A vote scheduled for May 26 will decide what future growth will look like in Leon County for the next 20-30 years. The vote – which will amend the Comprehensive Plan – had been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, at the end of the last Leon County Commission meeting, Chairman Bryan Desloge made a motion to move the vote to May 26th.
The motion passed 4-3 with support from Commissioners Desloge, Mary Ann Lindley, Jimbo Jackson and Nick Maddox. Commissioners Dozier, Rick Minor and Bill Proctor voted against the change.
The Comprehensive Plan amendments, which must be approved by the city and county, are now scheduled to be taken up at the Joint County / City Transmittal Hearing on Tuesday, May 26 at 6:00 pm.
At issue are amendments that will accommodate future development in the Welaunee Plantation outside of I-10 in an area called the “Welaunee Arch.”
The “Welaunee Arch” is part of the Welaunee Critical Area Plan which was adopted into the Comprehensive Plan in 2002 and annexed into the City 30 years ago. The portions of the “Welaunee Arch” outside of the Urban Services Area (USA) are the only privately-owned lands within the City limits not located within the USA.
One amendment will change the designation of 2,810 acres in the “Welaunee Arch” from rural to planned development. This will allow for commercial development and residential density of up to 20 units per acre.
A second amendment will extend the Urban Services Area (USA) to include the “Welaunee Arch.” The USA includes the undeveloped areas in the City and the County that can expect the availability of urban infrastructure and services, such as roads, mass transit, stormwater facilities, sanitary sewer, solid waste, and parks.
The intent of the Urban Service Area is to 1) promote efficient and compact urban growth; 2) protect the rural character of those areas outside the USA from incompatible uses and densities; 3) assure that local government can afford to provide needed urban services; and 4) make sure that areas designated for urban development are not “under-utilized.”
Advocates view the changes as smart planning for future growth. Those against the amendments cite concerns about costs and economic segregation.
Gary K. Hunter, a land use lawyer with Hopping Green & Sams who represents the landowners, says the plan addresses future environmental concerns and meets future needs for traffic, housing, and schools.
In a letter to Leon County Commissioners, Hunter stated that there “has been more than enough misinformation circulating around the proposed comprehensive plan amendments for the ‘Welaunee Arch.'”
Hunter stated that the owners of the property have asked for nothing other than that the lands be properly planned for a future vision. And despite assumptions otherwise, they are not developers and have had no conversations with developers about future development of the Arch.
Those against the amendments, like the environmental group Keep it Rural, argue the move is a “sweetheart deal” struck between the City of Tallahassee and the land owners and will cost the taxpayers $87 million.
In a document distributed by “Keep it Rural”, the group argues that taxpayers are overpaying for the extension of Welaunee Blvd. and for the right of way for the road.
They also state that the projected population growth in Leon County over the next 25 years does not support the need for more development. They note that over 3,000 acres of Welaunee is already within the USA, including all of the land needed for the planned road extensions to Roberts Road and Shamrock, so there’s plenty of room to build.
A group called the Alliance of Tallahassee Neighborhoods, which lists former Tallahassee City Commissioner Debbie Lightsey as a member, states in a position paper, that the “Welaunee amendments represent a huge step in the wrong direction. Their high public infrastructure costs, automobile-dependency, and costly housing continue the status quo clustering of moderate and high income residents in the northeast.”
In the end, the debate is the traditional argument between pro-growth advocates and those who desire a more progressive approach to development.
Advocates say the development has been vetted over the last 30 years. Those against the amendments are raising concerns that are more popular now than 30 years ago and are asking why the rush? On May 26th elected leaders will let their positions be known.