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City Approves New Lake Belle Development Despite Neighbor Protests

Despite objections from nearby Ridge Manor residents, the Lake Wales City Commission July 6 approved preliminary plans for an 84-home subdivision on Lake Belle.

City Attorney Chuck Galloway said denying the project could subject the city to litigation since the Belle Lago project obtained approval of the city's Planning and Zoning Board and met or exceeded the city's requirements for such a development.

Attorney Shelby Loveless, who lives in the area, cited concerns about safety, noise, street lights and potential flooding. After the three hurricanes in 2004 homes in the area flooded, resulting in lawsuits against the city and some financial settlements.

But city officials and representatives of the property owner, Tri Ben Groves, indicated multiple retention ponds and pumps that drain excess water should have resolved the flooding issue.

Loveless said the development, which the state will allow only one entrance along Scenic Highway, will create traffic problems. People already use Ridge Manor Drive as a back route to First Street to go to the Publix shopping center, she said.

Sarah Case, a vice president with the engineering firm ECON, said the property has 33 useable acres, so the density of about 2.5 homes per acre will be only about half what the city would allow. She said the development elevation will be 10 feet above the lake and the property did not flood in 2017 when Hurricane Irma dropped about 20 inches of rain during an 18-hour period.

Loveless and Lake Belle homeowner Jerry Peterson said the city's recent approval of multiple new developments, including 440 homes on Buck Moore Road, could result in more housing than the market will bear. Peterson predicted the current high prices of homes and potential drop in the market could mean homebuyers would be "under water," with mortgages costing more than their homes are worth.

Another representative of the owners, former County Commissioner John Hall, recalled the flooding issues and said he felt they had been resolved with the pumping system. He reassured the nearby homeowners that the developer planned a fishing dock, but would not be installing a boat ramp. And in addition to the retention ponds the development would have substantial green space, shrubs and trees to help absorb water.

Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson said the owners have property rights and the project was being recommended by the city's professional staff and the Planning and Zoning Board.

Also at the July 6 meeting, commissioners also gave preliminary approval to a 349-home single family development on 80 acres east of Buck Moore Road and north of Sunset Drive and a 100-home development on nearly 24 acres west of Buck Moore Road and north of Christ's Church on the Move. They also gave preliminary approval for a 67-home development west of U.S. 27 and south of Mountain Lake Cutoff Road.


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