Eastman proposes allowing smaller lot dimensions, identifies single-family housing as the “biggest issue of our time period”

Commissioner Bryan Eastman presents his proposal for smaller lot dimensions

BY JARRED SPANOS, Alachua Chronicle correspondent

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At their February 16 Regular Meeting, the Gainesville City Commission failed to pass a proposal for smaller lot dimensions that Commissioner Bryan Eastman said would expand access to single-family housing and home ownership.

While introducing the topic of amending lot dimension standards to allow residential lots to be split, Eastman said, “I thought this was an important and timely thing to bring up, even though I doubt any of us really feel like bringing up single-family zoning again at this particular moment in time, because we are currently going through a Comprehensive Plan update.” Eastman said there are “some egregious issues with our current zoning,” and he mentioned the lack of entry-level home ownership. He said that with a new plan in place, local builders would have the same opportunities as large developers, who gain more flexibility on lot sizes when they create a whole new subdivision, and that confronting these issues will help young families build equity and allow local builders to compete.

Eastman said, “So as we talk about the housing crisis, we talk about getting people into home ownership.” He said there is a significant shortage of starter homes, defined as homes with less than 1,400 square feet, that began with a baby boom that started around 1989. 

Eastman said this “strikes home” to him because his three-bedroom, one-bath home on .16 acres of land cannot be built in 96.2% of Gainesville because the zoning requires a minimum density of .172 acres. Although Eastman’s argument was centered around the ability to build small houses, his presentation focused on the size of lots, not the size of houses.

For example, one slide was titled “Where my home is prohibited” and asserted, “96.2% of single family lots would prohibit my small single family home,” but he did not present any information about restrictions on home sizes; his proposal related to lot sizes, not home sizes.

On the slide titled “How our zoning eliminates starter homes,” Eastman described how “Residential Conservation” standards allow more homes to be built on existing lots. Eastman said the benefits of Residential Conservation would outweigh the costs and would allow builders to create more affordable housing for working-class families. The effort to decrease the size and density requirements of lots could enable families to find or build homes in “walkable, diverse, front-porch neighborhoods.” As the current zoning policy is written, the lots today are often being used to build for wealthy families that want to build what he called “McMansions,” not for working-class families: “You can either have two very large homes, or you can have four starter homes in the same area.”

Eastman recommended asking the City Plan Board to come back with an option to reinstate single-family zoning in all previously zoned areas and also adopt the Residential Conservation lot dimension standards. He called the plan a “good common-sense middle ground… that would create more stability for homeowners.”

Commissioners favor the idea but not the timing

Commission Cynthia Chestnut liked the idea but preferred to wait until the exclusionary zoning amendments are repealed: “Let’s involve [the community] and give them a chance to tell us what they would like to see. The Residential Conservation is worth discussing just like cottage neighborhoods are, but I don’t want to do it at this point… I guess what I’m asking you to be is an incrementalist, take it a little slower.”

Commissioner Casey Willits said he also experienced the struggle of finding the starter home he needed in Gainesville. Willits wished there was a greater diversity of housing; he said he hadn’t supported the motion to repeal the exclusionary zoning ordinances on January 5 because he thought there should be “some protections for retaining some of the other things like lot size, lot dimensions, and some of the setbacks that make housing possible, particularly for small starter homes.”

Commissioner Ed Book said the presentation was “incredible work” but thought it would be confusing to try to make this change along with the exclusionary zoning repeal. He also wanted to hear from builders and developers before making a decision.

Mayor Harvey Ward said, “If this had been before us last year when the conversation first came to us, this would be the law right now… Almost all of this is something that I would support.” But he said he had promised to fully repeal the exclusionary zoning ordinances: “I know that adds time… but that’s what I’m going to continue to do.” He said he would love to take this up again “when we get back to a clean slate.”

Members of the public oppose the idea

During public comment, Robert Mounts called the proposal “compelling” if there was a way to guarantee that the units were not offered for student rentals. Mounts described the idea as a “very clever repackaging of the same proposal they were seeking, the exclusionary zoning proposal.”

Jo Beaty said that anything besides reversing exclusionary zoning “should be off the table now.”

