Welaunee Amendment Allows Us to Plan Our Future Growth | Opinion
Guest writer: Ed Murray
I’ve seen Tallahassee change a lot in my life. Since I was born, Tallahassee’s population has more than tripled. Due to that growth, our community has increasingly become a place that people are drawn to for the purpose of building a successful and happy life. Today, as we continue to grow our community there is a real and present need to artfully plan how to make room for future generations.
I’ve been involved in Tallahassee’s growth for over 30 years. First, as a business owner, I have been involved in hundreds of commercial real estate transactions of which many have had significant positive impacts on our local economy. Secondly, I have served our community on various citizen led initiatives including the Blueprint 2020 sales tax committee and as Chair of the Gaines Street Revitalization effort. Through all those experiences I have learned one very important lesson about how communities grow – good growth comes from good planning.
Much of the development that occurred during the expansive growth of the 90’s and 00’s was often done on a piecemeal scale. Entrepreneurial developers who were well within their rights jumped to bring their properties to market as economic opportunities became abundant. Despite those good intentions, many of these projects were undertaken without much consideration for the bigger picture of our community. With plug-and-play developments on a generally small scale, our local governments were left to be reactive when planning our infrastructure needs.
Because of how we grew in the past, we are now having to make difficult decisions on how to retrofit our infrastructure in order to alleviate congestion and other problems. In recent years, that has even led organizations like the Florida Department of Transportation to propose an Orlando-style flyover from Killearn to I-10 – that’s not the kind of community we want to live in. That’s what happens when growth outpaces planning.
Our future doesn’t have to look like that though. We have good examples of growth throughout our city that show what is possible when we lead with a plan. There are master planned areas like Killearn and Southwood that have proven successful in providing safe and attractive neighborhoods that are walkable and pleasant to live in. There is still room to improve though.
One of the great challenges in our community today concerns our ability to accommodate the next major waves of growth. We are fortunate to have many small tracts within the urban core of our city that are ripe for reinvention, but that inventory will not be able to handle all the demand. We will also need to identify areas that have yet to be developed as places that we can properly plan to expand our community on a neighborhood sized scale. The most sensible area for this need is a series of properties that are commonly called Welaunee.
Thanks to a unique scenario, these Welaunee properties give our local governments a once in a generation opportunity to work with limited number of property owners on how to chart a course for over 4,600 acres of developable land. That means we can plan for the growth of our community in a large scale, smart, and strategic fashion. This is something that has proven rare in the past.
Over 30 years ago, the City of Tallahassee annexed part of the Welaunee properties knows as the “arch.” Being in the City limits is important, but without inclusion into the Urban Services Area, the property cannot be planned to its fullest potential. The owners of the property don’t have development intentions yet, but they are within their current rights to develop housing that is in line with the sprawl we saw in recent decades. The property owners, community advocates, and our city leaders have stated that a plan is sorely needed for the future of this asset. The time to do this work is now.
Currently, the Welaunee Arch property is the only area in the city limits that is not in the Urban Services Area. Growth is going to happen there at some point and unless we change this oversite it will likely be forced to look like our past instead of our future. Instead of flyovers and overcrowded six-lane roads, I’d rather live in appropriately scaled neighborhoods and walk down landscaped streets.
By including the Welaunee properties into the Urban Services Area, Tallahassee citizens will have a chance to help shape the future of our city in a much more positive way. With public investments already on the table to help service the area, we need to get this right or else our children will be left to try and correct our mistakes.
If you believe like I do and want to see a master planned version of Tallahassee’s future growth then I encourage you to contact your city and county commissioners and ask that they support the amendment to include Welaunee in our Urban Services Area.