HomeLocal government“It was very divisive”: City Commission votes 4-3 to begin the process of repealing exclusionary zoning ordinances
“It was very divisive”: City Commission votes 4-3 to begin the process of repealing exclusionary zoning ordinances
January 5, 2023
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At the first meeting of the new Gainesville City Commission, Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut proposed repealing all of the exclusionary zoning ordinances that were passed last October. The ordinances removed all single-family zoning in Gainesville and made other changes such as removing occupancy limits throughout the city. Chestnut promised immediately after the vote that she would “work day and night in January to get this reversed.”
In today’s meeting, Chestnut said, “For many people, a home is the single most important investment they are going to make, and that’s where, as an African American, I can say that is where we build generational wealth, so to devalue that hits home very hard.” She proposed rolling back the ordinances to where they were before the changes, “then if someone wants to come and adjust it… then you can involve the community and come back with changes.” She added, “It was very divisive racially, economically, and our city needs time to heal.”
Chestnut made the following motion: “Direct staff to initiate petitions to reinstate single-family Future Land Use and zoning in the city and all the areas where those designations existed prior to the adoption of the ordinance numbers 21357, 21358, and 21359, as well as to reinstate the other related changes made by those ordinances.” Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker immediately seconded the motion.
New Mayor Harvey Ward said he wanted to be sure the City followed the correct process so they wouldn’t face “lawsuits back in the other direction.” He added that once the ordinances are repealed, they could take up the pieces that are more popular, like lot splits and the removal of occupancy limits.
The repeal process is the same as the process for any ordinance
Interim City Attorney Daniel Nee described the “traditional” process: the petitions go before the City Plan Board, then to the City Commission for the first reading; next, the Comprehensive Plan Amendments go to Tallahassee for comment, then back to the City Commission for the second reading. He said the ordinances are not yet in effect and are being challenged with the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH). Nee said he hoped that proceeding could be “held in abeyance” during the process of repealing the ordinances.
Nee said the plaintiffs in the challenge had proposed using a Compliance Agreement to repeal the ordinances, but he said that was designed to change portions of Comprehensive Plan Amendments, not to abolish them completely. He said he was concerned that using that process might lead to further lawsuits, so he recommended using the traditional legislative process to do that.
New Commissioner Bryan Eastman said he wanted to keep parts of the ordinances, including lot splits and the removal of a limit on the number of unrelated people in a single residence. He proposed an alternative motion that removed multi-family units from the new zoning category that replaced single-family zoning and asked the commission to “follow a more thoughtful process on it.” His motion included a special meeting to take community input and also asking staff to do more data and analysis on Chestnut’s motion and how the changes impact affordable housing, environmental sustainability, historic preservation, and equity. He said that would “tell staff we care about their expertise” and not “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Duncan-Walker said she was very excited that the commission would be considering an equitable development framework that would address some of Eastman’s concerns at an upcoming General Policy Committee meeting.
Public comment favored the motion; written comment did not
Thirteen people spoke during public comment, all in favor of the motion. When the discussion returned to the commission, Commissioner Reina Saco, who was back on the dais after a “leave of absence,” said she wanted to draw attention to 24 emails that opposed Chestnut’s motion. She added, “Those 24 voices obviously can’t afford to spend hours here; they have jobs, they’re younger, they’re disadvantaged, and they couldn’t be here, but they wrote. They spent that time writing in to let us know they don’t support this, that they would like to one day live to have a home… It is such a looming impossibility for so many… in our 20s and 30s. I just want to make sure that gets noted on the record.”
New Commissioner Casey Willits added that public comments submitted on the City’s website were “two to one against Commissioner Chestnut’s motion. That really is about who’s in the room, who’s being listened to, whose voices have already been made so small that they don’t dare speak up.”
Willits said his district, District 3, is “probably 90% multi-family.” He said that when he went door-to-door to renters, this was not their most important issue, but utility rates were important. He added, “Smaller and even placed-on-top-of-each-other homes are how working-class people outbid the wealthy for land in the places they need to be–close to schools, services, where they work, where they need to buy groceries… Residential exclusionary zoning didn’t come up until after racial zoning had been illegalized by the Supreme Court, but by 1926 in Euclid vs. Ambler… that’s where we got the approval, the go-ahead, from the Supreme Court. In that case, they very clearly called apartments ‘parasites’ on the community. The people I represent in southwest Gainesville are not parasites.” He favored Eastman’s proposal: “Zoning has always been about economic segregation. There is nothing that is going to change that… The original motion is one I cannot stomach.”
The motion passed 4-3 with Willits, Saco, and Eastman in dissent.
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