On Wednesday, December 8, the City Commissioners voted to approve the negotiation of terms with Peerless Development to sell a city-owned vacant lot that totals 0.26 acres. The item passed in a 3-2 vote with Commissioner Jeremy Matlow and Commissioner Jack Porter in opposition.
Recently the city received an unsolicited request from a developer, Peerless Development, to purchase a plot of city-owned vacant land on 526-528 W. Tennessee Street. The land is currently designated in the city’s “Comprehensive Plan,” which intends to expand the area into a “vibrant 18-hour urban activity center,” emphasizing pedestrian, bike, and transit modes of transportation.
According to the proposal from Peerless, they are working toward an assemblage of multiple parcels for a mixed-use project and desires to include the city property in their final redevelopment plan.
The developer’s intentions include roughly 300 dwelling units for student housing and 15,000 square feet on the ground floor for retail. According to the report, the project’s economic impact includes approximately $50 million in mixed-use development, the creation of 400+ construction jobs, an estimated minimum of 20 plus permanent jobs created, and an anticipated $600,000 in additional property tax revenue each year.
The city originally purchased the property in two transactions in 1998 and 2001 totaling $182,000. The city purchased the land for a “mixed-use” project, but it was never completed.
Several members of the Frenchtown community attended the meeting and spoke out against the sale. Some speakers noted the Frenchtown Neighborhood First Plan and stated the land should be used for local business. The Frenchtown Neighborhood First Plan advances new ideas to address neighborhood priorities.
Both Commissioner Porter and Commissioner Matlow were against moving forward with negotiations with Peerless. Instead, they felt it was necessary to first talk with the community to hear public concerns, have the land appraised, and open it for a competitive bid.
“How can we determine the best interest in the city, without knowing a dollar amount, without knowing what the surrounding neighborhood is requesting,” said Matlow.
Matlow then cited an email that was allegedly received by city staff members asking how to purchase property without a competitive bid process. “I have serious concerns about that,” Matlow said and finished his remarks by making a motion to turn down the bit.
When Dailey asked Commissioner Matlow what email he was referencing. Matlow responded, “there was a news report that stated the staff was contacted about this particular parcel.” Dailey inquired which news outlet, to which Matlows response was, “it’s out there, it was on a social media shared post,” Matlow said, but never mentioned what news organization.
Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox made a secondary motion to approve the negotiation process with the added stipulations that Peerless must discuss the community’s needs. Also, Williams-Cox stated that Tallahassee doesn’t need any more student housing. However, if Peerless wants to negotiate affordable housing to address homelessness, she is open to moving forward.
Mayor Daily and Commissioner Curtis Richardson, who seconded the motion, agreed with Williams-Cox and voted favorably.