Farming Gainesville

The six-story Hampton Inn in downtown Gainesville is located on less than half an acre.  It does not include parking and is the City’s most profitable site, as measured by property taxes per acre. Photo by Kim Tanzer.


Not long after I moved to Gainesville, I found myself chatting with a man at a party. Making conversation, I asked what he did for a living. He responded, “I’m a farmer.” Then, with a wry smile, he continued, “I farm Yankees—six to the acre.”

He was a developer, and I am a Yankee. I had practiced architecture and worked with developers in several places, and studied real estate development in graduate school, but I had never heard his profession described quite so bluntly. Welcome to Florida, I thought.

I was reminded of that exchange recently, as I watched a video presentation made to Gainesville’s Community Redevelopment Agency in 2018. The speaker, Joe Minicozzi of the consulting firm Urban3, compared the City to a real estate development corporation. He spoke about the productivity of Gainesville’s acreage, asking, “How many jobs per acre does your community produce? How many taxes per acre? How much value per acre?”

His firm has worked with cities around the country and has developed a method for visualizing productivity using three-dimensional maps. In his presentation, he compared more tax-productive sections of Gainesville with less productive areas and compared cities across the country with each other.

The consulting firm Urban3 demonstrated graphically where Gainesville’s most tax-productive real estate is, measured in taxes generated per acre. The City-sponsored speaker, Joe Minicozzi, described the area around the University of Florida as “beachfront property.”

He summarized his key point, “As soon as you start stacking the stories (in a building) you’re seeing the wealth grow.” Density, he argued, is profitable for cities.

He compared our City’s most tax-productive land—the six-story Hampton Inn downtown—against the far less productive one-story Walmart in southwest Gainesville. The Walmart is surrounded by acres of onsite parking, while the Hampton Inn has none. The difference is the denominator: How much tax is produced per acre of land?  

The one-story Walmart in southwest Gainesville occupies nearly 18 acres, much of it devoted to parking. Photo by Kim Tanzer.

Listening to his presentation, I understood that, from his perspective, many of our City’s properties simply are not “pulling their weight” in generating tax revenues.

When I studied real estate development, I learned that increasing density (“upzoning”) is one way developers make money. Even before turning up dirt, land becomes more valuable based on how many dwelling units it might hold, if developed. I had never dreamed municipalities might adopt this logic.

I was also taught developers must balance risk and reward. While they sometimes make lots of money, they also take risks: Will the local market support their project? Will the regional or national economy be stable or improve as the project proceeds? What kind of unexpected obstacles will emerge? How much of their own money will they invest, and how much might they lose if the project fails?

Minicozzi’s presentation helped me understand how cities could think of properties contained within their boundaries like Florida developers do—as acreage to be “harvested.” As he said, “If you get more money you can pay for more cool things like this park out here,” referencing Depot Park.

But, using the developer’s model, what about the City’s risks?

Cities make policy decisions that may take years to play out. Their elected policymakers are often long gone. If a gamble fails, the city and some of its residents, not its decision-makers, suffer.

For property owners, the story is different. Once their property has been upzoned, with the goal of “stacking stories” to increase revenues, owners realize the benefits only if they develop or sell their property. If the property owner is, or aspires to be, a developer, this is a welcome reward.

For homeowners, though, whose goal is to live in their homes, the risks are significant. Their taxes likely increase as properties around them become denser, generating more taxes and changing the local taxing calculus. In some cases, new development will bring unwelcome neighbors, especially if sketchy landlords attract sketchy tenants. Traffic and other impacts to local infrastructure will be borne by those who choose to stay rather than those who sell.

In a recent City Commission hearing on the elimination of single-family zoning, one frustrated resident implored those in the room to “follow the money” to understand why some City Commissioners are making decisions that appear irrational to many. While she implied Commissioners might be profiting personally, the answer may be much simpler.

By voting, time after time, to increase density across the City, “stacking the stories,” as Minicozzi advised, the City will have more money to “pay for more cool things.”  

The City’s mission apparently has shifted. Rather than taxing residents to provide for basic services, balancing ambitions against tax rates, the City plans to expand its tax base, by promoting not six but 15, 60, or 120 Yankees (or “climate refugees”) per acre. The City hopes to grow its way to prosperity, while current residents will pay the price.

Kim Tanzer lives in Gainesville.  She is a former UF architecture professor who was also dean of the University of Virginia School of Architecture.

The opinions expressed by letter or opinion writers are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of AlachuaChronicle.com. Letters and opinion pieces may be submitted to info@alachuachronicle.com and are published at the discretion of the editor.

  • It’s not rocket science. People/residents have known this. Unfortunately, the residents take it up the arse. That’s reality.
    The liberal majority like it. They enjoy the sudden intrusion of their orifices by an abrupt incursion by a foreign body of which they feign offense but they really find to be quite pleasurable. Welcome to liberal Gainesville, the field of blue which doesn’t have a clue.

