Tallahassee city commissioners voted 3-2 Wednesday to approve a developer’s purchase of the city’s lot at 526-528 West Tennessee St. near Chubby’s Chicken.
Commissioners Jack Porter and Jeremy Matlow were in opposition to the motion.
The developer, Peerless, decided to use the lot to develop student housing on the 0.26-acre lot. The first city commission meeting discussing this purchase took place in December. The land, owned by the City of Tallahassee, has been vacant since 1996.
City Commissioner Diane Williams-Cox asked the developer to speak to the Frenchtown community members to adhere to their thoughts on the building.
In a letter written on March 2, the Frenchtown Community Action Team did not agree with the construction of more student housing in the area.
The Frenchtown CAT team decided that if the city would approve the purchase, then it would like to create a list of community benefits agreements in the sale of the lot. Frenchtown CAT asked the developer to lease the space to local businesses in Tallahassee, have a set goal of minority business at 45%, and more.
The developer agreed to only give a 23% inclusion rate to the Minority, Women & Small Business Enterprise.
Commissioner Porter did not agree with the new student housing building. She said that the building would contribute to the loss of history in Frenchtown.
“Frenchtown is a priceless part of our community, of our history. I think it’s sad to me and I think it’s sad to a lot of us how much of our history there has been erased,” Porter said.
Porter said that the city should have done something sooner for the community instead of letting the land sit vacantly.
“I do think when we purchase public land for public use that isn’t just a throwaway piece of land, we could have done something with that land for the Frenchtown community. It is large enough to have done something …that was, in my opinion, a missed opportunity,” Porter said.
Commissioner Matlow decided to argue a motion to decline the offer from the developer. Matlow also believes the community should come together on smaller projects to help build the community up.
“I think we always get stuck thinking the only way we can develop our community is through mega-block projects and I just reject that assertion and I think we need to look broader on how we can include more people on smaller parcels,” Matlow said.
Mayor Pro-Tem Curtis Richardson believes the project goes beyond the Frenchtown culture and focuses more on the development of the area.
“I’m not sure if what we are looking at in terms of preserving that part of Frenchtown, what we do need to do is revitalize and develop that area and just across the street there is already contemplated to be another development,” Richardson said.
Other commissioners said that the new building at the site would bring more money into the community. The developer also agreed to give profits earned from the student housing building back to the Frenchtown community.
According to the Peerless developer, the project will provide up to $500,000 a year until 2038.
According to City Commission documents, the dwelling would bring 300 new units, 400 construction jobs and 20 permanent jobs to the area.
The developer has not set a date for the completion of the project.