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City Commission rejects land use ordinance because it includes single-family housing

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At their June 3 meeting, the Gainesville City Commission delayed a land use change on almost 84 acres of property located on the south side of NE 39th Blvd, near Main Street, because the plan included single-family housing. 

The petition, initiated by the property owners and their agent, eda consultants, called for RL (residential low) land use on sections of the property that adjoin existing single-family neighborhoods.

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The property owners proposed matching the land use to the surrounding area, with commercial uses on the west side, adjoining car dealerships, and residential uses on the east side, adjoining single-family neighborhoods. Staff recommended approval of the petition because it met all of the review criteria outlined in the City’s Land Development Code. 

Clay Sweger of eda said he had worked closely with City staff to come up with the plan, which the City Commission was seeing for the first time. He said, “Everywhere there’s an existing house and a resident, there’s single-family zoning proposed next to them so we could have a step-down.” Sweger’s company had hosted neighborhood meetings, which were favorable because “we were basically proposing a neighborhood next to a neighborhood and not something dramatically different.”

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos was the first to speak, immediately saying that he had “strong concerns of us putting in single-family zoning.”

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos was the first to speak, immediately saying that he had “strong concerns of us putting in single-family zoning. I don’t believe that’s something we should be doing as a City and should have something that has more flexibility and really does create a neighborhood that also has like commercial things around it.”

Commissioner Gail Johnson replied, “eda clearly said they worked with the neighborhood, they did the community input, did the community engagement, and this is what they were comfortable with. So are you going to go and do this again?”

Hayes-Santos responded, “My job as a commissioner is to look out for the best of the City and try to reduce the cost of housing.” He moved to approve the ordinance but with U4 land use along the edges and U6 (which both allow mixed use – business and residential) elsewhere instead of RL and RM (residential medium). The motion died for lack of a second.

The maximum building height for U4 is 3 stories, and U6 is four but can be five stories with the “height bonus.” The density for U4 is 20 units per acre and U6 is 50 units per acre or 60 with the bonus. The proposed densities were RL (up to 8 units per acre) and RM (8-20 units per acre, maximum of 3 stories or 5 with the height bonus). The originally-proposed land uses are residential-only; they don’t permit a mix of businesses and residences.

Sweger proposed a compromise of low-density residential uses on the perimeter and something like a U6 mixed use in other areas. He said he would request a continuation if they wanted to change the perimeter land uses, so he could have a discussion with the surrounding neighbors.

Changing the plan at this point “creates a trust issue between those folks that live there and the City of Gainesville and the land owner” – Commissioner Harvey Ward

Commissioner David Arreola moved to approve the ordinance as originally presented. Commissioner Harvey Ward said he agreed “that I would prefer we not zone single-family,” but he was “uncomfortable” with the fact that eda had already had discussions with the neighbors, saying that changing the plan at this point “creates a trust issue between those folks that live there and the City of Gainesville and the land owner… we’re putting everybody, including ourselves, in a potentially difficult situation. I would like for petitioners to bring us bigger thinking… But once you’ve gone out and talked to the neighbors, I don’t feel like we ought to switch it up on the dais.”

Commissioner Reina Saco said she’d support the motion, “But I’d much more prefer to see that U6. It’s one more story but gives a lot more density, and that produces just a lot more housing… One more story is not going to kill anybody. The neighborhood isn’t going to catch fire and fall down and crumble.”

“It’s very difficult for me to approve a single-family zoning.” – Mayor Lauren Poe

Mayor Lauren Poe said he would prefer to continue it and ask the applicant and City staff to come back with something “that represents… the sweet spot… it’s very difficult for me to approve a single-family zoning.” He said that he was “empathetic” toward the positions of the neighbors and that the City needs to be more proactive in catching these projects before they get to this point. 

City Attorney Nicolle Shalley warned that if they made substantial revisions, they would need to re-advertise and start over with a new hearing on July 15, after the commission’s summer break. 

“I don’t know where the end is. I don’t know what we would propose. I don’t know what’s better than what we have. It’s going to be less compatible with the neighborhood. They’re going to be here and say they don’t like it. I’m really struggling with this one.” – Clay Sweger, eda

Sweger said the property owners applied about 4 months ago, and it was unclear how long the delay would be if the ordinance was continued: “I don’t know where the end is. I don’t know what we would propose. I don’t know what’s better than what we have. It’s going to be less compatible with the neighborhood. They’re going to be here and say they don’t like it. I’m really struggling with this one… It’s going to be a black hole… The staff have all recommended approval of this… I would really appreciate it if the City would consider moving this along, and if they aren’t, at least consider the second option… I feel like that could be a compromise that meets a lot of the standards.”

The motion to approve the ordinance as presented failed, 3-2, with Arreola, Saco, and Ward in favor, Poe and Hayes-Santos opposed, and Commissioners Desmon Duncan-Walker and Gail Johnson absent. Since the motion needed 4 votes (Poe checked with Shalley to determine the number of votes needed to pass with the 2 absences), it failed. 

Hayes-Santos moved to continue the item and ask the applicant and staff to come back with something that has two-family dwellings in the RL areas and a mixed use somewhere on the property. The motion died for lack of a second. 

Sweger said that after the land use is approved, it has to go to the state for a 30-day review before a second hearing, so he asked them to vote for the land use change “with the RL that allows the mix of housing types,” transmit that to the state, then advertise a zoning ordinance that would be more in line with what they want. 

Poe said he would be willing to vote again on the motion to advance the land use “because I think you’re right. What we’re trying to accomplish is not a land use issue. It’s really a zoning issue. And that would keep the process moving. And then the next item [the zoning ordinance] we could continue for six weeks.”

The commission voted 3-2 to reconsider the previous motion, with Arreola and Saco in dissent. The vote on the previous motion failed again, 3-2, with Hayes-Santos and Saco in dissent. 

Hayes-Santos moved to readvertise the land use ordinance, changing the RM land use to urban mixed use. That motion passed 4-1, with Arreola in dissent. That means the process starts over with a new ordinance, with the proposed changes, on July 15.

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