HomeLocal governmentCity commission changes June 21 Special Meeting on rezoning to a workshop, pledges to not vote on inclusionary/exclusionary zoning ordinances until July
City commission changes June 21 Special Meeting on rezoning to a workshop, pledges to not vote on inclusionary/exclusionary zoning ordinances until July
June 4, 2022
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
Bottom line: Under pressure from residents, the Gainesville City Commission narrowly voted on June 2 to change their June 21 Special Meeting on Exclusionary Zoning Code Amendments to a workshop, meaning they cannot take any binding votes. The same vote took pressure off the Plan Board to approve the amendments at their June 6 meeting.
A consent agenda item at the June 2 Gainesville City Commission meeting turned into a major discussion item after Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut made a motion to pull the item, which would have approved a special meeting on Exclusionary Zoning Code Amendments on June 21 at 1:00 p.m., from the consent agenda and move it to the regular agenda.
When the commission reached that agenda item, Chestnut immediately moved to delay the special meeting until City staff could hold more meetings with neighborhood associations.
Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said, “We’ve been having workshops and public hearings. I think we should move forward with the June 21st date… It’s not a final decision at that meeting, it’s a discussion… It’s just another way to interact and see where we are.”
Commissioner Harvey Ward said he was “torn. There has been a great deal of discussion already. A lot of that discussion has not been particularly productive… There’s been a tremendous amount of heat and not a lot of light… It’s not a question of where I am or am not on this because, boy, I have been accused of being fastly attached to both extremes on this… I think I will support the motion. I think more conversation and more information is a good thing.”
“These ordinances have not even been started. Once we direct the Attorney’s office to draft those ordinances, they have to come back to us.” – Mayor Lauren Poe
Mayor Lauren Poe said he didn’t support the motion: “I think it’s important that we continue with this meeting. I don’t think it at all is intended to be the last meeting that we have, just the next… We’ve been working on this for a very long time… We’re now over two years into this discussion, and I think it’s important… There’s not a Sunday in the Sun that there aren’t multiple housing articles… The 21st meeting, to me, is giving our staff the ability to come back to us with the things that we have learned through these workshops… an update, what have we learned, what are the concerns out there… These ordinances have not even been started. Once we direct the Attorney’s office to draft those ordinances, they have to come back to us.”
Chestnut asked Poe to clarify that the commission would not adopt the zoning code on June 21, and the mayor said, “No. Absolutely not.”
“The reason I’m so concerned about this is that I know once you make a land change like this, make all Gainesville eliminate single-family zoning… that is irreversible” – Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut
Chestnut responded, “Okay, so that’s good. The reason I’m so concerned about this is that I know once you make a land change like this, make all Gainesville eliminate single-family zoning… that is irreversible… I want to be certain, that it’s unequivocal, that 1) On June 21st, no exclusionary zoning amendments will be adopted; and 2) We are going to continue with neighborhood meetings or public meetings for people to share their information with us.”
Poe responded, “Absolutely.”
“The meeting on the 21st… would be the public hearing, and the commission would essentially take action… referring some or none of the code amendments to the Attorney’s office to actually draft the ordinances to bring back at a later date.” – Andrew Persons, Director of the Department of Sustainable Development
Andrew Persons, Director of the Department of Sustainable Development, said the Plan Board is set to discuss the proposed code amendments on June 6, and they will likely make a recommendation to the commission about the individual items. He said staff had thought they would bring those items to the commission in the June 21 meeting: “That would essentially be a public hearing for those. As you know, no ordinances have been written or adopted at this point. The meeting on the 21st… would be the public hearing, and the commission would essentially take action… referring some or none of the code amendments to the Attorney’s office to actually draft the ordinances to bring back at a later date. If that’s not the understanding, then please tell me now because that will be very helpful for us to prepare for that meeting.”
Poe said the Plan Board meeting is “another vector, a place for people to show up and voice their opinions and ask their questions, but whatever they do, we’re not obligated to hold a public hearing right after that.”
Persons said he thought it would be helpful if the city commission had the “actual amendments themselves” to discuss at the June 21 meeting, and Poe agreed, “Yes, the less abstract and the more concrete, that gives us something more specifically to talk about instead of everything under the sun.”
“I’m going to always push back against any narrative that we haven’t talked about it enough or had enough education… I’m okay with reaching out to neighborhoods… but I don’t want to delay this any further.” – Commissioner David Arreola
Commissioner David Arreola said he didn’t want the commission to “fall into the trap that having meetings is the only way to educate people about policy… I’m going to always push back against any narrative that we haven’t talked about it enough or had enough education, but I think the plain fact is that there’s people who support this and there are people who do not.” He said he liked the idea of reaching out to all the neighborhood associations, but he wanted to be “cognizant of the commitment we’re asking our staff to go out and do… I’m okay with reaching out to neighborhoods… but I don’t want to delay this any further.”
