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In spite of overwhelmingly negative public comment against eliminating single-family neighborhoods, it looks like the proposals will have enough votes

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

The Gainesville City Commission heard over two hours of public comment today on their exclusionary zoning proposals; despite the overwhelmingly negative response from the public, comments from the commission indicated that the proposals, which may be irreversible, are likely to be implemented next month.

Commissioner Reina Saco quickly exited at the beginning of the meeting, and Mayor Lauren Poe explained that she was concerned about the number of people in the room and the local increase in COVID cases. She joined the meeting from her office via Zoom, wearing a mask, and later said she had elderly family visiting her and was unwilling to take the risk of being in a room with people “of uncertain vaccination status” who weren’t wearing masks.

Andrew Persons from the Department of Sustainable Development began with the history of the proposals, which started in August 2020 with a presentation about equitable development that resulted in a multi-part motion directing staff to hire a consultant to perform an analysis of the City’s codes to end exclusionary practices and to do a feasibility analysis for an inclusionary housing program. The focus of today’s workshop was specifically the exclusionary zoning piece, which includes, among other things, eliminating single-family zoning throughout the city; “exclusionary” zoning is zoning that does not allow certain land uses, like multi-family housing. The inclusionary piece will include incentives or requirements for affordable housing in new developments.

Persons mentioned that the City Plan Board had considered several of the items, but he did not present their recommendations to the City Commission. The Plan Board did not favor redefining all Residential Single Family land uses to the new Neighborhood Residential Zoning District but favored removing occupancy limits that govern the number of unrelated people who can live in a single-family home. The Plan Board continued several items to their next meeting, which will be Thursday, June 23, at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Public comment extended over 2 hours, with only one person, Kali Blount, favoring the removal of the single-family land use. 33 people spoke against the proposals in general, and 5 people spoke in favor of removing occupancy limits.

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One speaker, Wayne Fields, said bluntly, “I’m here to speak in favor of exclusionary zoning, specifically single-family zoning.” He and other African-Americans spoke about how they had worked to buy a home that could benefit future generations and the fear that their neighborhoods would change if multi-family housing were built.

Blount said that there aren’t many empty lots in the city limits, and developing those few lots into multi-family homes will not change the character of a neighborhood. He asked, “Do we want to continue to have… two Gainesvilles, separate but equal?”

Following public comment, Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said, “The status quo is not working… We have a housing supply issue… We’re running out of developable land inside the city… I hate sprawl; I think it’s the worst thing possible… [Atlanta and Orlando are] horrible sprawling cities… We’re also seeing climate refugees.” Hayes-Santos said President Biden wants to give more money to cities that pass these proposals and that the City Commission has to do what’s good for the city, even if it involves making hard choices. He said he was ready to schedule a special meeting in July to pass the ordinances.

”I believe that a rip-the-band-aid-off approach is the wrong way to approach this.” – Commissioner Harvey Ward

Commissioner Harvey Ward said that commissioners haven’t made the case for the changes: ”I believe that a rip-the-band-aid-off approach is the wrong way to approach this.” He added that even “the most ardent supporters of what we’re talking about this afternoon” admit that the policies won’t quickly add housing but will make a difference “in a generation or two.”

“We are going to end the wealthy monopoly of one type of zoning across this city.” – Commissioner David Arreola

Commissioner David Arreola favored the proposals but wanted a 2-story limit on multi-family homes. He said, “Single-family housing is not being eliminated… We are going to end the wealthy monopoly of one type of zoning across this city.” Arreola didn’t favor the Plan Board’s proposal to simply create a new land use and assign it to parcels with the Special Use Permit process: “The only equitable thing to do is to not give special treatment and not give carve-outs.” Arreola also favored removing the occupancy limit on unrelated people in a single-family unit.

Saco also favored removing the occupancy limit and added, “As for the bigger topic at hand, I will support it.”

“We should not put our community at risk because people want to leave a legacy.” – Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said single-family homes are important for building generational wealth. She added, “We need to take our time, move cautiously” and “We need to proceed with continuing listening, hearing from our neighbors… [There’s] no need to rush.” She proposed that the next commission should look at this and concluded, “We should not put our community at risk because people want to leave a legacy.”

“I am uncomfortable with this. The level of analysis that I believe needs to be put into this, I don’t yet see.” – Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said she ran on a platform of equitable development: “Equitable development allows for each community to be considered and brought to the table and developed equitably.” She pointed out that the City had purchased a Racial Equity Toolkit and that they should be using it to develop policies like this: “I am uncomfortable with this. The level of analysis that I believe needs to be put into this, I don’t yet see… These types of decisions that have long-term impact… I want to be sure that we think very, very long and hard about and that we hear meaningfully from our neighbors.”

Duncan-Walker said she wanted the City to engage in a “visioning process,” which elicited a laugh from Interim City Manager Cynthia Curry. When Duncan-Walker had finished, Curry said, “The overarching piece… is the Comprehensive Plan… It covers all the elements of a sustainable community… It had a very serious community engagement around it.”

Duncan-Walker responded, “I’m grateful that it’s there. I want to see it applied.”

“The status quo has led to abject inequity in our community. The status quo is not working.” – Mayor Lauren Poe

Poe said it is a “big difficult issue… absolutely rooted in equity and equitable development. The status quo has led to abject inequity in our community. The status quo is not working.” He continued, “This is not a panacea… It will allow more families to choose where they want to live in our city and what type of housing they want to live in… I don’t want this commission or the next to see us taking action on this, and in my opinion, hopefully passing it, as the solution to our problems… We have to take these modest but important steps… to make sure we’re equitable, not just talk about it.”

Although no votes were taken because the meeting was a workshop, Hayes-Santos said he wanted staff to hear that he wanted them to bring back the policies with a few changes, like capping multi-family homes in the Neighborhood Residential Districts at two stories. Saco said she agreed with that.

Staff was also supposed to present their notes from the June 1 Affordable Housing Workshop, but Poe said they were all tired and the notes were in the backup, so he adjourned the meeting.

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