Communication Builds Our Community

Consultants Tap Community Ideas to Develop 20-Year Growth Plan

For the first time in 20 years, the City of Lake Wales is undertaking a full overhaul of its Comprehensive Plan. The consulting firm S & ME conducted an online public workshop July 8 to get input from city officials and citizens about priorities for developing the city over the next 20 years.

Consulting Project Manager Chris Dougherty defined the comprehensive plan as "a document designed to guide the future actions of a city. The comprehensive plan also presents a vision for (a community's) future with long-range goals, objectives (and policies.)"

The purposes of comprehensive planning, Dougherty said, are to view the big picture, coordinate local decision making, give guidance to landowners and developers, establish a factual basis for policy decisions, involve a broad array of interests in a discussion about the long range future and to build an informed community. The workshop purpose, he said, was to inform about the comprehensive planning process and available data, to understand the challenges and opportunities facing the community and to listen to the perspectives and ideas of area residents and businesses.

Dougherty shared the city's current population, housing, employment, income and education statistics along with projections. The city's population is currently estimated as 16,377, with about one fourth over age 65. The consultants projected the city population would grow to about 20,774 by the year 2040.

Dougherty cited long-term COVID-19 impacts, traffic capacity and roadway extensions, attracting and retaining human capital and diminishing citrus viability as continuing challenges and opportunities. He polled workshop participants about a variety of growth-related topics. Just under 80 percent said they would prefer downtown Lake Wales experience "some growth" over the next 20 years, while 21 percent said they would like to see "substantial growth." New housing preferences were split, with 46 percent expressing a need for townhomes, and 19 percent each prioritizing the need for large-lot single family detached homes and small-lot single family detached homes. None of the participants named multi-family apartments or mobile homes as priorities.

Workshop participants were divided among four breakout sessions to discuss land use and housing, equity, transportation and the economy. The mayor and all four commissioners, about a half dozen city staff members, S&ME consultants and about 20 members of the public participated. They talked about the need for mixed use development, a high tech infrastructure, more restaurants, affordable housing, and the opportunity to use the city's charm and focus on historic preservation to attract new people to the area, including some who now are able to work remotely.

The consultants started gathering data for the comprehensive plan update in February. Comprehensive planning elements include: future land use, transportation, housing, utilities, conservation, recreation and open space, intergovernmental coordination, capital improvements, historic preservation, economic development and school concurrency.

Dougherty said they would work with city staff to create a vision statement that is unique to Lake Wales. The consulting firm will include recommended changes to the city's land use plan, zoning codes and policies. A steering committee will incorporate the community input into the draft comprehensive plan, which will be brought back for staff review, and ultimately be submitted to the state in about two months.


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