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Gainesville City Commission Reverses Huge Zoning Decision It Voted In Favor For Just 3 Months Ago

Nora O’NeillStaff writer

Exclusionary zoning has been reinstated in Gainesville after months of debate and widespread outrage from city residents.

A split Gainesville City Commission voted 4-3 on Wednesday to reinstate a trio of zoning ordinances, measures that protect single-family neighborhoods from the development of multi-family units.

Gainesville was the first city in the state to do away with exclusionary zoning in October, and will now be the first in the country to reinstate it − both coming within a six-month span.

“They're basically sweeping, they’re overarching, they're too broad,” Commissioner Ed Book said of the prior ordinances.

In January, the commission voted 4-3 to petition the city’s plan board to bring forth a new ordinance that ultimately led to Wednesday’s vote to keep single-family zoning fully intact.

Commissioners Casey Willits, Reina Saco and Bryan Eastman voted against the new ordinances.

The elimination of exclusionary zoning, which paved the way for multi-family housing to be built in single-family neighborhoods, has been a hotly debated topic, one that the previous commission pushed through before leaving office.

The October decision caused outrage from homeowners and lawmakers who represent the region. The Alachua County Commission also expressed its disapproval of the plan, as did state officials.

The changes allowed developers the opportunity to build duplexes, triplexes and, in rarer occasions, quadplexes anywhere citywide based on an available lot size, similar to how housing is currently allowed in southeast Gainesville. The switch, however, did not prevent single-family homes from being built or require new multi-family units. City staff has said the initial proposal would've had a modest to minimal impact but provided people more housing options citywide.

Commissioner Saco voted against the reversal of the previous ordinances. She said that because many historically Black neighborhoods are already mixed-use, reinstating exclusionary zoning will result in more multifamily units being built in these neighborhoods while predominantly white neighborhoods are protected. She also expressed concerns about the affordability of single-family homes, as well as their contribution to urban sprawl.

“If this commission majority is going to make housing more expensive, more unattainable, less accessible and more destructive, it has to be on the record that that is what you are all agreeing to do,” Saco said.

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut pushed back on this idea, saying it’s a misconception that Black residents are not homeowners.

“We own homes,” she said. “Don’t let anybody tell you we are just apartment owners.”

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said listening to community input and governing accordingly is important to her, referring to the community outrage when exclusionary zoning was eliminated last year.

“It is not lost on me that we oftentimes tend to involve Black people or the Black community in situations where we're trying to make the point,” she said, “yet we don't listen to the Black people that are standing right before us, telling us what they want.”

Over the months, those who have protested eliminating traditional single-family zoning neighborhoods have claimed the plan would hurt home values by allowing low-income residents into their neighborhoods, though no data showed that to be the case. Some have also suggested it would lead to increased crime and University of Florida students being in their quiet neighborhoods.

Some residents argued Wednesday that apartments and multi-family homes are more affordable, saying the elimination of exclusionary zoning was a good first step in addressing Gainesville’s affordable housing crisis.

“We know that we have short housing stock, and we do not have enough housing options for those who are impoverished in poverty and who are vulnerable,” he said. “Those deficiencies are not going to be solved by the ordinances that were attempted to be put in place in 2022.”

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