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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Gainesville City Commission fails to lift lot restrictions for single family zoning

Proposed changes still found support from commissioners, mayor

The Gainesville City Commission voted 4-3 against easing zoning restrictions for single family homes Thursday afternoon. 

If the motion had passed, city staff would have begun looking to pass zoning ordinances that would reduce the overall size of lots to be smaller across Gainesville. Once finalized, it would have worked as a caveat to restore exclusionary zoning, which means the city wouldn’t return the zoning code to exactly how it had been prior to October. 

That’s what led commissioners Desmon Duncan-Walker, Cynthia Chestnut, Ed Book and Mayor Harvey Ward to vote against easing zoning restrictions. 

All four expressed the desire to wait on looking at zoning until after exclusionary zoning is fully reimplemented into the city codes — a process that could last until April. 

“I promised that we would move everything back to zero,” Ward said. “That’s what I’m going to continue to do.” 

However, Ward’s interested in supporting changes to zoning rules related to lot sizes after exclusionary zoning is back in place, he said.

Chestnut also is interested in several aspects of the proposal, she said. The focus was on improving home ownership in the city, something Chestnut has been pushing for. She’d be willing to pass the changes after the zoning codes return to exclusionary status, she said. 

Given support from commissioners, Ward encouraged Commissioner Bryan Eastman, who proposed the changes, to re-propose the initiative in the spring.

“If this had been before us last year, this would be the law right now,” Ward said. 

Eastman’s proposal included reinstating single family zoning with only one criteria, rather than four different criterias like the city currently has. This would alleviate lot size restrictions and density requirements.

The end goal would be to allow more smaller “starter homes” — houses for young families — to be built in Gainesville. 

Eastman used his own house as an example during the proposal presentation: a three bedroom, one bathroom house with 1,097 square feet and 50 feet of land between the house and the street. 

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Because of how small his yard is, Eastman said houses like his can’t be built on 96.2% of single family zoned lots across the city. 

This change would be a compromise between strictly exclusionary zoning and no zoning at all, he said. Prices of smaller homes would be more affordable and more environmentally sustainable for the city, he said. 

“We want to find a good, common sense middle ground with increased home ownership,” Eastman said. 

Eastman does plan to bring the suggestion back in April if everything stays on schedule, he said. If the commission voted to ease single family zoning laws then, maps could be redrawn and instated by June. 

Still, Eastman is disappointed work couldn’t start right away, he said. 

Constantly redoing zoning laws instead of packaging everything together this upcoming spring is a chaotic way of governing, he said. 

“What we had before was broken in many, many ways,” Eastman said. “I can’t put my name to something that puts all those problems right back on the table.”

Commissioners Casey Willits and Reina Saco voted in favor of the proposal alongside Eastman. Saco expressed concern for student families at UF being left behind the longer the commission waited to implement zoning changes, she said. 

Saco doesn’t like the rhetoric around housing that pits students against full-time residents of Gainesville, she said. She pointed out graduate students, law students and medical students at UF sometimes have spouses and children while studying in Gainesville. 

“Not everybody who is matriculated at the University of Florida is an 18 year old with a trust fund,” Saco said. “At the end of the day, they are people. I want us to be very cognisant of the fact that this is to create housing for people.”

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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