City commission completes reversal of single-family zoning ordinances

From broadcast of June 1 City Commission Meeting


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At the June 1 Gainesville City Commission meeting, the commission voted 4-3 to repeal three single-family zoning ordinances and immediately started discussing zoning changes that would implement parts of the repealed ordinances.

The trio of ordinances, which have been nearly unanimously opposed by dozens of people who showed up to speak at city commission meetings and workshops, renamed the City’s Single-Family land use to Neighborhood Residential, allowing up to eight units per acre, and modified the Future Land Use map by renaming all Single-Family land uses to Neighborhood Residential; rezoned all RSF-1 through RSF-4 zoning districts into a Neighborhood Residential zoning district that allows a new use called Neighborhood Scale Multi-family with up to four units per building; and modified the Land Development Code to provide flexibility for building multi-family dwellings, including changing the requirements for lot splits, changing the definition of a minor subdivision, allowing zero-foot setbacks in some cases, removing a requirement for a wall between single-family and multi-family properties, removing occupancy limits throughout the city, and increasing bedroom limits in the University of Florida Context Area.

Repealing the Future Land Use map changes

The city commission took the ordinances one at a time, with each new ordinance repealing one of the above three ordinances. The new ordinances put the City’s ordinances back to the way they were before the zoning ordinances were passed, word-for-word. On April 19, the ordinances passed 4-3 on first reading

Eight people spoke during public comment; most supported repealing the ordinances, with Robert Mounts advocating for allowing lot splits and reducing setbacks by exception in single-family neighborhoods. Kali Blount said that eliminating single-family zoning would not increase affordable housing unless the commission addresses price points and family-oriented design; he said that inclusionary zoning, which incentivizes developers to build affordable housing, is one way to do that, but that housing needs to go in “areas of opportunity,” not in areas that already have “concentrations of poverty.”

After public comment, Commissioner Reina Saco, who attended the meeting remotely, explained why she opposed repealing the ordinances: “Voting to bring back exclusionary zoning is a vote for cementing the rights of those privileged enough to have housing already and the flexibility to be here.” She said that the people who support repealing the ordinances tend to be older and that younger people have less flexibility to attend City meetings during the day. “Moving forward with this vote is telling those human beings… that the imagined harms of property owners matter more than their economic stability and that we don’t care that they are struggling.” She said the ordinances, along with inclusionary zoning (which will be moving forward this summer) and rental permits, are part of a network of factors to “build a better city.”

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut made a motion to adopt the proposed ordinance, and Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker seconded the motion.

Commissioner Bryan Eastman said he didn’t support everything in the ordinances that were being repealed, but he had hoped there would be more conversation about implementing the good parts instead of putting back “an old zoning code that we all acknowledge has some very serious issues with it, right back on the table, when we could have instead spent all of this time kind of figuring out what we could come together on and what we could win on.” He said he wanted to make a motion after they finished voting on the ordinances “for a potential way that we can move forward.”

Eastman said the commission needs to “take one idea at a time, consider it, think it through, let the community grapple with it, and then pass those as we go through, do this in a thoughtful, incremental way.”

“Exclusionary zoning came as a pushback from federal court cases that said you couldn’t do racial zoning and so they had to figure out a new way. It is absolutely about race in the end… I’m not going to change my vote on this because multifamily people are my people.” – Commissioner Casey Willits

Commissioner Casey Willits said, “People who live in multifamily housing are my people. I live in multifamily housing… My district is people who live in multifamily housing… Homeowners are not the majority of the people who live in the city of Gainesville.” He said homeowners are “participating in a racist system,” but that doesn’t make them racist. He continued, “I want to make sure that I clearly say that land use and exclusionary zoning is absolutely about race… Exclusionary zoning came as a pushback from federal court cases that said you couldn’t do racial zoning and so they had to figure out a new way. It is absolutely about race in the end… I’m not going to change my vote on this because multifamily people are my people.”

Willits said they should be looking not only at the affordability of apartments but also new houses: “We don’t really worry about how expensive that housing is. We don’t worry about it. Because those are the right people who are going to live in those houses. And I’m very specific, I use it, it is the right people. And we know what that means. They look like us. They earn money like us. They worship like us. They love like us. The right people will be in those houses. Perhaps even wealthier–why not bring someone wealthier into your neighborhood? Maybe it will improve your property value.”

