Monday May 29th, 2023 4:52AM

Gainesville City Council approves limits on extended stay hotel occupancy, says there's no plan to evict law-abiding clients

By B.J. Williams
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A Tuesday night public hearing before the Gainesville City Council became emotional at times as residents asked council members to reconsider an addition to Gainesville's Unified Land Development Code pertaining to extended stay lodging.

The biggest concern was a stipulation that limits the time a client can stay in an extended stay hotel, even though city officials had tweaked the original ordinance approved by the Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board last month. City council members reviewed those changes at a work session last Thursday. 

Council voted 4-1 to approve the changes. 

While the new ordinance limits stays at extended stay facilities to no more than 30 consecutive days or more than 60 days during a 180-day period, there are exceptions to the new rule. Matt Tate, Deputy Director of Community and Economic Development for Gainesville, pointed out those exceptions prior to the city council vote Tuesday night.

  • Where there is a written agreement between the lodging facility and a business or government entity to house employees or contractors during a work or business project in the city
  • Where there is documentation that a patron is staying at the facility while providing care for a family member or patient at a medical facility in the city
  • Where there is documentation from an insurance company that a patron has been displaced by an natural disaster or other emergency that would necessitate a longer stay
  • Where there is documentation from a local non-profit or shelter that no alternative housing is available for the patron

Even though Gainesville Fire Chief Jerome Yarbrough and Police Chief Jay Parrish explained to those at the public hearing that extended stay facilities can be more unsafe than other places of lodging, eight people - all opposed to the change - addressed council members during the public hearing.

Some, such as Christine Osasu with Habitat for Humanity of Hall County, had attended past meetings. She attended Tuesday's public hearing to object to the revised part of the code allowing patrons to get documentation from non-profits to prove there are no available housing alternatives. 

"The non-profits are already overburdened and you can check that yourself by calling tomorrow and trying to find a place to stay tomorrow night," Osasu said. "An additional piece of paperwork, on one hand, is overburdening the non-profits. Secondarily, it's making it more difficult for the people seeking this shelter...this is one more place they're going to have to go."

Two people who spoke were long-time residents of the Home Town Studios on Jesse Jewell Parkway; both were concerned that they might be evicted under the new code.

"I've been there five years," said 91-year-old war veteran Clifton Pendley. "It's a home, they treat me nice, I feel comfortable and I don't have any place to go except the motel and that is home."

At the end of the hearing, each council member tried to reassure those who had spoken that the goal was not "to kick anyone out," as Mayor Danny Dunagan put it.

Council member Barbara Brooks said she understood the plight of those who were worried they might have no place to live.

"It's not that we are not touched by the stories here. I was homeless myself at one time - a phone call away from sleeping in my car - so I know what it's like," Brooks said. "[But] the city doesn't provide housing. We rely on investors, on developers."

Brooks. along with fellow council members Sam Couvillon and Zack Thompson, said the bigger issue is affordable housing for the city, and they said they would continue to work on solutions.

In the end, the council voted to approve the changes with only George Wangemann voting against the addition to the ULDC.

"I hate to see any of them displaced, even though I feel like we won't enforce that part of the ordinance," Wangemann said after the meeting. "I'm trying to separate the crime aspect from the housing aspect and I'm more interested in the housing aspect right now...crime can always be [addressed] by law enforcement officials."

City Manager Bryan Lackey said the intention of the ordinance revision was not to displace law-abiding residents who live in extended stay lodging.

"It's a case-by-case basis and it's complaint driven. We're not doing sweeps and we're not going in and checking with hotel management to see who's been there," Lackey said, saying the goal is safety of those who are staying at the hotels. "I'd rather take the issue on now, rather than we knew about it [a problem] and a fire happens, something bad happens and then people look at us and say we knew it and didn't do anything about it."

The ordinance changes go into effect immediately, according to Lackey. 

  • Associated Categories: Homepage, Local/State News, Politics
  • Associated Tags: Gainesville City Council, low income housing , extended-stay hotels, housing issues, Unified Land Development Code, safety issues
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