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Friday, September 22, 2023

League of Women Voters hosts candidate forum at Oak Hammock

Residents of Oak Hammock heard from the candidates running for mayor

Gainesville's mayoral candidates speak to about 80 Oak Hammock residents Tuesday, July 12, 2022.
Gainesville's mayoral candidates speak to about 80 Oak Hammock residents Tuesday, July 12, 2022.

Oak Hammock residents heard from some of Gainesville’s mayoral candidates for the first time Tuesday night.

The League of Women Voters hosted the exclusive forum to allow about 80 retirement community residents to hear mayoral, city commission and school board candidates speak on topics from climate change to single-family zoning. 

Five of the nine mayoral candidates spoke: Harvey Ward, Ed Bielarski, David Arreola, July Thomas and Donald Shepherd. Adam Rosenthal, Gary Gordon, Gabriel Hillel Kaimowitz and Ansaun Fisher, Sr. were not present. 

Each candidate had one minute to answer questions from a moderator and for an opening and closing statement. 

Residents were most concerned with the city’s proposal to eliminate exclusionary single-family zoning, which only allows the construction of single-family homes in specific neighborhoods. The zones currently hold 63% of Gainesville homes, according to a Gainesville Sun article.

While a majority of the candidates opposed the elimination of single-family zoning in the city, Arreola openly supported the proposal. The community needs to move past exclusionary zoning and discuss what new housing could look like, especially with Gainesville’s increasing population, he said.

“We’re talking about small-scale multi-family additions to neighborhood residential areas,” Arreola said. 

Ward said he is against the elimination of single-family zoning. Candidates should have an in-depth conversation within each community on how to solve the housing crisis, Ward said. 

Bielarski, Gainesville Regional Utilities’ former general manager, said the mayor and city commission need to listen to the community to decide what should be done about the city’s housing crisis. 

Jeani Valter, a 77-year-old Oak Hammock resident, would have also liked to hear more about how candidates would address issues involving GRU’s rising rates and the condition of city roads. She was unimpressed with the answers some of the candidates were able to provide with their one-minute time slots.

“It was embarrassing to me,” she said. “They’re not professional.”

Valter said eliminating single-family zoning would worry people who own homes. She disagreed with the proposal but said it should be left up to the new city commission.

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Alice Gridley, an 84-year-old Oak Hammock resident, thought it was helpful to learn candidates’ stances on single-family zoning, but she didn’t think they had enough time to explore the issue completely. 

The forum was her chance to learn more about candidates she normally wouldn’t get the chance to speak to, Gridley said, but she thought it also could have been helpful to hear more about the candidates’ priorities as mayor.

“I would have really liked to have heard more about their planning for the future,” Gridley said.

The next mayoral candidate forum is July 20 at the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center. The election for Gainesville’s next mayor is August 23. 

Contact Jackson Reyes at Follow him on Twitter @JacksnReyes.

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Jackson Reyes

Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.

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