Land development code overhaul has some residents concerned

The City of Gainesville has changed, as all cities do, over the past 40 years. Not only has the City changed, but the habits and ways of life of those who live here have changed as well. From the growth of a very successful Transit system to moving through several real estate cycles, how we as people occupy our cities is constantly changing. Just think, a few years ago you could go to any shopping plaza in the city and rent a VHS movie … now that entire business is non-existent. While some businesses have gone others have arrived, light manufacturing for example hold tremendous potential for our community in conjunction with our superb start-up culture and biomedical institutions. What is the point of this rambling … our land use code needs to evolve to address the changing way we occupy, do business in, recreate, and live in Gainesville. Our code is dated, onerous, and contains many conflicting regulations. We have overlay districts, special area plans, and other antiquated systems that were bent and tweaked to meet our needs. Over time, these have caused confusion at our City’s suffering. Change can be difficult to swallow, but when seen as a necessary step to keep pace with our changing lifestyles it reveals itself as an asset and not a hindrance. The code rewrite will allow for more deliberate growth, more transparent and consistent regulation, and position Gainesville for well-managed growth … growth that is inevitable and growth that will, if regulated well,  yield changes for the better.

- Seth Lane, Front Street Director & also involved in public policy initiatives through the Chamber of Commerce's Public Policy Committee and Small Business Task Force and the City of Gainesville Planning and Zoning Board.

From The Gainesville Sun

The first comprehensive overhaul of Gainesville’s land development code in more than two decades has sparked concerns that some of the city’s oldest neighborhoods will lose their character to redevelopment.

The focal point of the uneasiness is a plan to replace four single-family residential zoning districts with one in the residential neighborhoods near downtown and the University of Florida campus

The new district would allow as many as eight houses per acre, a threshold currently allowed in only one district in the area. The other districts allow from 3.5 houses an acre to 5.8.

The portions of the larger zoning overhaul that are focused on residential neighborhoods also have stirred up concerns and uncertainty over where townhouse, duplex or small apartment development of as many as 15 homes per acre would be allowed on areas where houses now stand.

Crowds of more than 100 from neighborhoods including University Park, the Duck Pond and Oakview packed March 5 and March 12 neighborhood meetings on the rewrite of the zoning rules.

Mark Hinnebusch has lived about 27 years in the residential neighborhood east of the intersection of Northwest 16th Avenue and 13th Street. He said he believes the residential areas eyed for change are “ripe for development” because of their proximity to campus and downtown. His concerns are developers building more homes than are currently allowed on the undeveloped lots in the area or buying up homes to raze them and then redevelop.

Hinnebusch said that while city officials say the zoning changes will protect residential areas, “you don’t protect neighborhoods by increasing density.”

Janet Burk has lived in Oakview, just south of Northwest 16th Avenue, for more than two decades.

“What’s unique about our neighborhood is its feel,” she said. “Right now, it’s very residential. It has beautiful live oak trees and canopy. It very much has the feel of an old neighborhood.”

Burk says her concern is that the zoning changes would make the neighborhood “enticing and alluring” to developers and that it then would lose its character.

Gainesville Planning & Development Services Director Steve Dush said that, based on the feedback of the past two neighborhood meetings on the zoning rewrite, he expects staff to make changes before bringing something to the Plan Board and then the City Commission. One option, he said, is dividing the lone single-family residential district now proposed in the area into multiple districts, with some allowing fewer houses per acre.

The city began the larger process of overhauling its land development code back in 2012. Orlando-based Littlejohn Engineering has a $200,000 contract to develop the changes. In an area near UF and downtown that covers about 8 percent of the city, the plan mixes form-based code principles with traditional zoning, Dush said. The form-based code focuses more on the size, height and appearance of development than separating uses such as residential and commercial.

Those form-based principles will not apply to the vast majority of the city under the zoning rewrite.

Dush said the zoning rewrite is intended to provide a comprehensive overhaul to a plan cobbled together piecemeal over the decades and give staff, residents and development professionals a more understandable end product.

The current plan in the areas where form-based principles will be applied is to eliminate overlay zones that have more strict regulations than the base zoning designation that a property has.

There will be less need to apply for variances or special-use permits, and the Board of Adjustment, which considers applications for variances, will be eliminated.

The Development Review Board will assume the Board of Adjustment’s responsibilities. The current timeline has the rewrite going to the Plan Board in early May before it is presented to the City Commission in late May.

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Virginia MacKoul

Virginia is a graduate from the University of Florida's College of Design Construction and Planning with a degree in Sustainability and the Built Environment, and a minor in Urban Regional Planning. Virginia joined the Front Street team in 2011, as an intern. Upon graduation, Virginia joined the Front Street team full-time as the Director of Client Services. Ms. MacKoul’s addition furthers Front Street’s continued growth and expansion within Gainesville and other North Central Florida markets. She was promoted to Director of Marketing in 2014 and now manages the firm’s team of interns and oversees all marketing and branding activity. Virginia was born in Boston and moved to Lee County, Florida in 1997. Virginia graduated her high school's International Baccalaureate program and started at the University of Florida with a focus on Architecture. Virginia shares Front Street's passion of giving back to the community and those in need. Virginia's hobbies include photography, cooking, football, movies, music, and spending time with her dog, Brinkley.

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