Motion fails

Eastman said he was concerned that the city commission would not get around to taking this back up: “I remind everyone, this is the biggest issue of our time, period. The Biden administration has come out and talked about how land use is impacting the cost of housing… Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are coming out with laws to pull money back from areas that don’t use the money for this.”

Eastman made a motion to “direct the City Plan Board to return to the City Commission with an option to maintain lot dimensions based on Residential Conservation zoning, as well as minor lot subdivisions, while reinstating single-family zoning.”

The motion failed 3-4 with Willits, Commissioner Reina Saco, and Eastman in the affirmative.

  • Did I miss the discussion about why housing is supposedly not affordable, and what “affordable” even means?

    Since they’re taking their direction from some of the worst members of Congress, I assume that “affordable” doesn’t mean what reasonable, hard-working people think it means.

    • Brian Eastman: How about you start making our GRU bills affordable first, and then we can develop the east side of town with the small lots and little affordable houses…

  • Well the failed , pennyless Gainesville City Commsioners ,along with their mentor President cannot be believed any more. Have you read the State Audit ? They still are not facing reality that they are done, broke,inept, so why waste everyones time on Lets Go Brandon directives. They have no shame and hopefully will be unemployed sooner than later.

  • Eastman proposes smaller lot dimensions to make housing more affordable. Really? How about lower taxes? How about lower utility bills? How about rescinding the outrageous salary increase the commissioners just voted unto themselves? How about cutting out useless tax sucking feeders such as “equity officers” and similar virtue signaling parasites? Every single city in America run by left wing liberal retards becomes not only unaffordable but also unlivable due to rampant crime. Is there anybody left out there who wants to hang around the disgusting Gainesville downtown other than derelict bums and drunken college students who are too naive to know any better? Gainesville isn’t a real city anyway. It’s just a big dormitory for a second rate university.

  • Anything that keeps masked beardos like Willits from moving into my neighborhood is probably a good thing. Seriously, give it a rest, guys. Shamelessly sucking up to developers for kickbacks may have unintended consequences sooner or later.

    • Indeed. Follow the money. The trail likely leads to kickbacks from developers.

  • Their shallow, automatic aversion to “condos” and “high rises” is exactly what is blocking their brains from meeting the demand for housing. Because of their religious obsession with “walkable traditional homes” keeps costs high.

    • They lack the ability to understand that it’s easier to cool buildings that are spread out more, with more green space between them. If you have four hot objects, they will cool faster and easier by spreading them out on a table instead of stacking them on top of each other or putting them right next to each other with no space between. If we are trying to save the environment by using less energy, creating heat islands is not the answer; it is wrong and ignorant regardless of how ‘well intentioned’ it is. As Chestnut and others have pointed out, infrastructure like water and sewers may not necessarily support doubling, tripling, or quadrupling its use. And roads have limited capacity. Pedestrians are more likely to get hit when there are too many cars packed into a small place combined with lots of pedestrians and bikes. Lower density is always better for safety as well as energy use here in Florida. There’s nothing wrong with liking a QUIET street where kids can play more safely. And a street that has peace and quiet instead of noisy contractors coming and going for a year or longer on each project. Those are the important things as far as single-family neighborhoods. Let the woke babies throw their tantrums, but don’t be bullied by them.

      There are quite a few brand new high rise buildings (not necessarily condos) from the hotel downtown/Main Street to several apartment buildings up and down NW/SW 13th Street and in Midtown. Even a huge apartment building going up right on SW 34th Street next to SW 35th Place. The road construction along West University and in the Midtown neighborhood has reached a new height of insanity, if anyone hasn’t seen that yet. I don’t know who is paying for it, but it must be costing several million dollars. It looked like a guy had crashed his motorcycle into the new yellow metal posts in the road on NW 15th Street and had to be taken away in an ambulance. That’s im-prooved safty.

      • High rises are the greenest form of building, but they should be efficiency units for owner-occupancy single adults. NO RENTALS and NO SECTION 8s for families with kids. Condos have HOA rules and security access, unlike gumment housing.

