The Gainesville City Council gave initial approval on Tuesday to multiple changes in the city’s Unified Development Code.
The changes will remove jails from the list of designated public uses, more heavily regulate group homes in the city and require residents and developers to apply for minor projects such as the construction of a retaining wall.
The changes are the fourth set of updates the city has made to its Unified Land Development Code this year. Other updates changed rules for special temporary outdoor events, the city’s tree ordinance and bonding requirements for land development permits.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Gainesville Planning Director Rusty Ligon referred to this most recent round of changes as a "general clean up of the code and some clarification."
But Gainesville property owner Mandy Harris said she felt some of the proposed changes were too vague.
Harris said the proposed changes that would require residents and developers to acquire a minor land development permit for smaller projects such as patio construction turned what was once a "courteous service" offered by the government into more regulation of city residents.
But Ligon said the addition only put on paper what the department has been doing for a decade. He said if the city can consult with residents before they construct retaining walls, it can help keep residents from creating problems on their property or their neighbors’.
"We want to advise them on what they’re doing," Ligon said. "If we can advise them on the front end we can save them a whole lot of heartache on the back end."
Though minor landscaping and maintenance is exempt from the need to acquire a minor land development permit, the proposed change requires owners of multi-family and nonresidential properties to acquire a permit for projects such as minor tree removal, landscaping, small driveway installations and small building additions.
Also under the proposed changes, owners of single-family residential properties would need to consult the planning department before beginning construction on parking areas, patios and walkways and retaining wall additions, according to the code.
But Harris said the way the changes were written left too much up to the discretion of the city’s planning director. Harris asked that the city specifically list the projects that would require a minor land development permit in the code to make it more user friendly to city residents.
But Ligon said such a feat would be impossible and would require continuous updates of that particular code section.
When Harris asked if the changes would require her to ask the city’s permission before she installed a walkway, Ligon said he would like for Harris to call and check but that it would be difficult for the department to enforce.
When Harris asked if installing a driveway without permission would be against the law, Ligon said he did not think so and Mayor Myrtle Figueras ended the time for public comment.
All five members of the City Council voted to initially approve the changes. The changes to the code will go into effect immediately if they are approved with a second vote on Dec. 15.
Also on Tuesday, the City Council voted to give final approval to a 5.5 percent increase in city water rates and a 6 percent increase in city sewer rates. The rate changes will take effect Jan. 1.