Residents protest loss of Boynton Still neighborhood for FAMU Way extension

Published: Jun. 20, 2019 at 5:46 PM EDT
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By: Sophia Hernandez | WCTV Eyewitness News

June 27, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Last week, preservationists protested against the removal of 23 homes and two oak trees in Tallahassee's Boynton Still neighborhood.

This demolition is part of the final phase of the FAMU Way Development, specifically created to deal with flooding in the area.

This project is something commissioners say have been in the works for the past three years. However, those that are trying to preserve the community are concerned about the areas historic preservation and what will happen to those that have been asked to leave their homes.

For some like Loren Hubbard, homes in Boynton Still are where she was born and raised. Having her home next to that of her grandmother's, the area holds many memories, but is now demolished.

Hubbard shares, "When someone comes to your house and says we are trying to help you! Well I did not ask for your help."

As of now 23 homes and two oak trees have been destroyed. The blueprint agency and city share that many of the homes have sewage and water issues. Others, like Leighanne Boone of Save Historic Structures and Trees, say that instead of demolishing they should be trying to rebuild.

"In order to improve a neighborhood you do not have to demolish it," Boone said.

Max Epstein of the Historic Preservation Consultancy added, "This neighborhood could have stayed together. we could have fixed these homes."

Thursday evening, those opposed mentioned that they know they cannot reverse the construction, but hope to change the policies.

Jonathan Lammers for the Historic Preservation Consultancy says, "We need a statement of principles from Blueprint 2000's that we are not going to displace people and not tear down heritage trees."

Boone states why they are all gathered at the Board of Directors meeting, "We are trying to change the process to make sure that something like this never happens again, that peoples property and neighborhoods destroyed without their input from the beginning."

The board, led by Mayor Dailey, motioned to preserve the few historic homes that remain and work towards memorializing the area.

Commissioner Elaine Bryant motioned to investigate their process for community input and surveying. This motion came about after Boone brought to light that those people whose opinions had been solicited, were from the Bond community, and not from the Boynton Still area.

"I don't think it was intentional," shares Boone, "But yeah, we need to make sure that maybe outsiders see it as the same community, it is not to the people that live there, and again to the people's whose property is going to be impacted."

Commissioner Jeremy Matlow made the final motion after it was agreed upon that many residents were not properly compensated or given proper settlements after being removed from their homes.

"I made a motion that said anytime we are doing development with public funds, if we are taking away housing we need to replace that housing as well because we do not want to be contributors to the crisis that we are running into," he said.

The hope that both the Board, blueprint and preservationists share, is that in the future, neighborhoods will receive the proper settlements, preservation, and assurance they need.

Commissioner Matlow says the next step is that the city is looking for volunteers to help with future projects, also by blueprint. Those preservationists and residents say they hope the oversights made in the process of this development will not be affecting other areas in the future.

By: Monica Casey | WCTV Eyewitness News

June 20, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- As the City of Tallahassee moves forward with the final phase of the FAMU Way development, some residents protest about the bulldozing of the Boynton Still neighborhood.

Tensions were high at Wednesday night's meeting; historians are upset about the loss of 23 traditional "shotgun" houses and two large oak trees.

Assistant City Manager Wayne Tedder told WCTV this leg of the project is specifically designed to deal with historical flooding in the area.

The project as a whole had public input at every stage; a citizens advisory committee accepted this route years ago.

A Resident Reflects

Loren Hubbard lived in the Boynton Still neighborhood seven months ago, moving out in December.

"We had some bricks here, and right here was her mom's house, and her house," said Hubbard, describing the generations who came before her.

Hubbard's great-great grandmother and great-grandmother lived on the property; her family owned the plot since 1947.

"This was the kitchen," said Hubbard. "Even if nothing was cooking it just smelled like fried chicken, all the time! I learned to cook here."

Those two houses are gone now.

"I moved out the last second, I still would be here," said Hubbard. "Just the good lovin' of knowing nobody in your area is going to bother you because they knew your family. It was really sacred ground. I learned to mediate here."

City Commissioners Respond

On Wednesday evening, after nine different public comments, as well as explanation from deputy city manager Wayne Tedder, Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox responded to the public comments.

She questioned attendees at the meeting.

"Who would want to live in a house with no indoor plumbing, no heating, no air conditioning," she asked. "How do you fix a shotgun house without taking it down and building another?"

Williams-Cox said she wants better housing than that for the Tallahassee community.

On Thursday morning, Williams-Cox visited the site.

"I wanted to visit and see if anything has changed. It has. It's gotten worse," said Williams-Cox.

Williams-Cox said the project ties in to revitalizing the Greater Bond Community, located next to the Boynton Still neighborhood.

"We need to continue to move our city forward one community at a time. This community needs some TLC, and I believe that the plans, what's been on the books for the last three years, will help do that for our city," said Williams-Cox.

"As a part of the plan to turn dirt and make things look better on the southside, this project has to go forward."

"Unlivable" homes

City employee Delmas Barber also visited the neighborhood with Williams-Cox on Thursday morning.

Barber went through the neighborhood years ago, as part of the Citizen Neighborhood Reach Program.

He weatherized multiple homes, saying it was badly needed.

"There were toilets leaning over, no air, sometimes the water was not working," said Barber.

"They were just uninhabitable."

Questions of Historical Significance

Local historian Jonathan Lammers, citizen Leighanne Boone, and Max Epstein are all against the development.

One woman at Wednesday night's meeting was against eh Airport Gateway Project as well.

"Why have three major arteries for an underused airport?" she questioned.

Max Epstein cited the amount of generations who had lived in that same area for years.

Jonathan Lammers also argues against the amount of money used for the project.

"They could have fixed up these homes, they could have built more affordable housing," said Lammers.

As of June 20, there are five structures still standing.

"Its the complete annihilation of a low-income neighborhood. It's the clear-cutting of a grove of patriarch oak trees that were nurtured and enjoyed by the residents. And it's all being done for a stormwater pond and an extension of FAMU way," said Lammers.

He said the large oak trees provided a place for residents to visit their now-empty neighborhood.

Past public input

Assistant City Manager Wayne Tedder cited the City's extensive efforts to obtain public input.

"We went door-to-door in that area," said Tedder.

The City also contacted 1,200 citizens via e-mail, and utilized a Citizens Advisory Committee for the entire project.

During the June 19th meeting, Commissioner Elaine Bryant said, "We're executing the plan, and I think we need to move in that direction."

Commissioner Jeremey Matlow also commented, telling residents that this is a Blueprint 2000 project.

"I do have a few concerns," Matlow said.

He urged those upset about the project to attend the next Blueprint meeting.

As part of the Urban Forest Plan, the City will be planting 450 trees in that area.

Tedder expects construction in that particular spot to be completed later this month, with the last leg of the project completed later this year.

The City also utilized a historian, who reviewed the property for impact to cultural resources. She also checked on whether any buildings were listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

Although the shotgun houses are older, there are certain criteria to be listed on a historical registry, national or local, that they do not currently meet.