TALLAHASSEE — Two elderly men sit hunched over their checkers game out on Benjamin Harris’s front porch on a beautiful afternoon.
The peace of the setting is disturbed by the constant sound of traffic on the neighboring Ridge Road.
Harris straightens up and sits back in his chair.
“Do you hear that?” he asked. “It’s like that day and night. All we need is another 600 people traveling on this road. Can you imagine what it will be like when they build those apartments.”
“That road is congested. They gonna need another way out,” he said.
Harris, like many of his neighbors, is worried that a 32-acre development approved on Dec. 14, 2016 by the City Commission, against the recommendation of the City Planning Commission is going to negatively impact his neighborhood.
He’s not just worried about traffic. He sees crime increasing too.
A twelve-year Ridge Road resident, Harris said he lives in a close-knit neighborhood and all the new people will just add to the crime problem residents are already dealing with.
Just down the road, Thelma Link leans against her walker as she waves good-bye to her family, pulling out of her driveway. She’s lived on the corner of Ridge Road, in the Villages subdivision, for about 10 years.
“We told them (the city commissioners) we don’t want those apartments, but they’re gonna build them anyway,” she said, shaking her head.
Residents turned out in large numbers for the Dec. City Commission meeting to voice concerns about the development. Unfazed by the residents or the recommendation to deny by the City Planning Commission, Commissioners Nancy Miller, Scott Maddox and Gil Ziffer voted for approval. Commissioner Curtis Richardson and Mayor Andrew Gillum were the two dissenting votes.
Link said with that many apartments she worries for the safety of children trying to ride their bikes on the busy road.
“That’s a major throughway,” she said.
Echoing earlier comments by Harris, she continued, “We have ambulances and lots of traffic coming down that road now, day and night. If they add all those people and don’t widen that road, they’re gonna have a major traffic disaster.”
Not everyone feels the same way about the pending development. Steve Crump, a two-year Ridge Road resident said he welcomes the new community and the new people it will bring.
He said he hoped it would stop people with four-wheelers from riding through the neighborhood.
But, Michelle Nylund wasn’t as optimistic. She said her husband’s family had lived in the same house in this neighborhood for 42 years.
She summed up her opinion of the new development with, “Time to put up the ‘For Sale’ sign.”
The proposed project for the 31.68 acres located on the south side of Ridge Road seeks to change from the Single Family Detached, Attached, and Two-Family Residential (R-3) zoning district to the Planned Unit Development (PUD) zoning district that will allow a maximum density of 14 dwelling units per acre for residential uses, multi-family dwellings up to four stories and community facilities.
The current zoning allows for 8 units per acre and does not allow multi-family dwellings, community facilities or daycare centers. The current R-3 zoning limits the maximum height to three stories.
On November 15, 2016 the Planning Commission recommended denial (4-0) of the application citing concerns with the proposed density and the lack of a requirement for a mix of residential uses. Specifically, the Planning Commission asked the applicant to commit to a maximum number or percentage of single, duplex, and multi-family units and the applicant declined.
The Planning Commission expressed that, as proposed, the applicant could potentially develop the property with only multi-family housing. The findings were that the maximum allowable density of 18 units per acre, totaling 570 units, if built entirely as multi-family units, could adversely affect adjoining neighborhoods based on the testimony received at the public hearing. (The developer, before the City Commission meeting, changed the proposal to 14 units per acre.)