What role should citizens and neighborhoods have in deciding on the use of public properties and how do you think and how do you think that should work, for example in the development of the Northwood Mall site?

County Commission
District 1

Terrance Barber

Northwood Mall is a large site, somewhere around 25 acres. The TPD Headquarters will only take up about 5 acres.  That leaves a lot of public land for development.  We’ve had a number of what we call community engagement meetings, but they have not been based on what I mentioned earlier: doing a survey of what thriving communities have done, comparing that to what we have and don’t have in Tallahassee, and then informing the public on those results. Then, we can have informed citizens participate fully in the planning process, citizens from throughout the community not just the around Northwood Mall site, by going out to engage the citizens where they live and in ways that are comfortable and practical for them to participate.

Donna Pearl Cotterell

I was involved in the effort to get the TPD headquarters moved out of the south side of town and I must admit that the community input did work in this case, probably because the situation was so intense and divisive. So, I am very much in favor of strong citizen involvement in deciding the use of public properties.  We could do a much better job of clarifying public opinions and ensuring that we create public spaces and facilities in locations that promote equity and easy accessibility. 

Bill Proctor

For many people in the Black community, the police are not viewed as being in their neighborhoods to serve and protect. The police department too often works in ways that do not help with acceptance. I was happy to have worked on getting the new police headquarters moved out of Southside and up to the Northwood Mall site. White communities tend to be more deferential and supportive of police. In that sense, in this case, the move of the police headquarters was a win for citizen participation for public properties and how they are being used. That’s a good thing.

County Commission
District 2

Sabrina Allen

Neighborhoods and residents in nearby areas, those that live in the area should absolutely be asked if that use of the property is beneficial to them. We want the use of public properties to match the residents’ needs and not disrupt the area or the residents. Things that need to be considered are things like, will it bring jobs, will it help the community, what is the best community benefit for this property? That is not done enough. My role as commissioner is to listen and bring back solutions and make everyone aware of District 2’s needs. Commissioners make a lot of decisions without input from neighborhoods and that is not how I would run my office.

Lynda Bell

Lynda Bell chose not to be interviewed.

Christian Caban

Government needs to help nearby residents and neighborhoods clarify their vision for the property. It relates to the comp plan in a way- asking the people what’s their vision for the property and how can we get there?

From my perspective, the Northwood Mall site needs smart development. I don’t see that as being focused on affordable housing so much as retail and restaurants. Plus, I like the idea of the new police headquarters that will be built there being more integrated into the community, sort of a community policing approach not on the beat, but in the location and community outreach potential.

Hannah Crow

The commission should respond to the needs of the community. We need to engage with the community to find out what that is. You might not be able to please everybody, but there needs to be a balance so we can improve quality of life and collectively try to do what’s best for the whole community.

Will Crowley

The first thing we can do to help neighborhoods on this issue is to stop the no-bid land sales. We are not getting the best value for our public properties when we have a sole source contract. I would actually like to see our local governments buying more land for housing and environmental protection.

When we have a site like Northwood Mall, we should give nearby neighborhoods a stronger voice for how the site is developed compared to other residents. They need to see the value of what gets put on the properties.  It’s important, too, that the people that live nearby can continue to live nearby. In low-income neighborhoods, we can’t have public properties converted to developments that raise surrounding home values to the point that property tax increases force people out of their homes, whether they are owners or renters.

Max Epstein

There has to be an organic planning process. If you look at the City, they are selling community property without a bid, and that is just wrong. That is community property that should, and could be, used for affordable housing or other amenities that benefit the public. Those who are directly impacted, those who are close by, should have more of a voice in it, although we have experts from all over the city and we may have people who care about our neighborhoods who may not live there and they should be listened to as well. So we need to listen to everyone and come together.

Every time I show up to these things, they have a nice pretty poster board and you put a sticker on something, but is that really community planning? I don’t think it is. It is not organic; it is not transparent. I think the planners need to be sitting with the citizens as they draw up the plans and there has to be a fundamentally different way of participatory planning. I have taken a few graduate level classes on urban planning and I know we have very talented and knowledgeable urban planners in our community and there are ways of doing this that are accepted. This is exactly what we found on FAMU Way. They had no meaningful participation. They had a meeting, it was rubber stamped and they said everyone was cool with it, and that is just not the case.

