Gainesville’s Planning and Appeals board left unresolved an issue that has divided city residents and forced board members to question the boundaries of their powers to rezone property in the city.
When the members of OurNeighborhood Task Force, who live in the residential area between Ivey Terrace Park and Ridgewood Avenue, asked the board to rezone the area of the neighborhood that allows multifamily housing to a more restrictive, single-family zoning, they were met with opposition from their neighbors and planning board members Tuesday night.
The task force, represented by Crestview Terrace resident Joan Alford, asked the planning board to initiate the rezoning process for a large section of the neighborhood in order to weed out absentee landlords and push landowners to take ownership in their properties.
Alford showed pictures of properties on Hillcrest Avenue and Ivey Terrace that are plagued by overgrown grass, dilapidated structures and litter. At the end of her presentation, Alford asked the planning board to vote to initiate a rezoning of about 80 properties between Bradford Street and Ridgewood Terrace, encompassing Hillcrest and North Avenues as well as Ivey Terrace. Fifty-six of the 80 properties are rental properties.
If approved, properties within the task force’s desired rezoning district that are currently used for multifamily purposes could legally maintain their multifamily uses. However, if those properties were not used for multifamily purposes for a period of 12 months, then they would have to be used as single-family residences.
Alford told planning and appeals board members that the rezoning would improve the neighbors’ quality of life and increase property values, and would slow down the growth of multifamily uses in the central Gainesville neighborhood.
"We realize that this is the first step in all of us working together to accomplish this, and you know, we hope that you’ll support what we’re doing. ... We know that it’s not going to be overnight," Alford said. "... (The rezoning is) something that’s very important to us."
About 10 people present at the meeting stood in support of the task force’s desired rezoning at Tuesday’s meeting. The owners of 26 of the properties expressed their support of the rezoning on a petition the task force sent out to neighborhood residents.
Since 100 percent of the neighborhood’s property owners do not support the rezoning, the City Council or the planning board will have to initiate the rezoning.
Some residents who attended Tuesday night’s planning meeting said they did not want the small neighborhood group deciding what other property owners should do with their properties. Planning board members also questioned the ethics of rezoning property belonging to people who did not want the rezoning.
Linda Tench, a Bradford Street resident, said she did not appreciate a group of four neighborhood residents deciding what should happen for the rest of the neighborhood. Tench said her grandfather built the house she currently lives in more than 100 years ago.
"I have respect in my home; it’s mine, I live there," Tench said. "... I care about my property probably even more than they do, but I don’t want anybody to come in and have a four-person group that’s been appointed that I didn’t even vote for them to be on this group in our neighborhood."
Tench said she had issues with someone telling her what to do with her property when she worked to maintain it and keep it clean.
"I think they’re trying to control our neighborhood. ... This is my property, my rights and this is the United States of America."
Other residents said the request to rezone was too drastic, and there were more realistic ways to improve the neighborhood.
Board member Doyle Johnson said he appreciated the task force members’ efforts to improve their neighborhood, but said the rezoning could infringe on other property owners’ rights. He agreed with other residents that there were other ways to improve the neighborhood.
"I’m philosophically opposed to it. ... Our standard is the Constitution ... emotionally and philosophically, and what I understand of the Constitution, I’m absolutely opposed to the city forcing something on property owners that they don’t ask," Johnson said.
Board member Joe Diaz continually raised the philosophical issue of the government’s role in ruling over private property owners. He said the board should wait until he and board member Jane Fleming attended a planning and zoning conference to discuss the idea with other planning officials and land-use lawyers.
"I would feel more comfortable having the opportunity to investigate this a little bit and make a wise decision rather than just a knee-jerk reaction," Diaz said. "I think what we do today, being a first-time thing, is bound to have impact down the road. ... I got to feel like when I do something that I’m setting a standard that I’m going to be able to apply in the future, too."
After nearly an hour of discussion with residents and among board members, board Chairman Dean Dadisman said the board should wait to take action on the issue until the board has more information about the future of the neighborhood’s upcoming planning unit and other residents’ opinions on the rezoning.
Dadisman did, however, promise that the board would take some action in the months to come.