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BHNA Voices Support for Neighborhood Character

The Question

What is the effect of scrunching eight tall, skinny houses where two, small single-story bungalows stand?  Recently, the BHNA joined with Levy Park and a number of other in-town neighborhoods to claim that the effect is a significant detriment to neighborhood character and vibrancy.

The question came up in a variance request to reduce the required distance between the proposed houses on Green St. in Levy Park neighborhood.  The Board of Adjustments and Appeals denied the request following a well-structured presentation on neighborhood impacts by concerned residents.  Also, the applicants did not convince the board of any inherent evidence of practical difficulties or financial hardships that necessitated the variance.

The Support Letter:

RE:  Green St. Variance Request

There are general and specific reasons to deny the Green St. variance request.

General

As neighborhood association officers and directors, we recognize the community value of neighborhood character.  Neighborhood character drives neighborhood vibrancy.  Neighborhood vibrancy drives neighborhood friendliness, safety, and cohesiveness.  It’s easy to think of neighborhood character as the physical features of style and age of homes and the availability of parks and other amenities.  It is much more than that.  Character is initiated, enhanced, and maintained by the frequency, diversity, and depth of interactions among neighbors. 

The neighborhood’s physical layout can have a significant effect on encouraging these character-building interactions.  Yards and porches, for instance, create interaction opportunities.  While walking, people see their neighbors gardening, playing with children and pets, sitting outside reading a book or newspaper, etc.  Before long, people are stopping to say hello and talk.  Or, in other words, to build neighborhood character.

As one walks Levy Park, this established neighborhood character is clear with the ample front yards and porches of the homes.  The variance request, pushing new homes too close together for yards particularly, significantly diminishes, if not eliminates, this vibrant neighborhood characteristic.  

Specific


Sec. 2-158. – Powers and duties of the Tallahassee Land Development Code identifies criteria that must be met for a variance to be granted.

The seventh criterion states that the variance must not adversely affect the health, safety, or welfare of neighbors.  It seems to be human nature that when one development variance is granted that another person/developer will be seeking a similar variance in another part of a neighborhood.  In this way, not just the property values of neighbors’ homes, but the established character of a neighborhood is diminished.  For

Levy Park and Tallahassee as a whole, neighborhoods provide an essential citizen health, safety, and welfare function.  Their character needs to be enhanced not diminished.

The sixth criterion states there must be practical difficulties or hardships that necessitate the variance.

Looking at the surrounding properties and the physical condition of the properties contained in the variance request, it is clear that this criterion does not apply.

In sum, with Tallahassee’s growth there will be a need to boost in-town neighborhoods’ density.  Even so, there is always the balancing factor of maintaining neighborhood vibrancy and character.  In this situation, the density increase is not worth the immediate and long-term detriment to neighborhood character and vibrancy.

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