What Happened to the Keep It Rural Park Plan?

On November 10th, KIR is supporting the adoption of the Welaunee Arch Master Plan (WAMP).  The Master Plan plan contains many of the components of the KIR Park Plan we proposed many months ago.  Here’s the run down:

  • Open Space set aside of 40% remains intact.  Over 1900 acres of the Welaunee Arch will eventually be designated as “open space” of which at least 1500 acres will (probably) be actually fully preserved as natural areas accessible to us all via the Welaunee Greenway and other trails and bike paths.  
  • This Open Space will include the option of creating a large habitat reserve in the northeast corner of Welaunee – by Roberts and Crump road, though an alternative development process that would result in leaving District 5 (Phase 3) undeveloped and “transferring” its open space to District 4 (Phase 2), the largest residential development area.  
  • This is what we negotiated in the last 3 weeks.  The creation of this habitat reserve is not guaranteed as we could not convince the City or the landowner that as they had already agreed to the 40% Open Space set aside, creating a habitat park was a good way to accomplish it.  They insisted that we come up with some sort of “option” for developers. We did. And finally they have accepted it.  BUT we must all work to make sure this actually gets fully implemented!
  • Canopy Roads have an additional 75’ to 150’ of buffer for trees to grow, saplings to replace them and a location for the Welaunee Greenway – the long linear park around the periphery of the Arch.  Given the condition of the land inside Welaunee and other considerations, KIR is satisfied that this additional buffer will probably protect the canopy road trees for a long time. Hopefully forever!
  • Buffers for existing Residential Development have been added to the Master Plan to protect Buckhead and at least as a nod to the extensive rural residences and agricultural lands to the north and east of the Arch.  This will continue to be an issue as Welaunee is envisioned as a suburban development but it is backed up against rural parcels of many different sizes and rural uses AND the huge, thousands of acres large plantations of the Red Hills.  There is a lot more protection that needs to be taking place for all of our rural land in Leon County.  Its NOT the next place to suburbanize!

What the Master Plan DOES NOT HAVE:

The Welaunee Master Plan does NOT have any clear description of an intent to build a PARK SYSTEM out of a substantial portion of the required 1900 acres of open space, protection of nearly 1000 acres of wetlands and floodplains, the requirement of much of the residential development to be clustered to create connected green spaces, and the potential for a 400+ acre Habitat Park.  The applicant – the City of Tallahassee – has remained silent on the value that such a park system would bring to ALL of the residents of Tallahassee, not just to the new residents of Welaunee.  They haven’t said a word about how this would be creating a connection from Elinor Phipps and the Overstreet Greenway, to this new Welaunee Habitat and the existing Miccosukee Greenway and then to the JR Alford Greenway.  The Welaunee Park System is the “missing” jewel in our Emerald Necklace.  This is what we need to convince the future City Commissions – the value of CONNECTED COMPLEX PARK LANDS!!  

KIR has done our best in setting the stage, making a “park like” system of open spaces, habitats, buffers and connected development part of the Welaunee Arch Master Plan.  So we support the Master Plan – and we support making sure it gets improved, fully implemented and the City of Tallahassee does right by its residents and make sure the developer of Welaunee does right by us!!

The Details:

The Welaunee Arch Master Plan contains a lot more than what KIR has fought for.  It also contains many important and valuable policies about the developed portion of the Welaunee Arch.  KIR has heard that there is a growing chance a single large developer may purchase all of the Arch.  In order to protect the character of our entire community – both the built and green areas – we think this Master Plan needs to be in place before such a transaction occurs.  The current Master Plan has problems; it fails to fully address some important components of master planning, but it is significantly better than the plan that was transmitted in May and very much better than the simple zoning of “Planned Development” that will be conferred upon the entire Arch property as part of the adoption process of the Master Plan on November 10th.  So KIR supports adopting the Welaunee Arch Master Plan at this time.  We are also extremely pleased that our proposal for the likely creation a Habitat Park of some 400+ acres is also included.  

Now we need the community to KEEP PAYING ATTENTION to make sure this Master Plan, the BluePrint process of road building and all the other policies of land use and environmental protection are supportive of our community values. OUR values, ALL OF OUR VALUES – equity, inclusion, green spaces and a built environment that is resilient and sustains our human community.

The fate of the Keep It Rural Parks Proposal in the Welaunee Arch Master Plan. 

  1. There will be a requirement of 40% set aside of Open Space for the entire Arch. This is approximately 1900 acres of land. 

