Welaunee Debate Presents a False Choice | Opinion

Guest writer: Rafael Marimon

The recent debate around the Welaunee Plantation project has been framed as a choice between urban sprawl or creating a walkable community where housing is concentrated in the central core. On an even larger scale, it’s been framed as a battle for the character of Tallahassee and how we want the growth of our community to reflect that character. 

As typical in our modern debate we’re being presented with a binary argument – pro-growth vs anti-growth, good vs bad. The truth is these two ideas are not mutually exclusive and can both equally reflect the character of our community. 

As a mortgage broker, I deal with all kinds of homebuyers, and at the end of the day, sprawl versus walkability is not a tale of two cities, but a tale of two products. 

As a millennial, I have chosen to live in the urban area around the revitalized Railroad Square, where I can walk to Greenwise, the coffee shop, and live music venues. This urban housing is a product that makes sense for me and my lifestyle, however, a nuclear family looking for housing in Tallahassee has a different set of priorities. They want a yard, good school districts, a quieter environment for young children, and we should have neighborhoods geared towards that too. This is a product that Tallahassee desperately needs, as anyone who has recently tried to purchase a home in Tallahassee can attest to. 

The State of Florida’s Department of Management Services recently conducted a study to determine what they should do with their aging downtown office buildings. This study took into account the migration patterns of state workers, which, according to the OEV, account for around 24% of Tallahassee’s workforce. The number of state workers commuting from Woodville, Crawfordville, Monticello, Gadsden County, and even Georgia is staggering. 

These workers are leaving their offices, taking their paychecks, and spending them in Gadsden, Wakulla, and Jefferson Counties because Tallahassee has not offered them the housing product they need. New developments would not encourage sprawl but would actually bring these folks closer to the urban core by offering market rate housing products within the city limits.

At the end of the day, whether we are talking about urban walkable developments, suburban housing products, or revitalization of impoverished areas, the goal should be healthy, diverse growth for Tallahassee that encourages people to migrate, work, and raise their families here. 

This means that we have to offer more than a one-size-fits-all product. Rather than debating whether we want one housing product or another, whether we want sprawl or walkability, our debate should instead focus on growth versus stagnation, because those two things are mutually exclusive. We should ask ourselves “do we want to live in a community that stands still, or one where our citizens have opportunity for economic growth?” I know which option I would choose.

Rafael Marimon, a transplant from South Florida, is an investment consultant and loan officer with Range Mortgage. He is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, a Fellow for the New Leaders Council and a co-founder of Grow Tallahassee.

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