Mayor Poe’s housing plan will destroy neighborhoods

My last column outlined Mayor Lauren Poe’s inclusive zoning plan that will allow fourplexes to be built across the city in a consolidated residential area, with no occupancy limits. In the context of a small town with a large university and a growing community college, where landlords typically rent by the room to students for upwards of $1,000 a month, I concluded that profit, not l equity, would be the result, if not the real motivation of Poe’s plan.

But what does this mean for you?

In my old neighborhood of University Park, just north of the university, and close to Golfview, that would be a nightmare. The plan would allow for the rental by the room to unrelated tenants of four residential units of 3 to 4 bedrooms each, on a single residential lot, with no occupancy limit.

A nonresident landlord could place at least 12 unrelated tenants in such a structure, a potential “party house” without adult supervision. That translates to a total monthly rental of around $12,000 or more per month, which isn’t a bad return on investment.

Poe’s plan would also invite homeowners to sign over their homes to Airbnb companies, which would be unlimited in how many “guests” can be housed there at one time. Can you imagine what it would look like at a home football game? As it stands, there has long been an Airbnb just north of Parker Elementary School which on one occasion hosted at least 30-40 people (illegally), along with a food truck and several vehicles in the yard.

Poe’s plan would be a disaster for any neighborhood near the university, especially already threatened historically African-American neighborhoods like Porter’s Quarters and Fifth Avenue/Pleasant Street. These areas are already beset by developers, acre by acre, plot by plot, house by house. The opening of Santa Fe College’s new Blount Center downtown will only exacerbate economic pressure for more luxury student housing on Fifth Avenue/Pleasant Street.

Poe’s plan would eliminate family-oriented residential zoning, as well as the very definition of “family,” which the drafters say is “obsolete.” So now, real families, like those clustered around public schools, churches, and community centers, are obsolete? Context is everything. Poe’s plan will destroy the family quarters.

More from Robert Mounts:

City development review proposals impede public’s right to be heard

A tale of two cities: Gainesville during the day and after midnight

Developer-friendly Gainesville: That’s how they want it

Years ago, a previous commission and its city attorney fought to protect family quarters from unwelcome student incursions into family living areas. Building on the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Village of Belle Terre v. Borass, they enacted laws that limited occupancy in single-family zoning districts to a single family, as defined in article 30-2.1 of the Land Development Code:

“Family means one or more natural persons who are living together and interrelated as a spouse, domestic partner, child, son-in-law, adopted child, parent, “and so on…”plus no more than two other unrelated natural persons occupying all or part of a dwelling as a separate housekeeping unit…” (emphasis added)

The Supreme Court upheld those rules in Borass, saying the ordinances defining “family” and protecting single-family neighborhoods from unrelated student tenants were constitutional and did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

In practice, this became just “three unrelated people”, perhaps recognizing that if only one person owns a private residence, they should be able to share that house with others. In this context, there is always a responsible person with a vested interest in maintaining the residence and complying with community standards. It’s much easier for code enforcement, or any first responder, if the owner actually resides there.

However, in 2020, when the city commission approved Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), it allowed not one, but two ADUs, one attached and one detached, with no requirement for owner occupancy. In doing so, they created the functional equivalent of a triplex, perfectly suitable as a student rental. Yet it was sold to the public as a way to help a widow or widower stay in their home and earn extra money by renting an ADU.

An illustration of the different types of secondary suites.

My old neighborhood was fine with an ADU as long as the owner resided on site, either in the primary residence or in the ADU. They were caught off guard.

Poe’s proposal goes much further, adding fourplexes and eliminating occupancy limits altogether. It portends the destruction of quiet family neighborhoods near our campuses, whether historically white, black or mixed.

Even one on your street, if filled with student renters or turned into an Airbnb, would transform it beyond recognition.

Robert Mounts, a retired attorney, is the immediate past president of University Park Neighborhood Association Inc.

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