Commissioner Ed Book said that “across-the-board land use zoning across the city… that’s not the way we improve the city… When you do sweeping things, you have collateral impacts. You are not able to preserve your neighborhoods and… put density exactly where density should probably be, which is in areas that already have density.” 

Chestnut said the issue “is about neighborhood preservation.” She said where people live depends on their income, so the City should be working with the Chamber of Commerce to bring better-paying jobs to Gainesville. She said that when people buy a house, “they want their investment preserved, they want their neighborhood preserved… For me and for many people in this community, this is where we began to create generational wealth… That is what we are fighting for.”

Duncan-Walker agreed with Willits that zoning has historically been tied to race, but she said they now have “an opportunity to hit reset… And what I would hope is at the core of that… is equitable development… How do we meaningfully protect, preserve, and revitalize historically black and historic other communities?… Gentrification continues to rapidly run through them.” She said the commission needs to consider “affordable housing for the most vulnerable… who no longer have a chance to live in our urban core [because] housing for the people who are the most vulnerable was replaced by luxury student housing.” 

The motion passed 4-3, with Eastman, Saco, and Willits in dissent.

Repealing the second and third ordinances

Book made a motion to adopt the second ordinance, and the motion was seconded by Duncan-Walker. The motion passed by the same 4-3 vote.

Duncan-Walker made the motion to adopt the third ordinance, and Chestnut seconded the motion.

Willits said he wanted to comment on that ordinance, which included occupancy limit changes, because he didn’t want the City “to be in the business of asking the question: who belongs there? Or giving super, super easy access to every neighbor to question who belongs there in someone else’s home, because we cannot start to talk about housing the most vulnerable in our city or our unhoused or under-housed neighbors without the flexibility of people being unrelated, in a home, together, because that is the reality of people who are poor. They live wherever they can.”

Duncan-Walker said she heard him and that she hoped the equitable development framework would help them “envision how Gainesville grows and how all of our neighbors have an opportunity to live here in a very fair and safe and equitable way.”

Mayor Harvey Ward agreed that they need to have a conversation about occupancy limits: “There are neighborhoods who very rightly are concerned about occupancy limits because what it means for their neighborhood is house parties, big loud house parties on a regular basis. But we are no longer a city that is entirely responsive to neighborhoods next to campus; we’re a much bigger city than that now, and we have to find a way to meet the needs of specific neighborhoods, in this case, that are near campus and weigh them against the needs of folks who don’t live near campus… I’m confident that there doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. That, and lot sizes, and lot splits, and those sorts of things are all things that we need to have conversations about.”

The motion passed by the same 4-3 vote. 

Eastman’s motion on lot splits and cottage neighborhoods

Eastman immediately proposed asking staff “to create and promote a process to receive and review ideas from residents of potential reforms to land use and zoning.”

Andrew Persons, Special Advisor to the City Manager, said there is a process for accepting private amendments through Sustainable Development, and there’s a fee associated with it. Persons said the commission can also make amendments to the Land Development Code, and staff occasionally makes recommendations for changes.

Eastman said they need something “a little bit more simplified” and that he also wanted to schedule a joint meeting with the City Plan Board. He referred to a document he had placed in the backup to the agenda item with changes that would allow single-family houses on smaller lots and also allow cottage neighborhoods. 

Chestnut said she was “just a bit troubled by your proposal because it seems to me like what you’re proposing is to undo what we just did.”

Eastman said again that he had hoped to have these conversations “while we were on a pause,” then “once we hit the reset, then we would come back and have these conversations… That reset has just happened.” He said he didn’t expect the commission to vote on anything he proposed that day but wanted staff to review it and create a process for people to submit proposals.

Chestnut said she wanted “to go on record, it’s very troubling… It seems to me you’re trying to go back to October, and we’re trying to move forward in June.”

Eastman said he was only asking process questions and proposing an ordinance “that would protect single-family zoning in all the existing areas but just allow homes to be built on smaller lots.”

Willits said he favored Eastman’s proposals and that he was looking forward to the completion of a cottage neighborhood in the county so people could see a “literal example… We can’t let the grass grow on any of this; we’ve got to move on and start looking at it.”

Book said he didn’t support adding any more meetings because “we’re already putting an incredible demand on staff right now.”

Eastman made a motion to “direct staff to create and promote a process to receive and review ideas from residents on potential reforms to land use and zoning, add a scheduled meeting with the City Plan Board to discuss our upcoming Comprehensive Plan amendments and as we move forward with land use, and present an application reviewing the changes previously proposed, that is in the backup, that protects single-family zoning while reducing lot sizes for those single-family homes and allows cottage neighborhoods.” Willits seconded the motion.

