Gainesville development causes anxiety in the community

The title of the recent sci-fi film, “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once”, captures the current urban moment in Gainesville.

Local media messages and conversations decry too little parking and too much parking; roads with too many or too few lanes; buildings that are too tall or not tall enough; the loss of character against a desire to create the “new American city”. Perhaps our only point of agreement is that we mourn the loss of trees and green spaces. What to think of this community cacophony?

Evidence of local change abounds: contested developments are underway behind Royal Park Cinema; in Saint-Michel; on the Williston, Tower, Newberry and Fort Clarke roads; and at the Westside Golf Course. Parker Road has been transformed by new subdivisions. The only languishing project is the town’s own development, Heartwood.

House flippers are coming in from New York, Miami and California, while the South Florida Gators are buying up playhouses, all because real estate in Gainesville is relatively cheap. National Airbnb companies are in a bidding war with local buyers. University of Florida alumni are investing their real estate profits in more expensive markets, driving up local prices.

Royal Park Apartments, located off Newberry Road, largely in a FEMA floodplain.

The city’s recently passed “Tenants’ Rights” ordinance has led to some landlords selling and others making needed improvements, reducing supply while increasing rents.

Part of the frenzy we are experiencing is based on global factors. COVID has left many people with temporary disposable income, and the lockdown has led some to buy bigger homes. The phenomenon of returning to small towns is a national trend.

Prolonged low interest rates, and therefore more affordable mortgages, have allowed many people to buy their first home or “up”.

Additionally, new global commercial real estate investors have significantly complicated our local market.

In 2018, Opportunity Zones, a Trump-era investment vehicle for anonymous real estate syndicates to avoid taxes by buying projects in “underserved” areas, came to Gainesville. Most of Alachua County east of 13th Street is in an Opportunity Zone. This partly explains the explosion of student accommodation, and perhaps certain construction and management practices.

In Florida, about 20% of single-family homes were bought up by companies last year, forcing a generation of potential owners to rent instead. This too is a national trend, although Florida leads the way.

More from Kim Tanzer:

The 35 villages of Gainesville: a different approach is needed to increase walking

Commissioners disrupt Gainesville settlement patterns in unpredictable ways

The experiences of Gainesville residents are not considered in urban design decisions

In a decade, the Airbnb phenomenon has transformed from cottage industries into a global market sector, with professionals managing properties remotely, to the detriment of local communities.

To further complicate this volatile global market, the majority of our city commission continues to attempt irreversible citywide land use experiments. They blended free market and new urbanism theories, creating a cocktail of urbanism that has never been tested, anywhere.

In 2017, they approved our current global plan, against the wishes of most people who spoke at the hearing. The main concern expressed and dismissed was that the new plan allowed buildings that were too tall for parts of Gainesville.

Responding to a general call for a six-story ceiling, Commissioner Harvey Ward assured everyone that the Gainesville market would not support buildings taller than six stories. Just five years later, we see he was wrong, as developers offer 12-story buildings in Midtown.

Heartwood, developed by the City of Gainesville on Eighth Avenue Southeast

Against the recommendation of its own board of directors, the commission voted to approve two secondary suites per single family property, i.e. triplexes. They argued that these affordable apartments would house the poor. Almost two years later, only a handful have been built, so wider implications remain unknown.

Mayor Lauren Poe has passionately vowed to end systemic racism, while he and other commissioners have approved zoning changes that threaten to destroy Gainesville’s oldest African-American neighborhoods.

By codifying the theory that pedestrians will support local businesses on the ground floor, while reducing parking requirements and road widths, local codes have produced empty storefront blocks that are too expensive for property owners. small business and too inconvenient for most buyers.

Now the commission is on the verge of eliminating single-family zoning. Their untested theory is that new quadraplexes in existing neighborhoods will provide affordable housing while mitigating racial inequality. Some commissioners remain confident in this outcome, despite their growing list of failed social experiments.

UF President Emeritus Bernie Machen likened the institutional changes to moving a tent: if you move too many poles at once, you risk collapsing the tent. In Gainesville today, many development factors are beyond our control.

Until the real estate market stabilizes, the wise course of action would be to halt citywide experiments. The anxiety expressed in the community comes from the fear that the tent will collapse.

Kim Tanzer lives in Gainesville. She is a former professor of architecture at the University of Florida who also served as dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia.

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About Teresa G. Wilson

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