City Commission Split 3-2 on Southside Development
On April 12, the Leon County Commission and the Tallahassee City Commission held a public hearing to consider the next step in addressing proposed comprehensive plan amendments which would allow for three major housing developments in the southeast section of Leon County.
The comprehensive plan serves as a blueprint for future commercial and residential land uses, housing, and conservation, as well as cultural and recreational amenities.
The amendments – requested by the developer – seek changes in the boundaries of the Urban Services Area (USA) and changes in the zoning regulations.
The expansion of the USA allows for urban services like water and sewer. Without the expansion of the USA, development could take place but it would involve septic and well water.
What transpired in the meeting highlights the competing views among elected officials on how to handle future growth in Leon County.
The Leon County Commission voted 7-0 to move forward with considering the projects. However, the Tallahassee City Commission voted 3-2, with City Commissioners Jack Porter and Jeremy Matlow voting to end consideration of the projects.
Those elected officials that voted to take the next steps in approving the project highlighted the need for more housing options and the benefits of southside development.
The need for more housing units was supported by an analysis provided by the Leon County-Tallahassee professional planning staff.
Those against the developments cited urban sprawl and the costs of the developments to taxpayers. In addition, Porter and Matlow favored more focus on urban infill.
At a March 22nd joint workshop, elected officials heard about the proposal that could result in the development of approximately 460 acres on the southside of Leon County by D.R. Horton, a national homebuilder.
Maps of the projects are provided below.
D.R. Horton is based in Arlington, Texas and operates in 44 of homebuilding’s top 50 markets in the U.S.
The changes requested by the developer include extending the Urban Services Area (USA) and changing zoning designations. The changes requested are related to all three parcels.
The April Road designated parcel is approximately 173 acres of land at the northeast corner of Old St. Augustine Road and April Road.
The Woodville Highway parcel is approximately 154 acres of land southeast of the intersection at Capital Circle and Woodville Highway.
And the Southwood Planation parcel is approximately 130 acres of land between Apalachee Parkway and Old St. Augustine Rd, east of Southwood Plantation.
The debate focused on to several fundamental questions.
Is the development needed to meet the housing demands in Leon County over the next 20 years?
Artie White, the Planning Director at Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Department, provided a detailed analysis of the currently available developable lots. The analysis showed that there was enough current vacant land within the USA to facilitate approximately 21,000 -24,000 housing units.
These projections included housing units to be built in the Welaunee project and the recently approved English development off of Paul Russel Road.
White told officials that the comprehensive plan calls for 50% more developable land than is required to meet future demands. The purpose of this policy is to provide market flexibility and to account for current developable lots that would remain vacant.
Base on these factors, and the fact that 2045 projections estimate the need for approximately 24,000 housing units, the staff concluded the proposed developments meet the requirements contained in the comprehensive plan.
What are the alternatives to expanding the USA?
City Commissioner Jack Porter asked staff about alternatives and sought input on the contribution of urban infill in meeting future housing demand.
Mr. White stated that you either build out or you build up. If you don’t build, you build expensive.
He noted that, while urban infill is desirable at times, there is not enough infill opportunities to meet the projected demand.
In addition, Mr. White noted that urban infill projects can be difficult due to concerns from nieghborhoods.
Does the City have the financial capacity to support the development?
This is one of the most controversial topics related to new development: who pays for the infrastructure.
Mr. White noted that the reason for the USA is to provide urban services, which include electric and central water and sewer. White stated that the services are financed by the developer and user fees.
Do the roads have enough capacity to absorb traffic generated by the developments?
Commissioner Dozier voiced concern about the capacity of the transportation infrastructure related to the Southwood Planation development.
Officials voted to have staff bring back more information related to this issue at the next public hearing.
Comments by Elected Officials
Officials that supported the expansion of the USA and the zoning changes related to the projects noted the benefits of southside development.
In addition, the current shortage in housing influenced the discussion.
Leon County Commissioner Nick Maddox said. “There is no way we don’t grow..growth is going to happen…hard decisions have to be made…we have to do something.”
Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey noted that in some communities housing has become so expensive that the workforce lives up to an hour away from their jobs.
Dailey said, “I do not want to get in a situation where our workforce is traveling more than an hour.”
Commissioner Jack Porter, who focused her question around alternatives to expanding the USA, noted that “this are hard decisions.”
Porter also noted that elected officials through regulations can direct where and how development is implemented.
City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow, who participated in the meeting remotely, did not provide detailed comments. However, he did provide a statement to Tallahassee Reports when asked about his no vote.
Matlow said, “Piecemeal, sprawl development puts an unnecessary strain on our roadways and neighborhoods. Killearn and many Northeast neighborhoods will be negatively affected by the recent 4,000-acre Urban Services Area expansion in Welaunee. That hasn’t even broken ground yet, and now we are talking about several other expansions. This type of development is expensive. It costs us in higher taxes and lower services. We can’t arbitrarily expand our boundaries every time it’s requested without long-term planning to discuss how we are going to pay for it.”
The next public hearing on these projects will be June 14, 2022.