Attorney says Gainesville City Commission could face legal challenges over possible zoning changes

Published: Aug. 2, 2022 at 6:42 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - Gainesville City Commissioners are speaking out on their plan to end single-family zoning, after Alachua County Commissioners said they don’t support it.

“One size never fits all when it comes to rezoning an entire residential area within a city,” said Jane West, Policy and Planning Director for 1,000 Friends of Florida.

West, who specializes in land use law, said she hopes Gainesville City Commissioners take that into consideration when it comes to getting rid of single-family zoning.

In a joint meeting last night, county commissioners unanimously opposed the city’s plan.

RELATED STORY: Alachua County Commissioners vote to oppose Gainesville plan to eliminate single-family zoning

“Right now we’re seeing so much development in Pleasant Street, in Porters, and the reason for that is because they’re zoned at a much higher density than what’s allowed in many of the historical white neighborhoods,” said Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, who’s in favor of getting rid of single-family zoning.

West said the city could face legal ramifications under the Bert Harris Act, which allows landowners to seek relief if government action unfairly affects their property.

“Not only the legal liability, but the financial liability that the city is potentially looking at with that. Bert harris taking cases are very expensive to defend for local governments.”

She said another important thing to note is that, “you can’t turn around and down zone it back. Once you make this move you can’t change course.”

While Commissioner Hayes-Santos expressed the current single-family zoning has racist origins, Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker feels it helps keep the roots of historically black neighborhoods in place.

“A lot of our community members are feeling blind-sided by such a very harsh policy change that would literally change the fabric of those communities,” said Duncan-Walker.

She feels the commission should take more time crafting this policy.

“Someone once said this type of policy change should be crafted with a scalpel, not a sledgehammer. I’m concerned that we’ve taken a sledgehammer approach to this.”

The city commission is set to vote on the zoning change Thursday at 5:30 pm.

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