HomeLocal governmentFull story: Gainesville City Commission passes exclusionary zoning ordinances on first reading
Full story: Gainesville City Commission passes exclusionary zoning ordinances on first reading
August 6, 2022
Updated on August 6 with full details of the meeting
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gainesville City Commission voted 4-3 to pass all three exclusionary zoning ordinances Thursday night on first reading, with Mayor Lauren Poe and Commissioners David Arreola, Adrian Hayes-Santos, and Reina Saco voting for the ordinances. The final vote was taken at 11:52 p.m. after almost 100 people spoke at the meeting; 88% of the comments opposed the ordinances.
The meeting’s format differed from the usual City Commission procedures: the meeting began with Juan Castillo, a Planner in the City’s Department of Sustainable Development, giving a single presentation that covered all three of the ordinances, then the commission heard public comment, then the commissioners gave their comments, then they voted on each of the ordinances and adjourned.
The first ordinance amends the Future Land Use Element and Map of the Comprehensive Plan by changing the name of the single-family land use to Neighborhood Residential, adding neighborhood-scale multi-family units in that land use, and allowing up to 8 units per acre. It also modifies the Future Land Use Map by renaming all current Single-Family land uses to Neighborhood Residential. The City Plan Board recommended adding the Neighborhood Residential land use without modifying the map.
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By statute, this ordinance must be transmitted to the state land planning agency, which may challenge the ordinance. Other ordinances dependent on this one may not be implemented until 31 days after the state notifies the City that they will not challenge the Comprehensive Plan amendment that is described in this ordinance.
The second ordinance rezones all RSF-1 through RSF-4 zoning districts into a Neighborhood Residential zoning district, which would allow a new use called Neighborhood Scale Multi-family. The City Plan Board recommended leaving current zoning in place and adding the Neighborhood Residential zoning as a new zoning district without automatically rezoning current properties.
The ordinance also defines the Neighborhood Scale Multi-family use, which allows more than one family to live in a building while keeping exterior characteristics that fit into single-family neighborhoods. These buildings have a minimum of 2 units and a maximum of 4 units per building. One building is permitted per lot, and the buildings are limited to two stories.
Other changes to elements like density, lot standards, and setbacks in the Neighborhood Residential zoning district are included in the ordinance, along with requirements for Neighborhood-scale multi-family uses.
This ordinance will take effect if and when the first ordinance takes effect.
The third ordinance modifies the Land Development Code (LDC) in various ways that 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.
This ordinance will take effect immediately if it is approved on second reading.
Following the presentation, eleven recorded public comments were played, back-to-back. One of them supported the ordinances, and ten did not support the ordinances.
The commission then took live public comment, alternating between callers and people in the room. We counted eleven live comments in favor of the ordinances and 75 live comments opposed to the ordinances, for a total of 85 negative comments out of 97 total comments.
Members of the public who favored the ordinances generally described themselves as young renters; most said they were UF students or recent graduates. Several said that the City Commission should pass the ordinances and then go on to do more, including taking steps to reduce the usage of cars in the city. Many spoke about climate change and increasing rents and home prices as the reasons for their position.
Those who did not favor the ordinance emphasized the benefits of single-family homes and single-family neighborhoods and expressed concerns about noise and parking issues from adding multi-family buildings in current single-family neighborhoods. They spoke about years of saving for and paying off a home and how that home can be used to build generational wealth in families.
Other people spoke about procedural issues with the meeting, similar to the concerns expressed in this letter.
Several people complained about the City’s decision to hold the meeting in City Hall with limited seating, leaving a number of people, including some elderly, outdoors in the heat. One commenter said that after the chamber had reached the limit set by the City Commission (with chairs spaced well apart) and then the basement reached its limit, only 20 people were allowed to sit in the air-conditioned hall, and about 75 people were left outside in the heat, including some elderly people.
Members of the public who spoke were from all walks of life, all races, and from neighborhoods across the city. At one point, Mayoral candidate Gary Gordon sarcastically congratulated the City Commission “for getting black and white to come together.”
The commission had set a limit of four hours of public comment, but when they got to that point, there were still a few people waiting on the phones and 45 more cards for people who had signed up to comment, although many of those people had left by that point. At 10:08 p.m., Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker made a motion to hear everyone who was signed up at that point but not allow anyone new to sign up. The vote for her motion passed, 6-1, with Commissioner Reina Saco voting against the motion.
At 10:45 p.m., Chanae Jackson told Mayor Poe she didn’t “care about your three-minute limit” and refused to stop speaking after three minutes. Poe gaveled the meeting into a recess for about five minutes, and the commissioners stepped out of the room while Jackson sat back down and order was restored.
The City Commission began their discussion at about 11:00 p.m., starting with Duncan-Walker, who asked whether she could make the motion. Mayor Lauren Poe agreed but said he wanted all the commissioners to have a chance to speak before making any motions.
