Grow Tallahassee Position on Tallahassee Land Development Code and Urban Infill

Grow Tallahassee has been a consistent advocate for land use policies that will have a positive impact on our community for generations to come. In 2021, our group supported the Welaunee Comprehensive Plan Amendments and the Blueprint IA Northeast Gateway project to build the infrastructure to support projected population growth in our metro area. We have always been in support of projects that increase the supply of homes to ease the cost of housing, especially those that accomplish this goal through equitable and sustainable Planned Unit Developments (PUDs). 
 
At the time, we were criticized for encouraging “urban sprawl”. We believe that suburban housing serves an entirely different market from housing in the urban core, and so to call suburban development “urban sprawl” is an oversimplification of a much more nuanced issue. However, to the extent that true “urban sprawl” can be avoided, we have always supported policies that encourage “urban infill”: focused housing, jobs, and commercial developments which will encourage population growth within Tallahassee’s urban core.
 
One of the greatest barriers in Tallahassee’s urban core is its outdated and inflexible zoning code. To solve some of the issues with the code, the City of Tallahassee Planning Department has been working on a “Glitch Ordinance.” This ordinance would fix parts of our zoning code that are not functioning as intended and add common-sense flexibility for urban infill projects. The ordinance also seeks to balance additional density in the urban core with preservation of Tallahassee’s heritage trees and green spaces. 
 
In total, the staff proposed 22 revisions to our Land Development Code. Among other things, the “Glitch Ordinance” would:
 

  • Provide incentives to real estate developers in exchange for preserving heritage trees on their property. (i.e.: they would be eligible to build one extra floor if they save a big oak tree) 
     

  • Create new options for spaces below parking garages. Currently, the code requires the construction of retail or office space, which is cost prohibitive and tends to remain vacant. The proposal gives the option of murals and green spaces to conceal first floor parking. 
     

  • Ease setback requirements for residential projects and special commercial development circumstances, which would allow greater infill.

 
The issue with encouraging urban infill is that these policies often mean that neighborhoods within the urban core (i.e. Lafayette Park, Myers Park, etc.) would see more density and/or activity in their area. Policies like the Glitch Ordinance would disrupt the current restrictive, exclusionary zoning in these neighborhoods. These property owners– who, ironically, also oppose “urban sprawl”– do not want to see their neighborhood densities and surrounding commercial activity increased.
 
On January 26th, 2022, the City Commission rejected the “glitch ordinance” due to the self-serving opposition of a small group of neighborhood preservationists (commonly referred to as NIMBYs), wasting months of effort by the city and county planners and community stakeholders. 
 
(NIMBY, an acronym for the phrase "Not In My Back Yard", is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the behavior of someone who does not want something to be built or done near where they live, although it does need to be built or done somewhere”. The term often refers to wealthy landowners who accuse real estate developers of trying to turn their peaceful neighborhood into a crime-ridden, hellscape of traffic.)
 
We are at a crossroads. On one hand, our metro is growing, and we need to look into revising our old, outdated Land Development Code so that we can grow sustainably and intelligently. On the other hand, wealthy NIMBYs who own land within the urban core push back against these common sense changes, disregarding the interests of our community as a whole.

Our talented city planners work for months researching other cities, analyzing ups-and-downs, and suggesting updates to our Land Development Code, only to see it sabotaged by short-sighted groups. This wastes incalculable time, energy, and, ultimately, taxpayer resources.
 
As Tallahassee continues to struggle to meet housing demands, developers are forced to build housing further and further away from the urban core to avoid NIMBYism and the restrictions on density that accompany it. These restrictions result in true “urban sprawl” towards undisturbed land, and the continued, expansion of our urban services, like water, sewer, and electricity to new pockets of neighborhoods.

In summary, upholding strict and costly land-use regulations within the Urban Core: 
 

  1. Contradicts with our affordable housing efforts (due to restricting supply),

  2. Contradicts with our goals to have a vibrant, 18-hour downtown,

  3. Contributes to exclusionary zoning practices (maintaining racial and economic divide), and

  4. Promotes urban sprawl.

 
Grow Tallahassee supports updating our Land Development Code through reducing regulatory restrictions and increasing density within the urban core.