Your Turn published in Tallahassee Democrat, May 11, 2020
By Pam Hall
Going forward, let’s use public infrastructure and development rights to revitalize and support opportunity and choice for housing and employment throughout the city and county for the majority of households, instead of reinforcing the disparities that already exist.Pamela Hall
The city of Tallahassee is proposing two Comprehensive Plan amendments to create a new development, the Welaunee “Arch,” bounded by Centerville, Miccosukee, Roberts, Crump and I-10. There will be 2,800 rural acres re-designated to urban development, for a total of 4,700 acres in the Arch.
Blueprint proposes to spend $47 million on Welaunee roads by 2025. In addition, about $40 million of public money will be spent on an interchange at I-10. In exchange for this extensive transportation network and huge increase in development rights due to the change in land use from rural to urban, the Welaunee landowners will provide land for road right of way valued at about $2 million.
There are already 2,000 acres of Welaunee under development. Why is so much public money being spent to turn 4,700 acres of open land into suburban, auto-dominated development in the northeast? A development this large will corral most of the residential building for the next 20 years. The rest of the community will suffer from lack of private investment.
For the last 30 years, private home building has been focused in the northeast, spurred by public investment in infrastructure and schools. It has created wonderful communities, but has also created significant geographic inequity in housing, income and education. This has limited the opportunity of the average household to find affordable housing and transportation.
For example, the median house price in Canopy, the first Welaunee subdivision, is $320,000. It requires a household income of over $100,000 to own that house and the cars needed to get around. Median household income in Tallahassee was $51,000 last year.
Our population is increasing, but growth is slowing. We expect 56,000 new residents in the next 25 years. Our community does not lack available land to accommodate them.
Much of our best development, creating vibrant working and living spaces, has been due to redevelopment. Gaines Street, St. Francis and Midtown are examples. This is how a livable, equitable city is built, from the inside, on a shared skeleton of public infrastructure followed by private investment. This is how we provide families a choice of affordable and valuable places to live.
The pandemic is going to change local government revenue and expenditure for years. There will be more economic need in the southern and western parts of our community, areas that are already less resilient than the northeast — though recovery will be difficult everywhere. Our community’s culture, with its restaurants, entertainment, nonprofits and small businesses of all types that create our community character, has been heavily damaged. We will need to rebuild differently than after a “typical” recession. Redevelopment will be the key.
The amendments to expand Welaunee epitomize a form of development from the past: suburban, auto oriented, expensive homes and businesses in the northeast. Going forward, let’s use public infrastructure and development rights to revitalize and support opportunity and choice for housing and employment throughout the city and county for the majority of households, instead of reinforcing the disparities that already exist.
Pamela Hall is a 25-year resident activist, ecologist, demographer and hopeful purveyor of real data and its sensible interpretation to create a resilient, sustainable community and environment for all of us.