“I’ve lived in Gainesville over 40 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve never seen this community pull together—black, white, Democrat, Republican, No Party. What you’ve done with this exclusionary zoning is you have emboldened and organized a black community like we have never seen before” – Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut
Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut spoke next: “I’ve lived in Gainesville over 40 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve never seen this community pull together—black, white, Democrat, Republican, No Party. What you’ve done with this exclusionary zoning is you have emboldened and organized a black community like we have never seen before, and for that, I am thankful… You’ve got a whole community speaking now… I have never in my life been in a situation where you have white people calling an issue racist and black people saying, ‘No, it’s not racism.’… The only just thing you can do is vote this down, defer it, send it to the next commission… [Black families] don’t have generational wealth. We build generational wealth through our homes. And for you to come here and to take that away is unconscionable…There’s where the racism comes in… I don’t think that you all want this to go down—no matter what you’ve done on the City Commission, no matter what, this is what you’re going to be remembered for, and it’s not pretty.”
“We can make a more informed decision with Gainesville-specific data, and I think that’s what we all want, but we can’t get it until we try. There’s no way to know what results you’ll get until you do the thing.” – Commissioner Reina Saco
Commissioner Reina Saco said she wanted to make a suggestion, which had been added to the agenda backup at the beginning of the meeting, but first she said that an “unquestionable” number of studies show that “slight upzoning, slight, across the board, increases property values. Worst case, they stay the same as they were.” She said people say the studies are not in cities comparable to Gainesville, and Saco said that was probably valid: “There is no city comparable to Gainesville. I don’t think there ever will be… I know this will do good. I know it will give, not the solution to our housing dilemma but be part of the solution… I’d rather do something than nothing, so my suggestion was to pass the staff’s recommended amendments with a sunset provision… It guarantees an automatic end date, that things will revert how they are today in three or five years, and in that time, staff can collect data… We can make a more informed decision with Gainesville-specific data, and I think that’s what we all want, but we can’t get it until we try. There’s no way to know what results you’ll get until you do the thing.”
“Climate change is happening, and we have to move people away from cars, we have to reduce the amount of energy and water that we use… Climate refugees are moving here, and they’re going to keep coming as our coast fills up with water.” – Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos
Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos was widely expected to offer amendments to the proposed ordinances, but instead he said, “Porter’s Quarters, Pleasant Street, Fifth Avenue, Seminary Lane area, a majority of Duval, are exempt from this ordinance; they are not a part of this and won’t see changes.”
He said that those are the areas are where developers can currently build, and the ordinance would “spread out” that pressure over the whole city. He continued, “Many young people spoke today, those are the ones who are gonna have to deal with climate change, those are the ones who are gonna have to deal with the world that we’re leaving behind us… In Gainesville, we’ve had, like, a 60-year experiment with this type of housing, with the zoning we currently have, and I don’t think it’s worked. We are more car-centric, we have more traffic, we have more expensive housing… Climate change is happening, and we have to move people away from cars, we have to reduce the amount of energy and water that we use… Climate refugees are moving here, and they’re going to keep coming as our coast fills up with water.”
He then addressed Saco’s proposed sunset clause: “Three years is too short, even five. It will make the markets very weird because people really won’t know what to do. I think it will… be designed to fail because of that.” He said it takes 2.5-3 years, in many cases, to get that type of project built, so very few new projects will be completed by the end of the proposed period. “If the commission in the future sees issues with the changes we make, then they can make those changes.”
He said that if the commission favored Saco’s sunset provision, they should ask the City Attorney to draft both that version and the original version, and they can make a decision at second reading on which one to approve; he also wanted to have staff bring back pros and cons of the sunset provision before the second reading of the ordinances.
“If we pass this tonight, I don’t have much faith that it’s going to come back to us for a second reading. I think the state’s going to hold on to it, and that’s not good… I think it’s going into uncharted waters.” – Commissioner Harvey Ward
Commissioner Harvey Ward said the issue has taken up “an enormous amount of everyone’s effort… and while we’ve been doing this, we haven’t been doing much else… The way to progress on things like housing is incremental… It takes a lot of time, but when we look back over 10 or 20 years, we can be proud of where we’ve gone… If we pass this tonight, I don’t have much faith that it’s going to come back to us for a second reading. I think the state’s going to hold on to it, and that’s not good… I think it’s going into uncharted waters.”
“I believe in my heart that housing is a human right… Climate change is a major factor in my decision. The most conservative estimates of sea level rise show Miami Beach under water in 20 years. … This is going to cause more people to move inland; Gainesville has already seen the first climate refugees, I have met them. You have met them.” – Commissioner David Arreola
Commissioner David Arreola said, “It is unfortunate that this takes place during a political campaign because everything that any candidate says will be seen as an attempt to get your vote, but I must share my heart, anyway, because I believe in my heart that housing is a human right… I believe the only equitable way to do this is to have this as the same rule for the city. Climate change is a major factor in my decision. The most conservative estimates of sea level rise show Miami Beach under water in 20 years. … This is going to cause more people to move inland; Gainesville has already seen the first climate refugees, I have met them. You have met them.”
