City looks at ways to keep peace in neighborhoods

Published: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
For many of those concerned about students moving out of areas around the University of Florida and into residential neighborhoods, it's natural to turn to the City of Gainesville for help.
But city officials say the nature of neighbor-on-neighbor complaints makes it difficult to draft regulations that would be effective at problem solving. Even the laws already on the books are difficult to enforce.
Gainesville city commissioners this week held the first of what is expected to be a series of meetings designed to rework regulations to allow better policing and control of the spread of students into the city's neighborhoods.
At the meeting, which was attended by about 20 neighbors representing communities throughout the city, commissioners talked about raising the penalties for code infractions and working on ways neighborhoods could "opt-in" to tighter regulations.
"There wouldn't be this many people here if the regulations were working," Commissioner Ed Braddy said.
City Attorney Marion Radson said his office is studying a number of ways to potentially mitigate the impact students have on residential communities, but none offer a complete solution and many have pitfalls of their own.
"It will be a priority issue, because it's a daily problem in our neighborhoods," Radson said.
One suggestion, a city ordinance limiting the number of rental units on each side of a city block, could potentially reduce the density of students in certain areas, Radson said.
However, such a policy would only further encourage students to spread out into more neighborhoods, and would not affect students who buy rather than rent, Radson said.
A more limited, but potentially more successful, program would extend existing prohibitions in the city's University Context area - which covers some properties from I-75 to Williston Road and to NW 8th Avenue -against parking cars in residential yards, Radson said. Bringing this into new neighborhoods could minimize the aesthetic impact of student vehicles, a common complaint among their neighbors.
In many cases, officials are turning to public scrutiny of both students and the landlords that rent to them as a means of discouraging negative behaviors.
Such programs could include identifying problem houses with red tags and posting information about code violators on the city's Web site.
In addition, the city is likely to consider revisions that would increase penalties to landlords for violations by their tenants. The city's existing Landlord Point System has not yet resulted in any landlords losing their license over code violations on properties they own.
The most effective way of regulating activities in neighborhoods, according to some real estate specialists, is the use of deed restrictions that require properties be kept up to specific standards and can prohibit practices such as renting.
While some developers now plan to require buyers in new subdivisions to agree to these covenants, which are already in place in some areas of the city, they have little weight unless they receive the approval of all members of a subdivision.
But, in part, the problem is that either private or city restrictions can be difficult to enforce.
For example, enforcing existing regulations prohibiting more than three unrelated people to live in a house require code enforcement officers to undertake lengthy and extensive investigations that often are unable to prove the exact number of people actually living in a house.
Other solutions are less regulation-oriented.
Tallahassee, for example, has offered volunteer mediators to help neighbors, student or not, resolve disputes and work toward more harmonious living circumstances, Radson said. Such a program could help keep small problems from blossoming into serious conflicts between different property owners, he said.
Another solution would be asking UF to take a role in regulating its students, since academic penalties seem to work more effectively with students than municipal ones, Radson said.
"You've got to get creative," Radson said. "And I think doing nothing is not an option."
Jeff Adelson can be reached at 374-5095 or adelsoj@

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