    This was agreed to by COT (the applicant) and the landowner in November 2019 when the application for the Master Plan was first submitted.  In addition, this set aside has been designated to be 20% in Districts 1, 2 & 3 (Phase 1), 50% in District 4 (Phase 2) and 60% in District 5 (Phase 3).  The KIR Park Plan has ALWAYS conformed to these conditions. The open space requirements for each Land Use District are described in Policy 13.2.4 including the “Open Space” policy 13.2.4(6).
  2. The Preliminary Environmental Features Map of the Master Plan shows approximately 900 acres of that are designated as Conservation and Preservation Features (C&P) based on the Comprehensive Plan and another 100 acres of other valuable natural areas as designated by COT’s Urban Forestry Plan.  These areas are mostly wetlands and floodplains and forms long strand of connected habitat throughout the Arch.  Note that in the Northeast corner there is about 300 acres of wetlands that separate District 4 from District 5.  Policy 13.2.37, 13.2.38, 13.2.42 describe these requirements. 
  3. KIR’s first request was that COT recognize the combination of the 1000 acres, plus the additional 900 acres could easily yield at least another 500-600 acres of what would mostly be uplands/developable land that are also required to be set aside.  This is the makings of an excellent public park system – large acreage of conservation and preservation land combined with connections throughout the developed areas to give immediate and easy access and enough open space requirement to create additional buffers for the Canopy Roads and existing development on the boundaries of the Arch.  

    Our proposal was built ENTIRELY on what was already agreed to as a requirement of any development within the Arch.  It has NEVER involved any takings or mandate. 
  4. Components of the Keep It Rural Park System
    1. Buckhead Buffer for existing residential development
      KIR proposed about 90 acres of park of which 40 was already C&P protected land.  This was to serve as a buffer for BuckHead from the new development in Welaunee.

      The Master Plan provides Buckhead with 250’ buffer around it’s border with the Arch which extends to a total of 1000’ ft of transitional development of residential only to the edge of the large mixed used/commercial area of the future interstate exchange.  This is a total of 35 acres of undeveloped buffer that may be larger due to wetlands.  The residential transition, which will be developed, is an additional 104 acres.

      The community of BuckHead is satisfied with the Master Plan policy provisions. KIR supports their position.
    2. Buffer for rural residences along Crump and Roberts Road

      KIR envisioned these residences being protected by the Welaunee Habitat Park (see below). But if that fails to be created, there will be a 250’ buffer, same as BuckHead’s, of open space along the Roberts and Crump boundaries including the properties within the Arch area and those of the other side of Roberts and Crump. Policy 13.2.4(5) describes this buffer.

      This area, the north and north east of the Arch is Rural.  NOT suburbia, not waiting to be parceled into subdivisions, it is RURAL LAND. The existing parcels vary in size from 1 acre to hundreds of acres.  Many of the parcels were created well before the Comp Plan existed including the very exurban neighborhood of Northshire.  But this is RURAL land, currently subdivision can only occur at a minimum of 10 acres lots or for homesteading of families who have owned land since before the Comp Plan was adopted in 1990.  Very quickly after the wide range of parcels is the beginning of the Red Hills plantation lands of Leon County.  These are plantation of thousands and thousands of acres, many of them under conservation easement with Tall Timbers.  This is NOT the next place to “develop”. These are Rural lands that out to be protected in perpetuity from suburban development. 
    3. Canopy Roads – KIR initial proposal was to add 400’ to the existing Comprehensive Plan Canopy Road Zone (100’ from road midline on both sides of the Canopy Road) for both Centerville and Miccosukee Roads. The purpose of this buffer was to provide the canopy tree with space to grow, to reproduce and to be a sustainable population of canopy trees forever!  It was also to provide a location for the linear park of the BluePrint NorthEast Gateway Project known as the Welaunee Greenway.  This was a “holding” position, awaiting analysis of the quality of the habitat that this additional 400’ would include and further assessment of where the Welaunee Greenway would be placed.

      The 400’ buffer would have added approximately 121 acres along Centerville Road and 66 acres along Miccosukee on the Arch side.  The existing Miccosukee Greenway would remain as it is and without any alteration.

      After discussion with staff both in Planning and BluePrint, looking at maps and habitat features, thinking about tradeoffs, KIR approves of the Master Plan policies concerns buffers for the Canopy roads. These buffers are in ADDITION TO the existing 100’ Canopy Road Zone.  Providing for a sustainable canopy tree population along a canopy road is a balance between “gardening” and “ecology”.  Our community loves these roads and loves access to these roads – by car and by path.  KIR believes that the additional buffers provided by the Master Plan and great care taken when building the Welaunee Greenway, there’s a good chance our canopy roads will remain canopied!  But a lot of this is up to us to not insist upon large, multi-laned higways to drive from one part of suburbia to the other.  If the roads are valuable to us, then we must be willing to not sprawl and demand roads everywhere.  Sometimes it’s just plain worth it to drive more slowly with more traffic down a beautiful road and to be able to walk, bike and ride along it too.
    4. For Miccosukee Road: an additional 75’ at a minimum along the Arch side of Miccosukee to be blended into the existing identified environmental features and any other that may be found during the PUD permitting processes.  This is an additional 12 to 25 acres and is is described in policy 13.2.37 (11).