Ward said he would split the motion because he didn’t support adding another input mechanism for applications for land use and zoning changes because people who would have otherwise paid to submit an application would use the new process instead. Eastman agreed to remove that from his motion. 

Ward then said he would “like us to take half a breath before we put a land use and zoning amendment on the table again.” He said he favored meeting with the City Plan Board, though.

Saco said she favored asking staff to look at Eastman’s proposal, but she didn’t want to have any meetings about it before October 1.

“I wanted to have something physically on the table for those other folks that are not in this room here today, that do care about having something, some solution, because they cannot find housing, they’re watching housing values go up, and they want to see this commission come forward with some kind of proposals that will alleviate that pain that they’re feeling.” – Commissioner Bryan Eastman

Eastman said he had made these proposals in February and was told he would have to wait for the “reset” to be completed. “Now I’m told that we need to wait for us to get through the budget, we need to wait for healing, we need to wait for data… and I do think at some point, we need to say, well, when are we going to take that first step?… But I wanted to have something physically on the table for those other folks that are not in this room here today, that do care about having something, some solution, because they cannot find housing, they’re watching housing values go up, and they want to see this commission come forward with some kind of proposals that will alleviate that pain that they’re feeling.”

“The need for housing doesn’t go away because some people want to breathe in our community and some people want to pause and some people want to celebrate their victory. The need does not go away, and that’s why I say we just can’t wait, we’ve got to keep on moving.” – Commissioner Casey Willits

Willits said, “I have a problem with delay because housing delayed is housing denied… The need for housing doesn’t go away because some people want to breathe in our community and some people want to pause and some people want to celebrate their victory. The need does not go away, and that’s why I say we just can’t wait, we’ve got to keep on moving. And I think this is the beginning of those conversations.”

Willits said, “Spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt is a propaganda tactic. ‘We can’t possibly move forward because we don’t know everything’ is a propaganda tactic.”

Chestnut said she didn’t support the motion and that she thought the idea should start in a General Policy Committee meeting because that’s the typical process for policy proposals. 

City Manager Cynthia Curry said her staff would “appreciate a break, not a break to take a break but a break that still involves a lot of things going on.” She said it’s taking a lot of staff time to go through the budget, and that includes all departments. “For those that don’t know, we have been asked to advance the review of the State Auditor’s findings by a month. As opposed to coming here in July, they’re here, June 1.”

Curry added, “We will do what we are directed to do… but we do need to step back. I would say any expectation of community engagement prior to October 1 will not be done to the best ability, if the staff I have right now has to engage in it.”

Duncan-Walker said that her equitable development proposal went through the General Policy Committee (GPC) process, and she asked Eastman to consider putting his proposal on a GPC meeting agenda. She added, “I would like to exhale, to be honest. This entire last year has been a lot, and while we don’t need to delay, I need to exhale.”

Book also said he would prefer to see the proposal on a future agenda.

Ward suggested placing an agenda item on the July 27 GPC meeting to discuss which ideas they want staff to start working on, “knowing that isn’t going to come back to us until the fall.” He said that would give them plenty of time to engage with the community about the proposed ideas.

Ward also favored scheduling a meeting with the City Plan Board because “as critical as our budget discussions are, we have to walk and chew gum at the same time.” He said it could take two or three months to schedule that meeting. 

The commission voted unanimously to schedule a joint meeting with the City Plan Board. 

The vote on the second part of the motion, which was for staff to review Eastman’s proposal and bring it back to the commission, was 2-5 with Eastman and Willits in favor of the motion. 

Ward said he would schedule the discussion for the July 27 GPC meeting, anyway, “and I strongly suggest that anybody who has ideas, take those ideas to the community over the next two months… and bring clear ideas and clear backup back to each other for that.”

  • The City Commission is composed of 7 Commissioners of which the majority cry for equity but there was nothing in the recent vote to double their salaries that illustrated equity. It’s apparent who they are and the $oci@li$t agenda they support and stand for. Mark your calendars, it won’t be long before Gainesville commissioners are making demands for reparations. That’s what some of these so called “community leaders” are crying for, hoping for, and won’t be satisfied until it happens. Even then, they won’t be satisfied. They want the government to provide for them because they feel they are “owed.” Many of us know who they are. Wonder how many would take a plane ticket, one way, if offered?

