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City commission postpones decision on St. Michael’s property

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At the November 1 Gainesville City Commission Special Meeting, the commission considered a proposal to change the land use of the St. Michael’s property to allow for a mix of residential and commercial uses.

Right at the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Lauren Poe removed the second item on the agenda, which was a quasi-judicial hearing to rezone the 7.1 acres of land located at 4315 NW 23rd Avenue (the St. Michael’s property), saying “I understand that there are some concerns about the public hearing that happened back in April. And so to make sure that everybody has a free and fair chance to express their opinions and that we are able to follow due process to the letter, if the land use passes tonight, then we will schedule a future special meeting to hold the public hearing.” He said they would reopen the public hearing, so if anyone wanted to file for status as an affected party, there would be time to do that before the hearing. “If the land use does not pass tonight, then there will be no need for a quasi-judicial hearing, and the matter will be dead at that point.”

That left the first agenda item, an ordinance for a land use change that would overlay a Planned Use District on the property, which currently has an underlying land use category of Office and Conservation. The allowable uses under the ordinance are any in the Urban 7 (U7) zoning district except for a list of specific non-allowed uses. The ordinance limits the non-residential square footage to 20,000 square feet and limits the residential density to 220 dwelling units. A minimum of 10% of the residential units developed must be Workforce Housing Units–units that, for households earning between 80% and 120% of the area’s Area Median Income, no more than 30% of household income is spent on housing. 

The maximum building height under the proposed ordinance is four stories by right, with a bonus of up to six stories. Buildings must be placed between 20 and 25 feet from the curb along both roadways. The ordinance calls for a maximum of three access points to the developments, two along NW 43rd Street, and one on NW 23rd Avenue. The development has no minimum parking requirement. 

The staff presentation gave the history of the project to date: A plan for a single-story commercial project was presented to the City Plan Board in February and then to the city commission in April. The City Plan Board vote was 3-3, which effectively was a motion to deny the petition. When the city commission heard the plan in April, there was a motion by Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, with a second from Commissioner David Arreola, to adopt the petition with the following modifications: Change it from mixed-use low intensity to urban mixed-use, no drive-throughs, allow more square footage on ground floor and upper floors, allow heights under urban mixed-use land use, allow the City to construct a park on the conservation land, and require the developer to make their best effort to save heritage trees. That motion passed 4-2, with former Commissioner Gail Johnson and Commissioner Harvey Ward in dissent and former Commissioner Gigi Simmons absent.

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In the developer’s presentation, Kevin Frazier of Wilson Development Group said they were “just as surprised by the direction the commission chose to take… as were obviously all the others who were in attendance that night or participated.” But he said they had worked hard to modify their application to align it with the motion. 

This is one of the slides from his presentation, showing the proposed development:

The commission then took over two hours of public comment, with each speaker limited to three minutes, nearly all of which was opposed to the project. Objections ranged from ecological concerns to traffic, noise, disturbance of the cemetery next to the property, and due process concerns. Only one speaker, who said that rents are too high in Gainesville and that more housing needs to be built, supported the land use change.

Although residents of low-density single-family communities tend to have two or more cars a household, residents in apartments and condominiums only have one car per household… Also, more density makes areas more pedestrian-safe. The more single-family [housing] in the area, the less safe it is for pedestrians.” – Mayor Lauren Poe

After public comment, Poe said that those who spoke were having “a completely human reaction to change.” He said that their neighborhood could be “made even greater with more wonderful neighbors whose children will be playing with our children, who we will chat with while walking out dogs, and who you will help out in their time of need.” He then described benefits of multi-family housing to public health and climate change (“A deeper look at the climate reveals that suburban neighborhoods are the worst perpetrator”). He said that single-family zoning is “incredibly harmful. It has had a racist impact, having been used to exclude people of color from certain neighborhoods, and it overall increases the cost of housing by limiting supply.”

Poe then said, “There’s a myth that higher-density development creates more regional traffic congestion and parking problems than low-density development. The facts are that less traffic is generated per unit with higher-density development than low-density development… Although residents of low-density single-family communities tend to have two or more cars a household, residents in apartments and condominiums only have one car per household… Also, more density makes areas more pedestrian-safe. The more single-family [housing] in the area, the less safe it is for pedestrians…So more dense multifamily housing is better for our health, our environment, for affordability, and for reducing traffic conditions, but where should it be located? I argue that new housing is best located on vacant land within the urban context, especially when near jobs, shopping, transit, and schools. This type of responsible development is in the best short and long term interest of current neighbors as well as future neighbors.”

He continued, “And finally we have to ask ourselves who benefits from reducing housing supply. And the answer is people who already own property. Landlords who own apartment complexes benefit, people like me benefit who own our homes because a scarcity of housing drives up cost, drives up price, and increases our personal investment. The way to free up the housing market and bring downward pressure is to increase the housing supply, and it should be done equitably throughout our city so everybody has a chance to live in our amazing community.”