      For Centerville Road: an additional 75’ to 150’ open space designated area for the trees and the location of the Welaunee Greenway.  The Greenway can be located anywhere as appropriate within the Canopy Road Zone and this additional protected open space.  This is an additional 23 to 45 acres and is described in policy 13.2.43.
  5. Linear Park – This is the rest of the Welaunee Greenway. It includes finding space all along the boundary of the Arch.  Included in this is the 250’ buffer along the northern and eastern boundary of the Arch, the addition 75’ to 150’ buffer along Centerville Road and space for the flyover bridge to connect to the Greenway south of I-10.  KIR believes that the Master Plan provides for sufficient space and flexibility to build a great linear park in the Arch that will be connected to the Miccosukee Greenway and we hope in years to come to many other components of the COT park system
  6. The NorthEast Active Recreation Park

    KIR included this park in our proposal even though it is for ACTIVE recreation, a park with lighted ball fields where organized and pick up games can occur throughout the year.  We believe this is an important component of a Welaunee PARK SYSTEM which should include conservation and preservation areas, canopy road buffers, green spaces connected within residential and mixed use development AND places for kids to play – in uniforms or just with friends.  Our intention is to encourage, support and advocate for this park, about 50-60 acres, to be located near Roberts and Montford schools, within each walking and biking distance of the students, well connected to the new Welaunee Blvd and Shamrock Extension and connected to the Welaunee Greenway. 

    The Master Plan makes a provision for the location of the park in District 3 (part of Phase 1) in Policy 13.2.4(3)e.  But it is not a “done deal”.  We all need to get behind this and “push”!  The existing park land on the corner of Proctor and Thomasville road, miles outside of the City and the schools, needs to be “transferred” to inside of Welaunee, right near the schools, where most people live – not near conservation easement land that will be under management for active burning. Now we have a chance to get our local governments to move on this and get it established as Welaunee is built, the roads are built and the kids are growing up!
  7. The Habitat/Refuge Park

    FINALLY – KIR has succeeded in getting both the landowner and the application, aka City of Tallahassee, to recognize the value in having a LARGE acreage, mixed habitat, isolated area as part of the Open Space set aside of the Welaunee Arch Development.   What KIR has been allowed to add to the Master Plan is an alternative development program that will create the PROBABILITY that a large habitat area will be preserved.  The alternative development option is a form of “transferring open space” from District 5 (Phase 3) in the north east corner of the Arch to District 4 (Phase 2) in the central portion of the Arch. Policy 13.2.44 describes this program.  

    Much of Distict 4 is heavily “used” land and some of District 5 is also pine plantation.   But District 5 is separated from the rest of Welaunee by large wetlands and also contains some fine upland oak forest and gopher tortoise habitat.  It’s simply the most obvious place to create a large habitat refuge area for the plant and animal populations that will be destroyed as Welaunee is built out.  But the GREAT part is that there is so much land that must be set aside that there is also plenty in the “open space” budget to create lots of other smaller (10-50 acre) locations that can be interconnected to the 1000 acres of wetlands and floodplains and the habitat park.

    There are several principles to the development of a conservation system that conservers a variety of habitat, thereby protecting the greatest diversity of plant and animal populations and allows access by people to enjoy these wonderful natural areas.  One basic principle is to save at least one single large area with a mixture of the extant habitats, with as little “edge” as possible so that most of the area is undisturbed by interaction with the human built environment including roads, utility easements and backyards.  The second is to identify “special” locations of rare or unusual habitat or even repetitions of what is in the large area so that a wider range of species can be protected and so that species can wander, migrate, expand and contract territory as they go through their own life cycles.  The third principle is to allow humans to connect to these natural areas so that they can both enjoy them for their own value and enjoy the health benefits that come from being out of doors.

    The good thing about the WAMP is that the applicant, COT and the landowner had already agreed to set aside 40% of the total land in Welaunee mostly because there was substantial wetlands and floodplains that would preclude development by existing law and recognition that such a large development is much more valuable when well integrated with green spaces.  The KIR plan ALWAYS fit within these parameters.  Even though we were accused of “taking” the land or demanding a “mandate” – our plan was ALWAYS completely within what had already been agreed to by the applicant and the landowner.  

    Our differences in opinion lay in WHERE to establish the open space and WHEN to establish is.  KIR thought that give the huge open space budget, 1900 acres, and that only 1000 acres had been identified as being required by other policies to be protected (wetlands and floodplains mostly), that a plan for about 400-600 acres of the remaining 900 in the “budget” could be put into the WAMP so that as Welaunee developed and when it was all done, there would be a PUBLIC PARK SYSTEM for all to enjoy.  Since 900 acres of mostly developable land was going to be set aside in open space, KIR looked at the map, the environmental features and applied the sciences of population ecology and conservation biology and came up with a plan to create a system of protected habitats, buffers for the canopy roads, a place to build the greenway and still plenty of open space “budget” remaining so that as development occurred, it could have lots of protected trees, small parks and connections to the larger park system.  

    As it turns out, KIR has the experts to identify such a system given the data and information that is publically available. We also have access to a number of good planners and they helped us figure out what could work in the development world and with planning language.
  8. There you have it – the KIR plan was not fully implemented as we first envisioned it.  Some of that is good – with more information we, staff and landowners, came up with better policy.  Some of it is still quite weak – we just can’t seem to convince our elected officials that creating a park system in this huge new development is in EVERYONE’S interest.  Some if it is quite well – insecure.  There is only the probability of getting the habitat park.  KIR’s experts think it is a pretty high probability BUT it’ll be higher if we all get