The Alachua County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to hold a public hearing on guidelines for cottage neighborhoods, the newest solution to the area’s affordable housing crisis.
The public hearing is scheduled for March 28 for commissioners to hear community input.
Cottage neighborhoods are a style of building in which a cluster of houses face inward, with front doors opening out onto a courtyard. The back sides of the houses open out onto the street.
This kind of neighborhood allows for more homes in smaller spaces, according to a county report. The smaller the home, the lower the price, Commissioner Mary Alford said. Building cottage neighborhoods would increase density in residential zones, addressing issues of urban sprawl, she said.
“I think that if we design them right, most neighbors aren’t going to be opposed,” Alford said.
The proposal includes requirements for houses to be no more than 1,300 square feet, and each building would be a single-family house with no multi-family units. The size of an overall development would be 2 acres. Cottage neighborhoods also wouldn’t be able to be built in residential areas that had been previously mapped out, called platted neighborhoods.
A typical cottage neighborhood includes 15 homes, said Gerald Brewington, senior planner for Alachua County. In larger areas, three neighborhoods can sit side by side, accounting for 45 homes. However, more than three together without something separating them can create zoning challenges, Brewington said.
Commissioner Anna Prizzia takes issue with the square footage restriction and the lot size of the proposed guidelines, she said. She thinks both should have smaller caps to maximize the amount of homes developers can build across the county. She also wants cottage neighborhoods to be allowed to be built in platted neighborhoods.
“At some point we have to meet in the middle on this idea of not in my backyard,” Prizzia said. “Just because these single-family homes are smaller doesn’t mean they don’t belong next to other single-family homes.”
Alford also has concerns about those two aspects of the proposal. Two-acre areas will be much harder to find than 1-acre areas, she said, which will limit the actual ability of cottage neighborhoods to help fill in empty lots and create homes.
“If it’s 2 acres, we’re never going to see it anywhere,” Alford said. “They’re not going to be the things that I think would help our county the most.”
She also thinks the 1,300 square feet requirement only aids developers with pricing small homes higher due to extra space, she said. She would rather the cap be as low as 1,000 square feet.
However, Commissioner Ken Cornell was vocal about his support of the acreage requirement. He has concerns about how lowering it to 1 acre could create parking problems for both residents and traffic passing by, he said. He’d also prefer to keep the platted neighborhood restriction to preserve existing neighborhoods.
“It’s about compatibility,” Cornell said. “It’s not about not in my backyard.”
Cottage neighborhoods were also included in a Gainesville City Commission proposal from Commissioner Bryan Eastman Feb. 17. The proposal found commissioner support, but still failed 4-3 due to concerns about completely reinstating exclusionary zoning in April.
The county’s proposal, however, was put on hold last October until Feb. 28.
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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.