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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Commission approves zoning for affordable housing units in complex to be built in Innovation District

Zoning exceptions will allow the complex to be taller than the district

The Gainesville City Commission voted 5-2 to approve zoning exceptions for a new apartment complex with 20 affordable units near UF’s Infinity Hall Feb. 2. 

The complex will be built beside the intersection of SW 2nd Avenue and SW 10th Street, in an area called the Innovation District between UF campus and downtown Gainesville. The building contract includes a clause requiring 10% of the units to be affordable housing, which will allow for 20 units with the current plan. 

The clause in the contract involving affordable housing requires the 10% rule to be there in perpetuity — meaning if any other entity tries to buy the complex, it still has to maintain the 10% rule. That aspect convinced commissioners Reina Saco, Bryan Eastman, Casey Willits and Mayor Harvey Ward to approve the development of the complex, despite outcry from residents who live in a neighborhood near the area. 

“This is an opportunity to put working families in a great zone for opportunities for them, their investment and their children,” Saco said. 

The chance to provide cheap housing for those 20 families in a prime location is too good to pass up, Saco said. For the affordable housing package, the complex will offer $922 monthly for a two-bedroom unit. 

A two-bedroom unit at newly constructed The Metropolitan Gainesville around the corner starts at $1,095 per bedroom, according to its website.

The apartment would be one of the first in Gainesville to place affordable housing within walking distance of a grocery store, Willits said. The area is also within walking distance of jobs at local businesses like The Swamp Restaurant and Opus Coffee.  

The issue of food deserts prevented a larger affordable housing complex, Dogwood Village, from being built in East Gainesville earlier this month. 

CA Student Living, the company that requested the zoning exceptions, appeared before the commission and city’s Planning Board last year and was denied. Ward was one of the votes against the complex. He has also voted against numerous housing initiatives like exclusionary zoning. But this time, he voted yes. 

“I’ve said no over and over and over, and that doesn’t fix our affordability problem,” he said. “It just doesn’t. At some point, I think that I have to say yes.” 

This is not the first time the city has used the 10% rule to start construction on affordable housing on the west side of Gainesville. There are currently two other projects under construction that bring lower costs closer to campus. But because they haven’t been finished yet, city officials don’t know what mixed use housing will look like in practice, Ward said. 

The approved projects combined offer a little over 60 affordable housing units close to campus. The small total number can be a drawback of the 10% rule, Ward said. 

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“It’s not thousands of units,” Ward said. “But everything helps.” 

The problem for Gainesville resident Jennifer Tucker, however, is that the complex will be built a little over 10 feet away from her home, she said. Tucker lives in a house part of the Innovation District in Gainesville. 

She’s concerned about the way the road alongside her house — described as a “public alley” by commissioners and other city officials — will narrow due to the development, Tucker said. She’s also worried about the shade from the 12-story building. 

“You can see a giant growing just across this 10-foot public alley,” she said. “This is going to block away the sunlight.” 

The zoning exceptions allow for CA Student Living to build the complex taller than the typical limits in the area, which are around five or six stories. They also allow the apartment complex to have a larger number of units. 

Commissioners Cynthia Chestnut and Desmon Duncan-Walker both voted in dissent. When Department of Sustainable Development director Forest Eddleton presented the project, Chestnut also expressed concerns about traffic congestion due to the narrow road. 

But she also believes the affordable housing conversation should be about houses, not apartments, she said. 

“We’re not getting home ownership,” Chestnut said. 

Contact Siena at sduncan@alligator.org. Follow her on twitter @SienaDuncan. 

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Siena Duncan

Siena Duncan is a sophomore journalism major and the graduate school beat reporter for the Alligator. When she's not out reporting, she's typically bothering her friends about podcasts or listening to Metric on repeat. 


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