A potential zoning change pending before the Leon County Commission has got Northeast residents angry. Leon County like much of Florida is experiencing a housing boom, and much of that new development is occurring in the Northeast. But area residents are expressing concern about the high density communities coming online in areas that were previously green spaces.
They’re popping up seemingly everywhere. Wulanee. Ox Bottom. Bannerman. All are seeing new construction with housing prices coming in around 300 thousand for what, to some, feels like very little. A house. Next to another. And another. And another. Smaller, more compact yards. Tighter lots that number in square feet instead of acres. That’s by design:
"You have 300 houses. If you build them in apartments, they can take up three to four acres. If you build on one acre lots, you take up 300 acres of land. If you build on half acre lots, you’ll take up 150 acres of land," said Leon County Planning Director Cherie Bryant.
She says while these new subdivisions appear to be compacted, they conserve space and are more environmentally friendly. Take for example, water and sewer lines:
“So you’re going to have to dig and trench for the water and sewer. You’re going to have to build the roads. So while you have a little more room to work the houses in among the trees, you’re still going to take out a lot of trees with the roads and the water and the sewer," she said.
However, that’s not a good enough reason to residents in nearby neighborhoods. Summerbrooke resident Tommy Pipkin says there are several issues he and his neighbors have with the new developments. Mainly the zoning changes that are happening to make room for them.
“Tallahassee-Leon County has a comprehensive plan. And the purpose of that plan is to preserve, protect and enhance the quality of life of people in the areas. And the constant assault on neighborhoods like Summerbrooke undermines what’s otherwise a desirable, residential environment.”
Pipkin says he doesn’t have a problem with growth, but thinks it should be done and communicated in a better way. Back in 1990 the county identified the Northeast as a residential development zone, and Bryant says what residents in the area are seeing now is the implementation of that plan. And she adds the county doesn’t have as great a say as people think when it comes to how and where development takes place.
“We can’t just say no to new development. It’s just not an option. And I know everyone hates for things to change, but change is inherent.
Northeast residents worry roads like Ox Bottom and Bannerman are too small to handle the additional population growth that will come when the new homes are occupied. And they’re also worried whether the areas schools can handle an influx in new children. Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna says the district has the space. It just means some students attending Chiles High, Hawks Rise Elementary and Deerlake Middle through school choice programs may no longer be able to go to there.
“If we have an increase in the number of students that move into that school zone then we’d simply reduce the number of students that are allowed to choice in from other zones," he said.
The Leon County Commission will vote on the zoning change tonight at its 6 p.m. meeting.