    You liberal idiots who keep voting for them should take them and move to California, Oregon, or Washington. They’re more of your mindset and ignorance.

    • They sound retarded, still cleaning up Mayor Poo-poo’s mess after all this time. As Curry alluded to, it will be unfortunate for them if the JLAC reacts harshly when they don’t have their homework ready to turn in because they’ve wasted so much time on woke equity nonsense and undoing Poo-poo’s folly.

    • They complain when I-75 took retail west. But they’d complain if I-75 plowed thru the eastside, too. Any way you slice a commie, they aren’t happy.

  • Really have to keep an eye on those shifty buggers!

    I mean, really, why in the HECK would I want a noisier, more conjested neighborhood? I wouldn’t, that’s why I saved my money and bought a single family home. Otherwise, I would have spent that house money on something else, like vacations.

    Yet those shifty woke buggers were just all to willing to essentially take a substantial portion of the value of my property away from me.


  • There’s a dead end ahead and these
    Robinhoods feel they still have a duty to fix all equity and inclusion.
    They are out of money and the city is crumbling but they continue to ignore critical issues.
    Fire Eastman, Saco, Willits and Ward, before the State does it for you.

    • Yes, and allow for DE-annexation of neighborhoods and communities within Gainesville who wish to get off this expensive carnival ride!

  • Wow, go Cynthia! A voice of reason and common sense. Nice to see that.

    Glad this huge mistake has been corrected, but unfortunately I suspect it’s not dead just on life support.

  • The city already has tons of vacant potential supply areas: legalizing granny suite additions, legalizing lot splits, vacant OLD commercial properties that could be divided as residential condos along busy streets. Without “equity” BS meddling into traditional neighborhoods.

  • Of course Willits has to try playing the race card. Every one in Florida legally, including here, has an equal OPPORTUNITY to buy property anywhere they want. It still takes credit worthiness if a mortgage is needed. So stop with the race card foolishness.

  • Willets the Weasel is attempting to hide in sheep’s clothing. He has been one of those “spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt,” since his election. No one has denied anyone who QUALIFIED for housing any housing. On the other hand, it was the Democrat commission who gentrified several long-standing neighborhoods in Gainesville. Only the liberal loons will be unable to recognize the ruse he’s pulling on them and only the liberal lunatics will see it and continue to support it.

    Easy Eastman is worried about the price of housing going up but isn’t concerned about utilities and taxes going up? Anyone else have an issue with that? Anyone else feeling that pain?

    Wacko Saco opens mouth and out comes dumbarse again. She does realize those “younger” people are the same ones who line the streets to protest what color they crapped that morning doesn’t she? The same ones who demand they be permitted to work from home? The only way the city will be better is if she’s not in it. She needs to go away, don’t care where – just go.

    Book is starting to concern me. He’s starting to sound more like Wobblin’ Ward. Can’t seem to make up his mind and wants to keep kicking the can down the road.

    The more I see Mr. Blount it seems as if he wants plantation housing again. Keep everyone on the same farm. Make sure the massa provides a home for everyone. I used to believe he hoped people would get independence from government handouts, now I’m not so sure.

    Don’t know what many are thinking but here’s my thoughts. Gainesville is in trouble with this group of knuckleheads leading – serious trouble.

    • I think Willits it hungry for kickbacks from developers, just like his predecessors.

    • As the Fed’s mortgage rates go up so do housing per square foot costs goes up. But that just creates new demand for smaller homes again. The era of McMansions that started with low rates is over.

  • These people are why you can’t have nice things anymore.

    • You can but only if you’re willing to share it or let them tax it. At the very least be willing to let someone steal it.

  • Ever notice that it’s always the young white progressives who scream RACIST the most?

    • Makes them feel better because they fear someone accusing them of being privileged. They’re still only interested in themselves and the perception, albeit false, of what others think of them.
      Anyone who doubts it should take a look at the many “influencers” seeking the approvals of others. Look at their social media profiles, friends, etc. Not much diversity there.
      Their hypocrisy is all the perception many of us need to see who they really are.

  • The comments here sound like the new commission didn’t overturn the previous one’s change in zoning. You guys wrote the same ignorant angry partisan BS no matter what happens.

    Thanks for the thorough recap of the meeting and comments by commissioners on the issue and their voting.

    • This coming from the guy who can’t get enough of the current liberal liquids.
      Don’t you have a room to go play in somewhere?

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