        • In locations where it is cold most of the time (like Canada or Alaska or Finland), high rise buildings ‘may’ be more efficient. But not here, where they heat up like giant blocks of concrete from May through October every year. Heat rises, and the upper floors are always harder to cool. You can live in a Beijing-style hive building if you want to, but I’d rather keep Gainesville’s historic medium-size city feel with modest single-family neighborhoods with lots of trees and green spaces. We have people who grow their own food, raise chickens, have pets, etc. If we are to build tall condo buildings, put them somewhere other than right in the middle of the campus/downtown area or any other already-congested area. And forget about this “people have to be able to walk everywhere” nonsense. No one wants to walk everywhere, especially with bags of groceries or other stuff from stores. Some of the commissioners are either idiots or on some contractors’ payroll (or both).

  • Eastman, like most of the commissioners & our idiot mayor, is out of touch with reality.
    Because of their and their predecessors’ policies, Gainesville affordable housing will not happen. You can’t give away property to developers, buy all the property not worth developing and continue to take other properties off the tax rolls and expect housing to be affordable. Add to that the highest utility rates in the state and city leadership/management being overpaid for the value they bring to the table and it just reinforces the predicament they’ve put us in.

    To think that people actually voted for that clown.

    • They played around with the districts so Eastman would win. His district also covers the sorority row/University Heights neighborhood (where AGH used to be), and they were largely out of town when he was elected in August. The Duck Pond people voted for him, of course. He’s a real political whore, or he can be. He used to run his own PAC that would churn out untrue BS for anyone willing to pay. I don’t think he’s as deranged as some of the others up there (Saco, Willits). He’s more of a grifter than a true believer.

      • Pretty sure Eastman was behind the game-playing that prevented Republicans from being able to vote in the last sheriff’s race.

    • Throw in high mortgage rates, and the units must get smaller — not for families. Unless illegal group homes is what they want.

  • Sorry to say so, but it’s time to get up and get out of Gainesville. The local city rulers (elected by UF people who make sure that they are insulated against the current rulers’ decisions) won’t stop until they’ve made this place into a Portland or worse style hades hole.

  • That makes sense. He needs the lots to be smaller so his brain can look larger.

    It doesn’t work that way.

  • Desantis should just appoint a whole new city commission now. Streamline local government, cut spending, remove unnecessary departments & positions, etc.

  • The CC and Mayor all tout themselves as supporting increasing “affordable housing” throughout Gainesville city. The CC/Mayor need to define their personal definition of “affordable housing.”

    Eastman is merely trying to camouflage the previous elimination of Single Family Zoning through his idea for “Residential Conservation.” Of course the gaggle that is the current City Council and Mayor support anything they think will buy votes! We have already heard previously from some CC members that don’t want “affordable housing” or “workforce housing” in my backyard!

    If you split an existing lot with permission to build another single family home, where does the necessary infrastructure come from? They want to add a family of 3 – 5 to an already crowded neighborhood. These families have vehicles that need to drive to/from their “affordable house” and have to be parked somewhere!

    This CC (minus Book) and Mayor are getting their smoke screen development from outside sources! When they took their oaths in December, they vowed to restore Single Family Zoning. It is the end of February and no action; just more hot air floating through City Hall!

    • Their definition of “affordable” is gumment subsidized for families who want to live in the highest cost real estate instead of out in the cheaper land areas like most normal families already know to do.

  • Eastman is an ill informed zealot, like Arreola and Hayes hyphen and Poe before him. No business acumen at all.
    You all better focus on what is imminent. Your removal from office by the Governor.

  • Is that 12 unit layout for a 12 story building? Great picture of Junior and Ms. Magoo.

  • That may be a big issue but it’s people like him and their progressive ideologies that have caused it.

    That would make him and those like him the greatest threat to the city, county and country.

  • Heard this Guy in action today at the meeting. Sadly out of his element. Their were 2 more rookie masked bandits that cannot accept GRU’s debt has sunk their ship. Could not totally understand their Garbled Comments from behind their costumes The Solom look on Tony Cunnigham’s face said it all . All utter fools thinking UF or County residents will bail them out. The State will probably remove them now.

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