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Special to the Sun: GNV R.I.S.E. (Analysis)

By Robert Mounts / Special to The Sun
Posted Sep 10, 2018 at 2:00 AM Updated Sep 12, 2018 at 10:24 PM

As The Sun indicated in a recent editorial, “Affordable housing plans are promising,” there is no question that real solutions to racial and economic injustice and disparity in housing are badly needed. However, I would add, “not at the expense of existing residential neighborhoods” such as University Park, Hibiscus Park, Pleasant Street, the Duck Pond or Porters.

The real problem in our neighborhood north of the university is the proliferation of cheap housing catering to transient renters (i.e. mostly students), despite our long-standing efforts to preserve the essential character of a family-oriented neighborhood, centered as it is near J.J. Finley Elementary School.

However, most of our area is zoned for single-family residential housing (RSF-1, RSF-2, RSF-3, RSF-4 or RC), and my neighbors are not in immediate jeopardy of seeing “bungalow courts,” “live/work units,” duplexes, triplexes or other multifamily housing forms next door, unless initiated by developers under GNV R.I.S.E. affordable housing incentives in so-called “new subdivisions.

What is GNV R.I.S.E.? It is the city’s plan to provide incentives to developers to build affordable housing in new subdivision developments across the city. R.I.S.E. means “Resilient, Innovative, Sustainable and Equitable” housing options, available where greater housing density is both permitted and available for infill.

Last month, the City Commission approved the concept in the comprehensive plan. Now, implementing ordinances must be passed. The Department of Doing is also considering “compatibility guidelines” for developers to ensure GNV R.I.S.E. projects are compatible with existing residential housing.

Key details are in “Plan Board Exhibit A-4: Housing and Infill, 180200A, 26 July 2018,” especially “Table V-4: Permitted Uses in Residential Districts”:

— Attached dwellings are “two or more dwelling units that are attached horizontally or vertically, where each unit has a direct entrance from the ground level or an external staircase.” It includes “bungalow courts,” “live/work” units, duplexes, triplexes, multiplexes and townhouses.

— Under Table V-4: Permitted Uses in Residential Districts, “attached dwellings” and “live/work” units are only allowed in RSF-1, RSF-2, RSF-3 or RSF-4 zoning districts if part of a GNV R.I.S.E. project (designated in the table by the letter “R”).

Nothing prevents an opportunistic developer from buying up single-family lots and building “new” multi-family, attached dwellings, taking cynical advantage of GNV R.I.S.E. incentives to provide a small percentage of affordable housing.

While the effort to encourage affordable housing is laudable, much of it, if built, might well be occupied by relatively affluent college students, not the poor, and not constructed on the east side, where it is badly needed.

One solution might be to exempt the “university context area,” where most students live, from the plan. (See

“Compatibility guidelines” being considered include a “small lot ordinance” that would allow construction of fee-simple infill housing on small lots, with reduced lot size and side yard requirements, but only in multifamily and commercially zoned areas. However, many Gainesville residents understandably prefer actual help for those seeking to upgrade and sustain their existing “affordable” homes.

Robert Mounts is president of the University Park Neighborhood Association.

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