He continued, “There is more work to do than just this policy. We still have to pass inclusionary zoning to mandate affordable housing for new development. The voters have to pass Wild Spaces Public Places [sales tax surtax] with the housing element… Two White Houses, under President Obama and President Joe Biden, have identified exclusionary zoning as a significant impediment to the cost of making affordable housing… I want to work with the Biden administration on affordable housing. It will be difficult to do that if we do not pass this policy… I understand there’s a lot of trepidation and everyone talks about the word ‘fear,’ but the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” At that point, the room erupted with laughter.
“If you look at a map of Gainesville and which properties or neighborhoods would be affected by this, if this change were to happen, 2/3 of it is in northwest Gainesville… and that was by design. We didn’t become this segregated city by accident; it was by design, over generations” – Mayor Lauren Poe
Poe spoke last, saying he was happy to see “attention and excitement about addressing our housing challenges, and that’s not going away—and that’s a good thing because this is a crisis. The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is today. The same is true for housing…
He continued, “I believe I share the same goals as many, if not all, of the folks we have heard from… I want people to be able to choose where they live, including staying exactly where they are and not being forced out, but the lack of housing supply, at all levels, accelerates and exacerbates displacement, because money will always find a way… One of the most important ways of stemming that tide is by allowing more housing to be built in more parts of the city… If you look at a map of Gainesville and which properties or neighborhoods would be affected by this, if this change were to happen, 2/3 of it is in northwest Gainesville… and that was by design. We didn’t become this segregated city by accident; it was by design, over generations… One of the ways that we start reversing that trend is by opening up modest changes in what can be built and where it can be built, so people do have that variability of housing options throughout the city, and right now, in northwest Gainesville, almost all of the property, you only have one option, and that’s a single-family home.”
Poe concluded, “I both understand and deeply respect the skepticism that folks have towards this. I do. The way to overcome that skepticism is by showing, over time, the positive impact that this will have, and that’s why I believe it’s important to move forward with this… Right now, this is the best thing for the long-term housing stability of our entire city and to relieve the displacement and gentrification pressures on our most vulnerable and high-opportunity neighborhoods, close to exactly where we’re sitting right now.”
Duncan-Walker then made her motion for the first ordinance: “I know the critical need for affordable housing… but my concerns with this particular proposal have to do with data and the lack thereof, that is specific to Gainesville… Staff right now is working to bring back an affordable housing plan. I feel like to do this before they even have the opportunity to bring that back is a disservice… There are too many unknowns… My concern has been that we don’t have data; my bigger concern is that it appears that we don’t even have the will of the people… and so I move that we delay this decision tonight… There’s no need to do this tonight. Too much is riding on it, and too little is known.”
Poe asked Duncan-Walker to specify a date to reconsider the ordinances, and Chestnut asked if she could speak. Chestnut suggested deferring all three ordinances until after November 8, but Poe said she could only specify the date for the ordinance they were discussing. Duncan-Walker added the date to her motion to defer the ordinance, and Chestnut seconded the motion.
“I think a young lady from Azalea Trails the other day said to me, ‘Do something, even if it’s the wrong thing. Do something.’ And I think that’s what we’re trying to do here – try something. And I think we don’t have that data. But we won’t have it until we try.” – Commissioner Reina Saco
Saco said she disagreed with the motion because “we don’t get anything done in November and December. We don’t… We have the authority and the responsibility of taking action. I think a young lady from Azalea Trails the other day said to me, ‘Do something, even if it’s the wrong thing. Do something.’ And I think that’s what we’re trying to do here – try something. And I think we don’t have that data. But we won’t have it until we try.”
Hayes-Santos asked to make the next motion if Duncan-Walker’s motion failed.
Her motion failed 3-4, with Duncan-Walker, Ward, and Chestnut in the affirmative.
Hayes-Santos made a motion to move forward on the ordinance that came out of the workshop, and Arreola seconded the motion. Saco said she would like to ask staff to do an analysis of the sunset provision while the ordinance is being reviewed by the state, and Hayes-Santos said he was fine with adding that to the motion. Chestnut said she would also like to ask staff to study the economic impact of the sunset provision, and Hayes-Santos also agreed to add that to the motion.
The motion passed 4-3, with Chestnut, Duncan-Walker, and Ward in dissent.
The other two ordinances passed by the same 4-3 vote, with Hayes-Santos making the motions to pass the ordinances that came out of the workshop with the same analyses for the sunset provision, and the meeting adjourned.
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