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Letter: City commission should delay “exclusionary/inclusionary” zoning until new commissioners are sworn in

In 1968, when retired Black Seminole cabinet maker Jesse Aaron needed money for his wife’s surgery, he said God came to him in a dream and told him, “Jesse, carve wood.”  For 10 years, beginning at the age of 81, he sold his sculptures from his front yard on NW 7th Ave in the Fifth Avenue neighborhood. One of them is in the Smithsonian. The house that Aaron built in 1935 is still listed on the state tourism site but was demolished by developer Andy Coffey, who replaced the entire block with six 2-story 5BR 5BA “luxury apartments” that typically rent for about $1,000 per bedroom. He named them Carver’s Corner.

After Lauren Poe was elected mayor in 2016, he announced that single-family zoning is racist and that eliminating it and letting developers build what they want where they want will lead to housing affordability and racial equity. In 2017, the city commission voted to allow 50 units per acre in the Fifth Avenue neighborhood. In 2018, they tried to pass an “affordable housing plan” that redefined single-family zones citywide to include duplexes, triplexes, multiplexes, bungalow courts, and live-work units with a store or office on the ground floor. It required no affordable housing. When almost 200 unhappy people descended on City Hall for the final vote, it was dropped. Now it’s back.

The lengthy process of updating the city’s state-mandated comprehensive land use plan has begun, but Poe and the three other term-limited commissioners – David Arreola, Adrian Hayes-Santos, and Harvey Ward — can’t wait. They want to eliminate single-family zoning now, before their July recess. The commission has sent a petition to the City Plan Board, the 7-member citizen board appointed to review zoning and land use changes. It would allow quadruplexes three stories high and five feet from side property lines, with no limit on size, no limit on the number of occupants per unit, and no requirement for off-street parking. It would allow 15 units per acre in every neighborhood. Commissioners refer to it as the “exclusionary/inclusionary zoning item.”

“Exclusionary zoning” is a term used by some to refer to zoning regulations that limit what can be built where. Commissioners contend that: (1) setbacks, minimum lot dimensions, height limits, density limits, and lot split limits decrease housing supply; (2) historic preservation, conservation overlays, and development compatibility requirements increase building costs; and (3) eliminating those will make housing not only more affordable but more equitable because such laws “exclude attainable housing from high-opportunity neighborhoods.”

“Inclusionary zoning” requires developers to include a certain percentage of housing units in a new project that are “affordable” for low- or moderate-income residents. Tallahassee passed an inclusionary zoning ordinance over 15 years ago. Gainesville hasn’t. The commission’s proposal contains no affordable housing requirement. Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed legislation into law that requires local governments with inclusionary zoning mandates to provide incentives to offset developers’ costs for affordable units. Our commission is giving away those incentives — more density and lot coverage, fewer trees and parking spaces– and getting no affordable housing in return.

Housing is considered affordable if someone spends no more than 30% of their income on it, so the big question is affordable for whom — someone making 30%, 50%,  or 80% of Gainesville’s $80,800 median income. The city defines affordable as 80% to 120%.

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30% — $25,240/yr, $11.65/hr, $606 rent
50% —  $40,400/yr, $19.52/hr, $1,010 rent
80% — $64,640/yr, $31.08/hr, $1,616 rent

Hypocritically, the city plans to build 34 single-family homes priced from $202,000 to $507,000 in SE Gainesville, eleven of them “affordable.” The city bought the 15-acre site of the former 172-unit Kennedy Homes low-income housing complex in 2008 and turned it over to the Community Redevelopment Agency. Since the groundbreaking in 2017, a single model home has been built. At the groundbreaking, Poe said there was an “overabundance” of affordable housing but in the wrong neighborhoods.

Two blocks south of Aaron’s former home, five stories of luxury student apartments taking up a city block loom over Floid Churchill’s house, built over 100 years ago for his widowed great-great-grandmother. The new development is on the site of a former low-income housing project bought with Federal HUD money. 

As backup to their petition, the commission included a draft report from their real estate consultants that concludes, “The City of Gainesville should complete in-depth land use analyses to consider the following changes.” It then lists the very changes they’re trying to make without any data or analysis, or public workshops.

The Plan Board asked that the commission hold workshops and break up the changes into separate items to be voted on. Members noted that it was unprecedented to make such sweeping changes without broad community input. The affordable housing workshops that were scheduled for this week have been postponed to early June, and the city commission has put the same item back on the Plan Board’s agenda for May 26.

We must persuade the “lame ducks” (especially the two mayoral candidates) to let our four new commissioners elected in August decide the future of our neighborhoods — after the data analysis, research, and community involvement we were promised at their last housing workshop back in 2018. This is not something they should be forcing on us on their way out the door.

Sharon Bauer, Gainesville

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

  • 1. Is the affordable housing element a back door to rent control?

    2. Gainesville was tree city. They will ruin the beautiful
    Tree canopy that we have near UF if they start putting
    Multi family there.

    3. Single family zoning is nice to raise a family at.
    Single family zoning should be protected.

  • I think both sides are imperfect, and I’d tweak their aims to make a more perfect housing policy. In general it’s always good to add housing capacity, and the unincorporated county has already taken the crown for single family development. That ship has sailed. If we want more affordable capacity in the city for non-students, then it must be done intelligently. Use land further away where it’s cheaper but still along RTS routes. DO NOT force luxury downtown-UF developers to insert HUD rental units there too, a huge mistake. That’s just for starters on my advice….

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