds a Development Review Board

The proposed change to the Land Development Code adds a citizen Development Review Board to the approval process for certain new developments; the ordinance was previously considered in February, but the commission had concerns and asked for changes in neighborhood workshop requirements, levels of development review (rapid, intermediate, major), review procedures for development plans, and approval procedures for development plans. 

The proposed changes require a posted notice at a property for which a workshop is to be held, a neighborhood workshop, and a Public Participation Report, among other changes to the existing neighborhood workshop requirements. 

The ordinance changes the Land Development code so that site plans for residential developments with greater than 50 units will not be reviewed and approved by City staff but instead will be reviewed and approved by a volunteer citizen board, the Development Review Board. The proposed ordinance specified that developments with 100% of units reserved for household at 80% AMI (Area Median Income), regardless of size, would be exempted from the additional review unless the developer is requesting a variance. The new review requirements would also add a new Planner position at the City plus additional public notice costs, and staff noted that the changes would increase the review time for all projects.

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The staff report points out that because site plan review is the last step of the development review process, the reviewing authority, whether City staff or an advisory board, has “the least discretion as to whether any site plan must be approved or denied.” If the site plan meets “the voluminous prescribed regulations,” then “that site plan must be approved – again regardless of reviewing authority – even if the site plan turns out to be seemingly unpopular or has generated significant opposition by interested neighbors.”

“It goes against recommendations from affordable housing experts… I believe this is a step backwards.” – Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos was concerned that the ordinance would add $100,000 in recurring expenses to the City’s budget for the new Planner position, make housing more expensive, and delay the construction of new housing: “It goes against recommendations from affordable housing experts… I believe this is a step backwards.” He suggested allowing exemptions from review for affordable housing projects with 15-20% of units designated as affordable.

“If we had put Royal Park, for example, through this process, it would have still gone through. Nothing would have changed except that it cost more money to provide that workforce housing that they’re trying to do.” – Commissioner Reina Saco

Commissioner Reina Saco was concerned that adding in more review “promotes a false expectation to our neighbors of, well, we can go to this board, and they’ll stop the process. If we had put Royal Park, for example, through this process, it would have still gone through. Nothing would have changed except that it cost more money to provide that workforce housing that they’re trying to do.” She also supported reducing the affordable housing threshold to 15-20%. 

Mayor Lauren Poe said he liked the notification process and neighborhood workshop elements in the ordinance, but he thought that adding a Development Review Board for a development with 51 or more units would be “a step in the wrong direction.”

Saco made a motion to move forward with the ordinance without the provision requiring review by the Development Review Board of any residential projects over 50 units. 

“We’ve had five years, almost, under the Comprehensive Plan and the Land Development Code. We’ve seen the canyons going up on 13th Street, we’ve seen people try and fail to stop Seminary Lane… We’re sick and tired of it.” – Robert Mounts

During public comment on the motion, Robert Mounts said the ordinance was “the most determined defense of by-right development I have seen yet… We’ve had five years almost under the Comprehensive Plan and the Land Development Code. We’ve seen the canyons going up on 13th Street, we’ve seen people try and fail to stop Seminary Lane… We’re sick and tired of it.”

“Those developments that have gone up are not buildings; they’re homes for people. They live there. They’re a part of our community. They should be welcomed. They should be celebrated. This vilification of housing, this vilification of people, our neighbors, in our community, has got to stop. Has got to stop.” – Mayor Lauren Poe

Following public comment, Poe angrily responded, “Those developments that have gone up are not buildings; they’re homes for people. They live there. They’re a part of our community. They should be welcomed. They should be celebrated. This vilification of housing, this vilification of people, our neighbors, in our community, has got to stop. Has got to stop.” He said the ordinance would significantly improve engagement on the front end of development.

The motion failed 3-4, with only Poe, Hayes-Santos, and Saco voting for it. 