Poe said it’s important to have the meeting because while they’ve been able to “hear from our neighbors,” commissioners haven’t had a chance to discuss it with each other: “The seven of us need to talk to each other in a meaningful way, and the only way to do that is a public meeting.”
Hayes-Santos asked whether Chestnut would be okay with having the meeting on the 21st but be “very clear that there won’t be any adoption of ordinances at that meeting.”
“I want the staff to understand that the Plan Board is not pressured to come to us or to vote on June 6th to send this host of Comp Plan Amendments to us.” – Cynthia Chestnut
Chestnut said she thought the Plan Board felt “pressured,… feel that they have to vote on June 6 to adopt the Comp Plan Amendments before them and pass them on to the City… I want the staff to understand that the Plan Board is not pressured to come to us or to vote on June 6th to send this host of Comp Plan Amendments to us.”
Poe said that was “completely reasonable, and the Plan Board could even continue that meeting… to the next meeting, so they absolutely should feel empowered to do that.”
Chestnut then added to her motion a stipulation that the Plan Board should not be obligated to vote on the amendments on June 6.
Poe asked Chestnut if she still wanted to cancel the meeting, and she said, “No, no, no, because you all have sworn before me and God,” and Poe said, “Yes, ma’am.”
Poe clarified, “We’re going to go ahead with the 21st meeting; we’re not going to take any final action at that meeting; we’re not going to ask the Plan Board to take any final action at their meeting on the sixth; and we’ll schedule a follow-up at least, if not multiple, after our recess to come back and take this up, after we’ve had those community meetings.”
Special meeting vs. workshop
The commission then had a discussion of whether they could give direction to staff if they changed the special meeting to a workshop, and Interim City Manager Cynthia Curry interjected, “You can depend on us to do whatever you direct.”
Hayes-Santos was against making the meeting a workshop: “A workshop will just keep things in purgatory, staff won’t know what is supported or not supported… Also, the Plan Board can give a recommendation, but I don’t think we should tell them ‘Don’t make a recommendation.’”
“I will not support something that is a workshop because no one here can take away my ability to vote if I choose to make a motion, that is what I was elected to do… We need to actually do business.” – Commissioner Reina Saco
Commissioner Reina Saco thought a workshop might lead to ambiguity: “If there is disagreement on next steps… staff can’t do anything. Like do both? Do neither?… I will not support something that is a workshop because no one here can take away my ability to vote if I choose to make a motion, that is what I was elected to do… We need to actually do business. This is not going to be an ordinance, but sometimes you have to commit to direction, and we won’t have that ability.”
Interim City Attorney Dan Nee said that under their rules, “the purpose of a workshop meeting is for informal discussion, and no business may be transacted at the meeting. With that being said, any direction from the commission towards our office or any other charter office, it won’t be ignored because they’re in workshop.” He said an alternative could be a Special General Policy Committee meeting. Chestnut said, “I don’t think I’m feeling comfortable with this.”
Poe added that based on what the Attorney said, “It does not say that we shall not direct staff, we can still direct staff at a workshop… There’s no prohibition in the rules for us doing that.”
“As a commissioner, I retain my ability to pursue policies that I care about, so I do want to give direction to staff to bring back ordinances… Any deviation from that, in my point of view, is moving away from what we’re elected to do, which is make decisions.” – Arreola
Arreola said he was “ready to give direction to staff… As a commissioner, I retain my ability to pursue policies that I care about, so I do want to give direction to staff to bring back ordinances… I would like my colleagues to get there, and the only way to do that is for our professional staff to present at a meeting and for us to deliberate the policies… Any deviation from that, in my point of view, is moving away from what we’re elected to do, which is make decisions.”
Poe said he wanted to have the discussion on the 21st, then bring the ordinances back in a special meeting in July “because I think we need to separate this from our own meetings and give it separate attention… Let’s have the meeting, let’s have the discussion and figure out where we are so we can keep this moving forward, that’s my preference.” He said he would personally reach out to the chair of the Plan Board and let her know “they don’t have to feel obligated to take action. It’s up to them.”
Everyone who spoke during public comment asked the commission to slow down and delay the rezoning for various amounts of time, with requests ranging from waiting until people are back in town in the fall to pausing for a year. None of the comments directly supported the exclusionary/inclusionary zoning proposals, which would allow as many as four living units on properties that are currently zoned single-family.
The motion to have a workshop on June 21 passed 4-3, with Arreola, Hayes-Santos, and Saco in dissent.
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