“Strip mall and car-oriented developments support chain businesses, national chains. If you want local businesses, we have to build walkable developments.” – Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos

Hayes-Santos said he wanted to give 220 families the ability to live in the desirable location on that corner: “Will we give 220 families the opportunity to live in a high-opportunity area of the city?… We call ourselves the welcoming city. I’m proud of that. But we keep ourselves a welcoming city by allowing new neighbors to live in our neighborhoods. That’s welcoming. When we stop new neighbors, that’s not a welcoming city.” He said people are getting priced out of the housing market in Gainesville, and that’s why you’re seeing “sprawl going out west, going into Alachua and High Springs and Jonesville… Strip mall and car-oriented developments support chain businesses, national chains. If you want local businesses, we have to build walkable developments… The housing will be built. If not here, further out west, and those people have to drive in. So it’s not like we can stop it from happening. It’s where does it happen. And if we allow it here, that will cause less traffic to happen than it getting built further and further west and everyone having to commute in.”

What I was hoping for was maybe five stories… I was hoping for four, maybe five stories to match the Atrium just a couple of blocks away… I hate being involved in punting this again. But I’m going to vote to punt it again.” – Commissioner Harvey Ward

Commissioner Harvey Ward encouraged the public to contact the county commission about the condition of the roads in the area of the St. Michael’s property: “Those are not City streets. We can’t fix them, no matter what. The design of those roads were County design. It’s not anybody on this dais. I find them quizzical as well.” He said he would vote against anything “that looks like another strip mall. Because frankly that’s what that looked like to me… a poor use of a very important piece of land… I think what we’re talking about tonight makes sense… in the urban core; Suburban Heights is not the urban core… What I was hoping for was maybe five stories… I was hoping for four, maybe five stories to match the Atrium just a couple of blocks away… I hate being involved in punting this again. But I’m going to vote to punt it again… I’d be willing to vote for a full park here, by the way… But we need housing… This is not the last church that’s going to be out of business in our town or many other towns. Churches are terrific neighbors… You don’t want to see that go because it’s quiet, it’s green… Churches are going out of business left and right… Think about what’s the next church that’s going to go, and what do we do? What’s our plan for that?”

The developer spoke up and offered to cap the building at five stories. Ward said he “didn’t want to horse-trade tonight. I think that’s a really bad idea.”

Arreola said, “I think we are a lot closer to a solution than we realize. We have to be willing… to accept no one is going to get everything they want out of this… I think this commission will also have to accept that a simple yes or no vote tonight is really not going to be that solution.” He wanted the commission to vote against the proposed land use change and ask staff to bring back an ordinance with zoning “that is more contextually appropriate with what is across the street.” He turned that into a motion, and Ward seconded it. 

Hayes-Santos said that in the interest of compromise, he could support a five-story limit. He wanted to make some changes to the ordinance before them and go ahead and approve it.

Commissioner Reina Saco said she was “a little uncomfortable with the six stories. Five sounds perfect to me.” She supported “changing just the story and everything else stays the same, that we do this today.”

“[I would be] remiss if I did not address the historic African-American cemetery that is right there… The idea that a 6-story or even 5-story towering building over a cemetery would exist is personally problematic for me… We as a commission should be very mindful as we develop near or around things that have sacred significance to groups of people.” – Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said her “concern grew more and more” as she listened to the public comment. “I think that the most important thing for me here is that it is important for us to be creative. Absolutely, housing is an issue. We’re in a crisis. But how we do that housing, for me, is the critical issue.” She said she would be “remiss if I did not address the historic African-American cemetery that is right there… The idea that a 6-story or even 5-story towering building over a cemetery would exist is personally problematic for me… We as a commission should be very mindful as we develop near or around things that have sacred significance to groups of people.” She said she appreciated Arreola’s motion, but “I don’t like the five.”

Hayes-Santos said he couldn’t accept the motion: “[That] zoning is a car-oriented type of zoning… I don’t think that’s a good direction to go. I have concerns about dropping the amount of housing… in half. That will increase the cost of the housing.”

Arreola, saying, “I want us to have a positive vote,” asked Ward if he’d be interested in amending the motion to cap the building at four stories and go with zoning U5 instead of U6. Ward agreed to the amendment, but staff said that U5 zoning is an “area that gets weird in our code” and actually has higher density than U6.

Poe suggested that scheduling a workshop between the commission and interested community members could be a “potential path forward… I actually don’t think we’re going to get to that spot where we’re going to give unified clear direction to our staff tonight. We’re tired, it’s late. There’s a lot of different ideas out there… I implore my colleagues to let us reconvene at another time where everybody’s a little more fresh, and we’ve had a chance to talk to our staff a little more carefully about how do we achieve our goals.”