Commissioner David Arreola made a motion to move forward with the ordinance except with the change that developments with 15% of units designated as “affordable” would be exempt from review by the Development Review Board. That motion passed, 4-3, with Hayes-Santos, Poe, and Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker in dissent.

The ordinance will have two more hearings.

Affordable housing workshops will precede inclusionary/exclusionary zoning discussion

Hayes-Santos also asked to pull an item from the consent agenda that scheduled Affordable Housing Workshop dates for May 17 and June 13. Since the City Plan Board will soon be taking up inclusionary/exclusionary zoning, Hayes-Santos wanted to have the recommendation from the Plan Board before the workshops, so he requested that the Plan Board make a recommendation on the zoning changes at their next meeting (April 28) and move the June workshop earlier. 

Duncan-Walker said she had concerns with asking the Plan Board to make a recommendation before the City Manager could complete the affordable housing workshops. She said community members had asked her for even more workshops than the two that are scheduled. She also asked Hayes-Santos to elaborate on the zoning items before the Plan Board.

Hayes-Santos said he thought a recommendation from the Plan Board on inclusionary/exclusionary zoning would provide something “concrete” that members of the public could discuss; the commission could then “consolidate all that feedback into our discussion… Every month we delay these decisions… it’s increasing the number of people that won’t have housing.”

Interim City Manager Cynthia Curry said the workshops were scheduled following a city commission request from the March 17 meeting. Her opinion was that asking the Plan Board to make a recommendation either before or during the workshop process would be “disjointed.” She said she would prefer to have the workshops feed into the Plan Board process.

Hayes-Santos made a motion to schedule two or more workshops in early-to-mid May to discuss housing issues and ask the Plan Board to delay the inclusionary/exclusionary zoning discussion to their meeting in late May. Then the city commission would take up the zoning ordinance in June. Poe said the workshop would be “for the public – the commission can join and sort of listen and observe. [The workshops are] for all of our neighbors and staff to receive information and share thoughts and ideas and bring all those back to us in an organized form.”

The motion passed unanimously.

Related: Tana Silva writes that commissioners are racing to implement “inclusionary zoning” before their terms expire

University and 13th

The commission heard a presentation about proposed design changes to University Avenue (from NW 34th Street to SE 31st Street) and 13th Street (from SW 16th Avenue to NW 8th Avenue). 

The recommendations included:

  • Changing the roadway from four lanes to two lanes with a westbound bike lane and eastbound 2-way cycle track on University Avenue between NE 3rd Street and SE 31st Street.
  • Adding painted bike lanes and more pedestrian crossings on University Avenue between NW 34th Street and NW 22nd Street, along with possibly changing from three traffic lanes (two in one direction, one in the other) to one lane in each direction with a center turn lane.
  • Adding a raised median with narrowed lanes and protected bike lanes on SW 13th Street between SW Archer Road and SW 16th Avenue.

In the short term, the consultant recommended restriping to makes lanes narrower and painting bike lanes green on East University Avenue, green-painted bike lanes and “spot medians” on West University Avenue, and green-painted bike lanes and a physical barrier between vehicle and bike lanes on SW 13th Street.

“I’m telling you, I drive that corridor a couple of times a day, and it’s the exception when I don’t see someone mounting the curve and parked on the sidewalk, in the bike lane, right in front of our police station. It sends a terrible message. We have a lot of priorities, but it drives me crazy.” – Mayor Lauren Poe

Saco made a motion to approve the proposed design alternatives and move forward to the PD&E (Project Development and Environment) phase and ask the Interim City Manager to produce a memo regarding ways to enforce restrictions on parking on sidewalks and bike lanes. Poe chimed in, “Especially in front of the police station. I’m telling you, I drive that corridor a couple of times a day, and it’s the exception when I don’t see someone mounting the curve and parked on the sidewalk, in the bike lane, right in front of our police station. It sends a terrible message. We have a lot of priorities, but it drives me crazy.”

The motion passed unanimously without any discussion of the cost of the next phase.

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