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Saturday, November 26, 2022

As Gainesville residents anticipate the runoff mayoral race in November, the aftermath of the city’s elimination of exclusionary zoning is heavy on their minds.

Gainesville city commissioners voted Aug. 4, to eliminate city-wide single-family zoning in a 4-3 vote. The initial vote was to get rid of exclusionary zoning while amending occupancy and bedroom limits, allowing two-story multifamily units to be built in residential areas. 

The ordinance would remove restrictions that limited occupation to one family and limited bedrooms. In order for the ordinance to be passed, a second vote will be held at an undetermined date. 

The Department of Economic Opportunity and Alachua County Commision sent letters to the city urging commissioners to reevaluate the vote. The state department’s letter, which was sent Sept. 8, detailed their concern that changing zoning ordinances would solely benefit university students and not city residents. 

Some residents, like those in East Gainesville, have similar concerns as the county and state. 

Wayne Fields, 67-year-old resident of Azalea Trails in East Gainesville, opposes eliminating single-family zoning. Historically Black neighborhoods on the east side of the city, he said, have seen an increase of multi-family housing despite exclusionary zoning ordinances prohibiting their development in residential areas.

“East Gainesville has been the dumping ground for affordable, low-income, government-subsidized housing, instead of the American dream of land owners,” Fields said. 

High utility and rent rates have pushed residents out of East Gainesville, he said. The area has seen an increase in multi-family complexes funded by the federal government to provide more affordable housing. 

The prominence of lower-income housing on the east side of Gainesville has led to a lack of commercial businesses, such as grocery stores, medical facilities, insurance agencies and entertainment businesses, Fields said. 

Fields supported mayoral candidates Edward Bielarski and Harvey Ward, who were against the elimination of exclusionary zoning, prior to the primary election results and will continue to support their campaign. However, when asked which candidate’s stance on exclusionary zoning he supports more, Fields said he’s not so sure.

Fields and his neighbors in East Gainesville want to hear what the candidates’ course of action would be if elected, he said.  

Both Bielarski and Ward have expressed their opposition against eliminating single-family zoning in their campaigns. Ward, District 2 city commissioner, voted against the zoning changes during the City Commission vote. 

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“If I’m elected mayor, I will work to return it back to its original state after the first of the year,” Ward said.  

To improve the accessibility and availability of affordable housing in Gainesville, Ward voted in a City Commission vote to allocate $8 million of the American Rescue Plan to work with non-profit partners. 

Bielarski, former Gainesville Regional Utilities general manager, said he believes the affordable housing crisis in Gainesville won’t be solved by the elimination of single-family zoning. Instead, he would focus on finding better job opportunities for people, bringing better-paying businesses to town and ending learning disparities within schools. 

“If it’s passed under this commission, I would work to revoke it if I become mayor,” Bielarski said. 

Camilo Reina-Muñoz, a 28-year-old Gainesville resident, supports removing single-family zoning through a nuanced lens.

Reina-Muñoz said he understands long-term residents’ fears of college students moving into their neighborhoods, but believes the ordinance could help solve Gainesville’s housing crisis. 

He explained how many LGBTQ+ individuals’ immediate families ostracize them after coming out, pushing them to create their own chosen families in Gainesville. However, due to the lack of legal structures to declare queer citizens as a “family,” the individuals may struggle to live together because of single-family zoning. 

This can become problematic with Gainesville’s limitation of single-family homes to one family, a Department of Sustainable Development employee, said at the Aug. 4 commission meeting. A family is defined by the city as “one or more natural persons who are living together and interrelated. Plus, no more than two additional unrelated natural persons occupying either the whole or part of the dwelling unit.”

By eliminating occupancy limits, multiple unrelated people can live in a home that is traditionally built for families related by law or blood. 

Reina-Muñoz supported July Thomas during the primary election, he said, despite Thomas’ rejection of the elimination of exclusionary zoning. He believed Thomas understood how single-family zoning negatively impacts the ability of marginalized communities to live together. 

Apart from Thomas and Commissioner David Arreola, he said Ward is the only candidate who he feels has spoken directly to him. 

“Harvey Ward is someone who I feel would listen to the community and be able to draft or present a better way of addressing exclusionary zoning that would address the potential pitfalls of the current draft, which might invite gentrification rather than actually helping the marginalized communities,” Reina-Muñoz said.

Carrie Parker-Warren, an 81-year-old East Gainesville resident, said she shares Fields’ concerns.

Parker-Warren, Azalea Trails resident and retired secondary administrator at the University of Florida’s P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, said she believes developers have mistreated East Gainesville as they continue to build large complexes despite residential complaints. 

“That was the American dream — to buy a house in a neighborhood where you had other families living behind you and not all this stuff they want to continue to bring to our side of town,” Parker-Warren said. 

Jason Sanchez, a resident in the Duckpond neighborhood and co-founder of Gainesville is for People, is an avid supporter of the vote to end exclusionary zoning in almost every neighborhood in Gainesville. 

Allowing multi-family housing and decreasing minimum lot sizes will create “much-needed diversity” throughout Gainesville, Sanchez said. His organization, Gainesville is for People, is an advocacy group for more diverse housing types throughout the city, which they believe will reduce housing costs and car dependency. 

While Arreola was his top choice out of the original nine mayoral candidates, Sanchez said he’ll support Harvey Ward in the runoff. 

“I support Harvey Ward rather strongly,” Sanchez said. “His career has been supportive of other housing solutions like using community land trusts to buy up land and build affordable housing. He’s shown a commitment to exploring other solutions that aren’t just tied to sort of a bigger rezoning of Gainesville.”

In regards to Bielarski, he said the candidate's campaign on exclusionary zoning focuses too intensely on “protecting single-family” housing. 

“All I’ve heard from Ed is ‘I’m going to protect single-family housing,’ which is, frankly, ridiculous because it’s not going anywhere,” Sanchez said. “Nobody’s knocking down single-family houses…I think overall, Harvey has demonstrated a more complete understanding of housing issues that face Gainesville.” 

The runoff election for mayor is during the Nov. 8 general election.

Despite both candidates' opposition to eliminating exclusionary zoning, Gainesville residents remain divided on how to best approach the affordable housing crisis while also making room for lifelong Gainesville residents and seasonal university students.

Parker-Warren said she’ll remain hesitant until Bielarski and Ward present concrete plans.   

“We have two people that are saying they want exclusionary zoning in this county,” Parker-Warren said. “It’s up to the people to look into their eyes and see who’s being honest and who’s not being honest…Somebody who talked to the people before they make stupid decisions about our neighborhoods.” 

Contact Allie at asinkovich@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @allie_sinkovich.

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