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Gainesville gives initial approval to rezone Fair St. area
A Georgia Mountains Canter meeting room is filled to capacity during Tuesday afternoon’s Gainesville City Council meeting. Many were attending because of a the Fair Street Neighborhood rezoning request on the meeting’s agenda.

Gainesville City Council members on Tuesday sided with residential property owners who organized to keep business interests from infringing on their neighborhood.

Though two property owners opposed a request to rezone 129 parcels in the Fair Street area, the council voted 4-0 to approve the request to change the area to the Neighborhood Conservation district zoning. Mayor Myrtle Figueras recused herself from the vote because she lives in the affected area.

If given final approval later this month, the Neighborhood Conservation zoning would freeze the neighborhood’s current zoning and not allow any new commercial interests to establish there.

Tuesday’s request came from the Fair Street Area Neighborhood Planning Unit — a residents-based approach to city planning that is the first of its kind in Gainesville — and involves more than 100 properties on 12 city streets on the southeast side of Jesse Jewell and E.E. Butler parkways.

City planners told the council that more than 96 percent of the affected property owners supported the rezoning, but two property owners had their lawyers speak against the request.

Attorney Steve Gilliam spoke on behalf of business owner Sandra Campbell, whose property at 1033 Summit St. was included in the mass rezoning request.

Gilliam told council members that the rezoning would make Campbell’s property virtually useless because of the zoning requirements for infill developments in Neighborhood Conservation districts. City Manager Kip Padgett said the problem could be fixed by placing a condition on the rezoning to exempt Campbell’s property from the infill standards.

But Gilliam was not consoled; he asked that council members remove the property from the list of those to be rezoned.

Attorney Graham McKinnon spoke on behalf of the owners of Princeton Holding Group. The business owns property at 434 and 502 Boone St. as well as Church Street Manor on Jesse Jewell Parkway, which was not included in the request.

McKinnon said the rezoning of the two properties would "amount to the taking of my clients’ property" and violate the business’ constitutional rights.

But council members sided with the neighborhood’s residents, who made impassioned pleas to preserve the historical character of their neighborhood.

Hunter Street resident Emory Turner asked council members to think about the neighborhood as if it were their own.

"This is where we lay our heads every night," Turner said. "This is where we rest our bodies. This is where we go at the end of every busy, busy day... so we’d like to have this neighborhood preserved, as is."

And longtime Summit Street resident James Brooks said the proposal was not to shut businesses out, but only to make sure residents were included in any business expansions. He said it was almost insulting that two business owners wanted to opt out of the rezoning request.

"I know that we have some people who want to opt out, but I say to you, and I hope they hear, that we don’t want to keep you from doing something with your properties," Brooks said. "We want you to be a part of us. We want to create a symbiotic relationship with you so what you do or propose to do with your properties will be beneficial to you and to us."

Council members sided with the residents in the first hearing with a condition that Campbell’s property be exempt from the infill development standards in Neighborhood Conservation districts.

"I think what we’re doing here is certainly appropriate," said Councilman George Wangemann.

The rezoning will become final if the council approves it a second time at its Nov. 17 meeting.

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