NIMBYs triumph in Florida upzoning battle

Attempt to change zoning in Gainesville likely to be repealed

A photo illustration of Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward and Gainesville, Florida
A photo illustration of Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward and Gainesville, Florida (Getty, Harvey Ward)

Gainesville, Florida, was set to become the first city in the state to get rid of single-family only zoning citywide … until it wasn’t.

Shortly after its members were sworn in, a city commission reversed an August vote that was designed to increase housing supply by allowing for duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes to be built on land zoned for single-family homes in the college town, Bloomberg reported.

The reversal, which came after backlash from local residents as well as state Republicans who threatened to intervene, may indicate how much of an uphill battle the “Yes in My Backyard” crowd faces in Red States, according to the outlet.

Pro-housing advocates have fought exclusionary zoning to combat increasing housing prices, as well as to unravel historic segregation, Bloomberg said. But residents — concerned over potential decreasing property values and more students moving into neighborhoods, among other things — fought against the measure, calling it “costly ill-conceived boondoggle,” “unconscionable” and “possibly catastrophic,” on a Facebook group, the outlet said.

Advocates expressed their concern over how quickly the upzoning plan was overturned, saying that the changes weren’t nearly as drastic as some alleged.

“You guys are on the wrong side of history here,” Jason Sanchez, of the local pro-housing group Gainesville Is For People, said, according to Bloomberg. “I don’t quite understand why it’s a contentious issue. It should be a quiet thing; it’s frankly kinda boring.”

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But it was anything but when it came to the November election, which saw commissioner Harvey Ward, who voted against the plan, become mayor, in part based on a promise to repeal it. The plan was unpopular not only with white residents, but Black residents, some of whom felt the upzoning would affect their property values and eat into their home equity.

“This was my fourth campaign for office. I’ve never, unfortunately, seen something that was [so] widely unpopular on the doorsteps,” Ward told the outlet.

Supporters of the measure, meanwhile, said they didn’t have the infrastructure or the messaging to combat the anti-upzoning crowd. And others believe there is still momentum for additional changes.

“In Florida we’ve had new groups pop up, so it’s kind of exciting,” Jason Sanchez said. “We’ve got Orlando, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Miami.”

— Ted Glanzer