Manny Joanas

Manny Joanas chose not to be interviewed.

County Commission
District 3

Joey Lamar

I think the City did a reasonably good job of soliciting public opinion on the Northwood Center. I attended one public meeting. Although I support public opinion being solicited, especially early on, it’s impossible to make everyone happy because people have different views about what they want to see. Master Planning is important for large parcels being redeveloped. I don’t want to see high-rise apartment complexes at the Northwood or the old TPD site. I’d like to see affordable housing and affordable day-care, as there is a large homelessness problem in these areas. The key to solving homelessness is providing housing for the homeless.

Rick Minor

A lot. Public properties belong to the public and therefore, they should have a strong voice in deciding how they are used. 

The Northwood project is in my district. The City has done a good job getting feedback from the public, and now what the City needs to do is incorporate that feedback into the real designs. Although I don’t have a vote in this because it’s a City property, I did send a letter to the City  Commissioners and the Mayor, urging three requests for the Northwood Master Plan: 1) Integrate the Performing Arts Center into the Master Plan; 2) Strongly consider including senior and workforce housing; and 3) Incorporate park and green space, and green space/outdoor seating next to restaurant/food options.

Damon Victor

Public input is again critical. I’ve been involved, for example, in the Northwood Mall public meetings. In the beginning, there was a lot of opportunity for public input but as it goes on, it seems that decisions are being made with less public input and in many cases, ignoring public input. The public is told one thing and then it changes. County and city owned land presents a great opportunity to meet pubic needs, such as affordable housing and addressing homelessness. Land could be put into public trusts and used for public purposes, instead of selling it off to developers. I recognize that each situation is different and my vote will depend on the individual situation and facts.

County Commission
District 5

Paula DeBoles-Johnson

What I saw in my work with AmeriCorps is that if you allow people to participate, you’d be surprised at the innovative results and the feeling of community. I think we should use our technology, for things like online meetings, to give everyone a chance to participate.

David O'Keefe

I have liked that a handful of citizen engagement events have been held over the past few months on the Northwood Mall property. They may have started these after it was decided by the City that the property would be the new location for the police department.  My issue is that we need to use public property to fill gaps that we have.  I understand that the City decided that the current police facility is inadequate.  There are many other unfilled gaps in our community, for example we don’t have community centers, affordable child care or affordable housing, or assisted living for seniors. Wherever we have public buildings or property we need to think about community needs that are not being filled by the private market.  That’s where we should be using our resources to fill the gap, both with our economic development dollars and with public property—buildings.  

I am a person who prioritizes.  I know we need a new police station, but it may not be the highest and best use of our resources. I think we first need to meet our community’s basic needs.  I don’t think a new police station should be prioritized above things like community centers for our youth, or affordable child care.  We could take, for example, an unused County building, retrofit it into a state of the art child care facility that rents for $1 per year and is leased to an approved child care vendor. This is an example where it becomes an investment.

Jay Revell

Our local governments need to make a strong effort to go to where people are. I think many times we have citizen engagement opportunities that not posted and advertised where the people are. We can do better.  

I am 100% in agreement with the vision to buy the Northwood Mall property to be used for public purpose.  But unfortunately, it seems like that’s where the real vision process stopped.  I know we have had some attempts at public outreach, but this property has such potential to be a transformational project. We get few chances to design a project with such impact.  What we build will be there for the next 60-70 years.  Intentionality in design is immensely important. The process undertaken in order to develop such a transformative project should take as long as it needs to get it right. I am a fan of growth and moving our community forward, but I am constantly disappointed when I see things that come up in our community that are not representative of how I and a lot of others envision our future.  

I think we need to have elected officials who are not afraid to talk about the importance of vision and community engagement in a way that can shape results that have a profound effect on how much we love our community going forward. The implementation of that falls on staff. We have very talented staff that need clear direction and a Commission that will insist upon the kind of engagement that is needed to accomplish things at a very high level.  