Arreola said he was “hearing loud and clear from my colleagues, there is not support for the motion I put on the floor… Mr. Mayor, I think you laid out a pretty good pathway, and I think it’s an appropriate pathway… With the seconder’s permission, I’d like to amend the motion that we take no action on the ordinance in front of us and we schedule a special workshop at a later date.”

The motion passed unanimously.

  • Duncan-Walker raised a good point about residents overlooking a cemetery. The building designers should also consider noise from music blasting out of open balcony doors and windows, too. Perhaps design it so the units on that side are SROs without balconies or windows that open on that side? SRO = single room occupancy floorplan, and make them condos since mortgages are a fraction of rental costs per square foot.

  • Is “affordable housing” code word for low income
    Section 8 housing where taxpayers pay the rent?

  • 🤣🤣🤣 Really? People are so gullible and ignorant they can’t see through the hypocrisy described here?

    Two hours of liberal led public comment voicing their disapproval for the proposed development. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in favor of it either but not because of their deceptive reasons. They don’t want it because it encroaches on what they have. Remember, they have theirs and they don’t want anyone else to get some for their own. Remember the Sneetches?

    Hayes-Santos…people are getting priced out of the housing market in Gainesville and that’s why you’re seeing “sprawl going out west, going into Alachua and High Springs and Jonesville.” What an idiot. He failed to mention people are fleeing fiscal incompetence and political tyranny of local leadership. High utility rates, high taxes with no end in sight. Maybe local leadership hopes the high numbers will help with their low IQs. It won’t and it obviously doesn’t help with the low IQs of the knuckleheads who keep voting for them. Look at the people fleeing New York and California for proof of the same.

    I wonder if that POS Poe is willing to give up his home for a more climate friendly residence. Don’t think so.

    It really is a shame when people put such trust in these idiots they put in charge and for some reason keep in power. Keep wearing your masks, it hides the stupid person behind it.😷😷😷

    • I have a friend of who was in line to get a house with a city subsidized downpayment in GV. She did the math (mortgage + GV taxes + GRU) then got a doublewide on a couple acres out west. She’s way ahead on the money; easily by enough to cover the cost of driving into town whenever she wants.

    • They’re putting climate change in the equation? Then they should be planting all trees there instead. —The “keep wearing the masks, it hides the stupid person behind it” is the best….I love it when it’s both true & humorous. I always enjoy your comments! Thanks!

  • “The more single family housing in the area, the less safe for pedestrians”? If that’s the case, Poe should
    Be making sure that all city streets have sidewalks on both
    Sides of the street.

  • Does Mayor Poe want everyone living in coffins while injecting Big Pharma Dope?

  • Someone should ask Poe to cite his sources for all his wild-eyed claims. About 30 Suburban Heights-type houses could be built on 7 acres. At 2 cars per house, that’s 60 cars. If the proposed building has 220 units, even at 1 car per unit like Poe claims, that’s 220 cars, or almost 4 times as many cars in that small space. Lots of assaults and other crimes occur in parking garages (parking in your own garage or carport is obviously safer, not to mention all the other advantages). I’ve never heard of any pedestrian accidents in my neighborhood, ever.

    As far as all the recent shootings, those that occurred in residential settings were almost all at different apartment complexes, not private homes in the suburbs. I’m sure the commies like the idea of putting some “low income” folks right across from the Fresh Market, a veritable icon of white privilege (in their minds).

    Environmentally, a bunch of houses with yards would dissipate the heat more evenly and not become as hot as a giant concrete briquette. Forget about having a nice breeze if you live in a house on the wrong side of the big/tall building, depending on which way the wind is blowing. Enjoy the view of the completely out-of-place building.

    • Given his fabrication of educational experience and past history, Poe could use his aforementioned calculations to instruct our children in advanced mathematics courses… NOT!

      Gainesville, you have a problem – too many people continue to believe his lies. His and his cohorts.

  • Again, the 3 White, Woke Musketeers (ward, po, hayes-not a minority as he claims) are complete idiots bathing in the liberal lies and falsehoods about communities. Not a one of these 3 know-it-alls have had any success at business, industry, or even liberal academics (po a teacher of hs kids in dual enrollment). All 3 pathetic losers! They know nothing. Not a bit surprised if we find later they had hidden interest or payoffs. Rents are higher and higher in city limits due to the rise they caused of property taxes! Now as much as the country gets. On top of the GRU endless hikes in electricity, water and sewer. Outrageous! No competition! Lay on top of that new rental requirements and YEARLY costly inspections. Shilty of gainesville going right down the tubes because of these ignorant fools! Artist rendering looks nothing like the disaster soon to be there with clotheslines out windows, bicycle tires on the roof, and thugs everywhere. This city draws criminals to it like flies on grits.

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