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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Commission votes to push back land ordinance

The Gainesville City Commission passed a motion Monday night to push back voting on an ordinance that would affect Gainesville's churches.

Commissioners discussed a land development ordinance proposed to ensure that Gainesville is in compliance with a federal statute. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, often referred to as RLUIPA, requires that cities cannot be more strict with religious institutions than they can be with other places of assembly regarding land use codes.

However, religious assemblies located in residential areas will be affected by policies attached to the ordinance.

For example, one of the suggested policies mandates that places of religious assembly have one acre of land for every 100 people of the maximum occupancy of their buildings, according to city staff.

Commissioner Jack Donovan's proposal that "the more astringent elements of the ordinance," such as the dimension requirement, be removed until the commission further discussed them passed unanimously.

He also proposed that city staff send a letter to the Department of Justice, which has been following the city's motions to comply with the statute since June.

More than 75 people attended the meeting, most of whom opposed the proposed policies.

The Rev. John D. Gillespie, Pastor of St. Augustine Church, is a leader in the opposition of the policies attached to the ordinance.

"We were told to go out into the neighborhoods, and it seems that this is a reversal," he said.

According to the ordinance, religious assemblies would be allowed a "use by right" in most non-residential districts, which means they require no special permits to be located in most areas that are not dedicated to residential housing.

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