Tallahassee rezoning passes amid conflict of interest concerns

The property was listed for sale for $2.75 million the morning after the zoning change.

The Tallahassee City Commission voted 3-2 Wednesday to approve a rezoning on a 2.47-acre plot of land after the property owners asked two commissioners to recuse themselves and a third received more than $1,000 in political donations from the owner’s legal counsel.

The plot, located at the intersection of North Blair Stone and Miccosukee Roads, was rezoned from office-residential to general commercial, which will expand the type of businesses that can be built on the vacant lot. The Commission voted unanimously to oppose the change on May 12, 2021, but a judge overturned their previous decision, sending it back to further consideration.

Reggie Bouthillier and other members of the law firm Stearns Weaver Miller represented the owners. They argued that retail development on the land fits within the city’s comprehensive plan, does not obstruct residents in nearby neighborhoods and carries a buffer between the neighborhoods with several hundred feet of forests between the lot and the neighborhood.

During the public comment section, a coalition of local residents gave testimony on how they are impacted. They cited concerns about increased traffic, certain developments like gas stations, and noise pollution after regular business hours.

Ultimately, Mayor John Dailey and Commissioners Curtis Richardson and Dianne Williams-Cox sided with the change, which will boost the value of the property while the owners try to sell.

Williams-Cox, who made the motion to approve, said she was not interested in the city going back to court over this issue.

“We tried, but given what the courts have said, I’m not sure how we overcome that. That to me weighs very heavy,” she said.

Prior to the arguments in the meeting, Bouthillier requested that Commissioners Jeremy Matlow and Jack Porter, the two people who voted against the rezoning, recuse themselves because of perceived conflicts.

Bouthillier accused Porter of coordinating residents who opposed the zoning change by arranging a virtual meeting, which he described as an ex parte violation of the quasi-judicial proceeding. Porter said she arranged a Zoom meeting after receiving dozens of unsolicited emails from residents for and against the zoning change, and wanted to give them a public forum to discuss it.

“Meeting with people about city business is my job. It’s what I was elected to do. It is not biased. Speaking to residents is not biased,” Porter said.

City Attorney Cassandra Jackson advised Porter not to recuse herself, saying the communication was not a violation.

For Matlow, Bouthillier pointed out that the Tallahassee Orthopedic Clinic is the landowner. Bouthillier also noted that Matlow’s opponent in the 2022 election, David Bellamy, is connected to one of the parties, as he is a partner at the clinic.

Jackson advised Matlow not to recuse himself, as political position disagreements are not enough to provide a conflict of interest.

Bellamy is not Bouthillier’s only connection to a 2022 candidate. Bouthillier gave $500 to Williams-Cox’s campaign on Oct. 26, while the appeal of the rezoning was pending. Five other employees of the Stearns Weaver Miller Tallahassee branch also donated to her on the same day. Williams-Cox, who voted in favor of the change, received a total of $1,400 from employees of the firm.

Williams-Cox also received several $1,000 donations from Tallahassee companies on the same day, including $6,000 from NAI TALCOR and its subsidiaries.

The morning after the zoning change, the property was listed for sale for $2.75 million on NAI TALCOR’s website. TOC purchased the property from Leon County for $1.4 million in 2018, meaning they are set to double their investment if they sell at the listed price.

Florida Politics contacted Williams-Cox on several forms of communication to ask her if her campaign held a fundraising event on Oct. 26 and if Stearns Weaver Miller was involved, but have not received a response. This story will be updated if she responds.

Tristan Wood

Tristan Wood graduated from the University of Florida in 2021 with a degree in Journalism. A South Florida native, he has a passion for political and accountability reporting. He previously reported for Fresh Take Florida, a news service that covers the Florida Legislature and state political stories operating out of UF’s College of Journalism and Communications. You can reach Tristan at [email protected], or on Twitter @TristanDWood


  • TJC

    March 24, 2022 at 12:30 pm

    Local Tallahassee politicians have just as much a right to be corrupt and money-hungry as the state representatives that slither through their town from time to time.

    • just sayin

      March 25, 2022 at 9:24 am

      Both sides are bad, so vote Democrat, amirite?

  • David T. Hawkins

    March 28, 2022 at 9:06 am

    Looks like if anyone should have Recused themselves, it was Williams-Cox.

Comments are closed.


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