Whenever people feel like they are boxed out of the process, it lessens their desire to strengthen their participation in the issue.  I think a big part of the Commissioner’s job is to make sure people who come to engage, feel like they have been listened to and heard.

Dustin Rivest

We don’t have input from the community neighborhoods that live around there (Northwood Mall, Lake Ella and the Lake Bradford Road projects). Why are we not getting that? 

There are citizens who are just not giving their feedback on some of these issues and we need to make it easier for citizens to have a voice and be heard.  Once we have this extremely valuable input from citizens, the data we have will change how decisions are made across the board.

Collecting and using good data will not only make for better decision making, but will allow Commissioners to run on data, allowing citizens to see how Commissioners have voted in the past on issues and whether or not the Commissioner voted with their constituents. This would help citizens hold Commissioners accountable to their campaign promises and to their votes on the Commission. Can you imagine a Leon County dashboard by District, that tells people in real time what the current issues are and what the data is telling them?

County Commission
At-Large Group 2

Rudolph Ferguson, Sr.

I go back – the role is the same. Neighborhoods, taxpayers, voters should be there. I was Chairman of the Police Citizens Advisory Council when the new police department on the south side was a concept. But citizens did not want it there, similar at Northwood Mall. When we discovered concerns were voiced, we sat down with all who had a major role and had a charette at the senior citizens building. Many people showed up and went around booth to booth offering suggestions and everything was written down. Again, the process should be citizens and neighborhoods first and foremost. I lead for you. It’s your tax dollars so your voice is first and foremost.

Josh Johnson

How it works is different from how it should work. It occurs, but seems only cosmetic, a box to check. There are several ways to have more healthy citizen input. The neighborhoods and neighborhood associations (NAs) should have a very large say. The amphitheater is similar to Northwood Mall – issues of air and noise quality. Need to consider people living in real time subject to deleterious effects. Even if there is very little development there is a need for citizen input. For example, the police station – not as much development but bigger social impacts. Better if citizens are heard. Gentrification can create problems. Citizens and NAs should have a huge say in air quality, traffic, and noise pollution concerns.

Nick Maddox

With public assets citizens are an important part of the decision-making process. There are negotiations in processes involving many people. In government we understand the need to balance. Citizen voices and needs are important. They need to be heard and considered.

Dominique ('Nikki') Danielle Zumbo

Interestingly when I was an Uber driver, I had two investors discussing that area and issues surrounding it. They said that it was not attracting enough of a crowd. Consider outsourcing contractors, vendors, and companies to fill public properties and attract people. I hear time and again that people here want an ice-skating rink, but need someone to run and maintain, meet the bank mortgage, and need full time staff to fulfill the need. This is so important before development – to know the crowd or the audience. Talk with people working, living, and enjoying the area. They will bring friends, family, and out of town guests. Advertise to other companies and offer promotional events to bring in revenue and entertainment.

City Commission
Seat 3

David Bellamy

The neighborhoods need to get organized and show up in force to say here’s what we would like to see, here’s what we will tolerate, and here’s what is not acceptable and make sure their voice is heard.

At the Northwood event I went to, I didn’t think that any of the comments were going to get very far. Certainly, a neighborhood that is seriously going to be changed by development right next to it needs to have a very large say in what is going to take place and what will be done.

As can be said for many cities, neighborhoods are what make Tallahassee, Tallahassee. The trees, the small roads.  I grew up in Betton Hills, and those small roads were a paradise. Those neighborhoods must have a say in what will affect them adversely.

This includes public and private land.  As long as the focus is on neighborhood expansion or urban infill, this will require that neighborhoods that have old Tallahassee homes in them will end up with multi-family condos right next to them on zero lot lines.  It’s not just public land encroaching on a neighborhood, it’s more private land encroaching on neighborhoods because there is no good way to deal with the Comp Plan.  Those that only want urban infill, we are forcing home builders to put homes on every postage stamp (sized lot) in Tallahassee with zero lot lines. 

While everyone in Tallahassee says they don’t want to expand at all, but then we see new neighborhoods pop up on Thomasville Road on a narrow strip of land, well everyone gets upset about that…. That is urban infill. When you say that we will fill every available area in Tallahassee, that’s what it is.  There is no perfect answer.

