Our housing solution: Is building up more conducive than building out?

Chloe Kauffman

Current housing trends in Tallahassee suggest local officials should revisit its height ordinance to allow greater market flexibility in providing a greater degree of housing opportunity. By allowing developers to build up, rather than out, the burgeoning demand for housing will be met, helping manage affordability as well as negative impacts on nearby neighborhoods.

CollegeTown is a case in point. The currently vibrant mixed use development emerged from a underutilized warehouse district located along a railroad corridor where Tallahassee was a major transshipment point for receiving goods destined for the Big Bend region.

By the 1970s, however, goods shipments had largely shifted to highways and trucks, leaving blocks of vacant warehouses on prime real estate better suited to meeting the needs of the growing urban universities.

The city eventually changed its zoning to allow private developers to build up rather than build out, creating the conditions necessary for a vibrant mixed use development to emerge.

The western segment of this corridor has a maximum height limit of five stories. The eastern segment has a maximum height limit of seven stories.

The building height caps limit the financial incentives for developers to create new housing. These limits put upward pressure on rental prices and limit housing availability while unintentionally pushing higher-density development into surrounding neighborhoods.

In fact, all the building projects proposed or approved along the Gaines Street corridor are at the city’s maximum height limit or higher, indicating substantial demand to build higher. The city has already approved the Perla project for development at seven stories, two stories above the legal maximum of five.

This is not surprising. A survey of 40 student housing developments in seven college towns across the country conducted by the city found a median height of 12 stories.

The case of Tallahassee’s CollegeTown illustrates a larger issue playing out across the country.

Restrictive density laws, like height ordinances, limit a given area’s potential housing supply. Research conducted by the DeVoe L. Moore Center on density regulations and published by the Florida Policy Project suggests Florida cities could create thousands of new housing units and meet rising market demand by reducing density caps.