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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Gainesville housing project passes first vote despite split commissioner, citizen support

City Commission narrowly passed the motion 4-3

Historic preservation advocates and local residents gathered at Gainesville City Hall last week, divided in opinion over one issue: the future of a parking lot.

The Gainesville City Commission voted 4-3 Sept. 15 to turn the lot on the corner of Southwest Second Avenue and Southwest 10th Street into a 12-story housing complex and standalone five-story building. The proposal was made by real estate firm CA Ventures.

The total area would provide a maximum of 277 units, with potentially 27 of those units reserved for affordable housing. Alachua County has seen 936 eviction notices filed within 2022 alone, according to a report from UF Shimberg Center for Housing Studies.

Adrian Hayes-Santos, District 4 city commissioner, said the approval was a positive step toward solving the city’s housing crisis. “This truly is a mixed income project — the types of projects we need to move forward on to help ensure we’re creating affordable housing where we need it,” Hayes-Santos said.

Commissioners Reina Saco, David Arreola, Hayes-Santos and Mayor Lauren Poe voted in favor of the motion, while Commissioners Cynthia Chestnut, Desmon Duncan-Walker and Harvey Ward dissented.

The lot is across from the University Heights-South Historic District, which, under historic preservation zoning, limits buildings within 100 feet of the area to four stories maximum. 

Residents worry that larger, more modern buildings like the 12-story project may clash with nearby historic residences.

Jennifer Tucker, a 54-year-old Gainesville resident and UF business professor, said one of her concerns was the project’s lack of consideration for historic culture.“People remember the houses, the memories and the atmosphere they have had,” Tucker said. “When you have this brick wall there, that changes everything.”

The City Commission voted to change the area’s zoning to a planned use district, which allows the project to follow unique requirements approved by the commission rather than standard land zoning designations.

Harvey Ward, District 2 city commissioner and mayoral runoff candidate,  said his concerns came with the impromptu nature of the decision.

“We chose to use a backdoor to the process and apply a PD [Planned District] to it rather than using the rules we have agreed to,” Ward said.

The original proposal was modified during the meeting at the request of Saco, who requested the standalone building be reduced from 12-stories maximum to five as a compromise.

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Some attendees were additionally concerned the buildings wouldn’t solve housing issues for long-time residents. 

UF home renters make up 28% or all rental households in the housing market analysis, according to a report by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Melanie Barr, a 70-year-old Gainesville resident and historic preservation consultant, said the hope for local households to stay in a complex with students was unrealistic.

“Families are not going to live in a one or two bedroom apartment among a bunch of students,” Barr said. “They’re just not going to.”

Hayes-Santos said those under Gainesville Housing Authority, a nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing for local families, will have priority in applications for the complex.

For affordable housing advocates, the vote marked another step toward providing the city’s population with more housing options.

Vishnu Malhotra, an 18-year-old UF pre-law freshman and member of affordable housing advocacy group Gainesville is for People, said alternatives to the project harmed Gainesville as they resulted in less living units created.“What people fail to understand is that all new housing is good housing,” Malhotra said.

The denser multi-story project also would help prevent students from moving into residential areas, Malhotra said.

With mixed opinions on similar affordable housing votes, Gainesville’s culture seems to be in conflict between wishes to preserve the city and desires to implement swift housing changes.

Patrice Boyes, Gainesville resident and attorney for CA Ventures, said the project’s pushes were a natural aspect of the city life cycle.

“Cities are dynamic,” Boyes said. “If cities are not changing and adapting, they die.”

The proposal will still require a second vote before the project is passed into action. As of Sept. 16, the second vote is not yet scheduled.

Contact Aidan at Follow him on Twitter @aidandisto.

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Aidan Bush

Aidan Bush is a third-year journalism major and the Spring 2024 Engagement Managing Editor of The Alligator. In his free time, he likes to listen to music and go kayaking.

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