Right now, we are encouraging property owners to maximize the value of their property with houses too big for the lot, zero lot lines and some have multi-family like condos. These are popping up everywhere.  There needs to be a release valve turned on so that property builders don’t feel like they have to cram everything they can into every postage stamp piece of land.

My mother helped write the original Tallahassee Comprehensive Plan.  Before 1985 you could get a building permit on the back of a napkin.  A lawsuit at that time resulted in the requirement for a Comprehensive Plan.  His mother was on the City Commission until 1987 and helped write the first Comp Plan that took effect in 1989.  It has not been substantially changed since then and as a matter of fact, we have lost between 10 – 17,000 acres of land from the Comp Plan because it was close to Lake Jackson.  Years later it was determined that these were protected wetlands and the city would never build there.

Jeremy Matlow

The biggest problem we face now is that the City counts public participation as events hosted, charettes, and input is taken but there is no guarantee that any community or neighborhood input this goes any further in the final product.  We need to move forward and take the tally of what is hard from the community and put them as actual options that the commission needs to consider. 

There is no clear process on how or why some ideas go forward and some do not. Great ideas are heard but never seem to go forward as options. Local governments need to take a step back and put elected officials back in the driver’s seat. Elected officials are making the final decision but there aren’t stops along the way where they eliminate or move things forward.

A little bit better process was used for the police station search in evaluating different options and viewpoints from the community which actually resulted in changes before the Northwood Mall was decided upon.

City Commission
Seat 4

John Dailey

There is an important role for citizens to play in how development should look. We have been having a series of community meetings on Northwood, and the Midtown Working Group is providing input as well. Lake Ella is a great resource and provides an important connection to Midtown.

Kristin Dozier

We need to acknowledge that every property is different and each should be considered within its own context. However, we should have a standard approach to engaging the community on projects to ensure the property is put to use for the benefit of the community. The typical format for community meetings and soliciting feedback is frustrating to citizens who rarely see their ideas reflected in the decisions. Properties should be evaluated for how they best serve public need with a robust discussion with the community. We have work to do on how we engage the public and solicit ideas. On retaining ownership of public properties, I agree with one caveat. The need for affordable housing is one exception she would support for selling public property, but the sale should be structured to define how it will be used and developed in perpetuity, and with careful vetting of who is allowed to buy it with a requirement that they demonstrate the use will meet the needs of the community for the public good. Selling public land for student housing is not a good public use.

Michael Ibrahim

We need to think about what uses will bring the best return, socially as well as financially.  It could be a public-private partnership, for example.  In Munich, the city invested in a large public installment of simulated beach- sand and water- to bring happiness and recreation to the community.

Vision is what leads to success.  We need a public conversation about what is best for the community on the property.

Whitfield Leland III

I think the way public spaces are used should be decided by the neighborhoods and the community. There could be different needs for different neighborhoods around a project, the communities should decide what works best for them. I have to pay an unreasonable fee to use recreational centers for issues that are of interest to the community. This is not fair.

City Commission
Seat 5

Shelby Green

The city commission decided what they wanted to see on the publicly owned Northwood Mall site then they mailed out a survey and notice of meetings for community input. The only city service or public entity they proposed was the new police station, offering the rest of the site for private development. That is not a true public space because it does not serve the public interest. 

The city commission should continue to solicit input and ideas from the community, and maintain an aggregate list of what the people want on a public and continuous basis.

Adner Marcelin

Of course, citizens and neighborhoods should have an active role in deciding the use of public properties. Right now, we need a better way to engage citizens in deciding the use of public properties. We need to go to people where they are to get their input, and improve ways to communicate with them. 

Dianne Williams-Cox

Citizens should provide input because the properties belong to the citizenry and can participate in various ways. I welcome input and engagement with neighborhoods because that is where the action is.  We want safe and vibrant neighborhoods and places to live. As a commissioner, I was elected to be their voice. I meet individually with constituents, I do my research on issues, consider staff recommendations, take briefings with staff and ask pointed questions.