  • Ever since this whole single family neighborhood thing started, I have received numerous calls and text messages from people wanting to “make an offer” for me. I have had to threaten some of them with legal action if they keep bothering me. The callers always sound foreign, some Russian possibly. My take is that Poe might have people in our Russian sister city involved in this real estate scheme. Maybe I will have Israelis calling and texting me soon, after he gets back from his latest trip. I’m sure I’m not the only one getting these weird calls and texts.

  • Makes you wonder where the failed and termlimited City Commissioners will land once they leave office. Follow the money.

  • The terms “productivity” and “gainesville city commission” should not be used on the same planet.

  • Excellent letter to the editor, Kim Tanzer.
    Funding more progressive, woke pet projects for the City of Gainesville, and thereby looking cool, progressive, green and woke to their leftist colleagues on their CVs as they think about their next jobs is indeed the most likely motivation behind the commissioners’ support of these policies which favor wealthy developers and harm homeowners and our community.

  • The more “climate refugees” per acre, the more rents go up too…rack ‘em, pack ‘em, & stack ‘em. Affordable housing is NOT housing we can afford either…it’s government assisted housing that will bring “unwelcome neighbors, especially if sketchy landlords attract sketchy tenants”…Great article!

  • The government is a business but also a potentially dangerous monopoly in search of taxes. Our founders knew that, and divided gov’t to limit its powers.
    In Gainesville we have a perfect storm of hapless do-gooders and clueless voters. The former being one-party monopolists and the latter being just 3% of the city’s population. That’s why things only got worse here, and the state should intervene. Mix things up by diluting the city’s power base (expanding city limits for more GOP voters), and merging GRU and Clay Electric (no more golden goose).

  • The County Commission is also part of this. They love rezoning. Commissioner Prizzia claims she loves small scale ranchers but not really. Land with ag use is valued at about $250 per acre and pays $5 per acre per year in property taxes. Suppose a small rancher in the Gainesville urban area has 25 acres and raises two cows. County gets $125 per year in taxes, but then the county needs to provide few services as those two cows never call 911 or send a calf to school. Rancher decides to sell his land to a developer, who puts in a U shaped road and divides into ten nice one acre lots with road, water, and sewer. Those 10 vacant lots are valued at $25k each. The 10 vacant lots pay the county $5000 per year in property taxes before a house is built. County loves the money. Vacant lots require no county services but are the most profitable, tax income wise.

  • I’m old enough to remember when conservatives supported the idea that private landowners should be free to use their private land however they see fit, including putting it to the highest and best use as determined by the free market. The “woke right” now wants to dictate the best way for others to use their private land, essentially a form of marxist eminent domain, trampling the rights of the individual in favor of some perceived greater good of the community.

    • I’d agree with you other than the notion that I actually own my land…if I did, the HOA would have no say in what color I paint my house.

    • I’m not sure how to interpret your comment, especially the part about the “woke right” since woke people are leftists by definition. People are free to buy property zoned however they want. If they want to live in an area where someone might decide to build a go-cart track or a pig farm next door, that is their right. Similarly, if they want to buy a nice home in the suburbs zoned to keep it that way for the rest of their lives, that should be their right, too. Like ‘Jackie’ said in Risky Business, “You don’t buy Sony if you want RCA.” It’s called freedom (the opposite of one-size-fits-all woke communism).

      • Well put Mr Peabody.
        If we can keep out the dogmatic, blind to the public interest, future commissioners, then we can once again return to a sane local government.
        Poe, Arreola and Hayes need to kept out of any and all public decisions in our government.
        Poe especially has been a wrecking ball. Started with the biomass plant.

    • There’s limits regarding infrastructure capacity and future costs on the public, the taxpayers. The city already has enough potential density with existing codes, it’s obvious. They cannot afford to rebuilt single family infrastructure just for a handful of high rises in their midst. Keep it on the busy streets where capacity already exists.

  • The City wanted Haile annexed so badly for tax purposes they sent out fliers to them. I don’t recall the City sending out fliers to Holly Heights, Cedar Ridge, Magestic, Green Leaf… I wonder why…

  • Thank you for the nod to our work in your article. The conversation surrounding elimination of single-family zoning is a contentious one. I am sure that the parties involved have significant investment in your community and care deeply about its future.

    And though I appreciate the reference to our work, it has been taken a bit out of context. We focused on the CRAs and we were not asked to weigh in on the single-family zoning discussion. It is a bit of a stretch that it’s a one-size-fits-all solution to “stack the stories” everywhere. For one, the market for density is finite.

    However, there is a fiscal consequence to lower density. Lower density development costs more to serve than higher density development – period – when factors for infrastructure consumption and lifecycle costs are accounted for. If your community can afford it, great! But do the math to understand your community’s financial position and be honest with the results. And be willing to acknowledge biases that may be included in assessments around land use. It would also be reasonable to analyze any racial and class biases that may be present in the structure of property assessment and to consider related public policy impacts. We would be happy to help with the math and analysis, just let us know.

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