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Gainesville commissioners continue undoing single-family zoning laws

The Gainesville City Commission has voted to pass three new ordinances that undid the fall 2022 zoning laws that allowed for more multifamily housing in different places across the city.

On Wednesday night, the commission met for a special meeting to discuss the highly debated laws passed last October that eliminated the single-family zoning category and added residential zoning districts.

The reaction to these laws in 2022 was not well received by a large portion of the community. Many current commissioners even ran in the November election with the promise of amending these laws.

In a vote of 4-3, the commission on Wednesday passed three new ordinances that restored exclusionary zoning and made good on those campaign promises.

Sean McDermott, an assistant city attorney, said that “what these three new ordinances do are… an exact undoing of the three ordinances that the city commission adopted several months ago.”

The laws adopted last October were put in place with the hopes to help make living more affordable. Commissioner Ed Book conceded that this is an issue in Gainesville.

“We know that we have affordable housing shortages. I would suspect that we all agree with that… we know we have short housing stock and we do not have enough housing options for those who are impoverished, in poverty, and who are vulnerable. That’s a fact… we have statistics and data and demographics in our community that indicate those are gaps and deficiencies we have in the City of Gainesville,” Book said.

Despite this, Book was one of the many commissioners ready to restore exclusionary zoning.

“However… those gaps and those deficiencies are not going to be solved by the ordinances that were attempted to be put in place in 2022,” Book said.

One of the biggest fears of single-family homeowners with no exclusionary zoning is that developers will come and buy up the land in their neighborhood and change their community forever. This fear was put on display when Monica Frazier, vice president of an advocacy group in opposition to the October changes called Gainesville Neighborhood Voices, shared her neighborhood’s experience.

“Yes, people are still calling us. On the next street over, the lady who owns the land got a phone call… a developer who wants to put up apartments. He wants to buy her home, tear it down because there is an empty lot next door… so yes. I get the calls, my mother gets the calls, my neighbors across the street gets the calls,” said Frazier.

She then recalled what the community expressed when the commission was meeting to pass these laws in 2022.

“When this first came around, over 80% of the community that came and spoke, as well as the emails and everything…they were against the change initially. I just want to remind you of that this was never a change that the citizens wanted,” said Frazier.

Book echoed that doing right by residents’ wishes is the purpose of the commission.

“I believe what the community tells us is why we are up here,” Book said.

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut shared the same sentiment and believed that on this issue, the people of Gainesville are the driving force.

“We listened to the people, and we know what they are saying and that is what we are doing,” Chestnut said.

Gainesville city officials are still looking for solutions on more affordable housing, but they are for now wiping the slate clean of the prior commission’s ordinances. Several commissioners expressed a belief on Wednesday that the solution will not come from a broad zoning plan but will instead require a piece-by-piece answer.

“I think we have kind of couched this as an all-or-nothing type situation, and I don’t really think that’s what it is,” Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said.

Nicholas is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.