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City Development Services Adds Staff to Keep Up With Surge in Proposals

Division Now Handling a Record Number of New Projects Within City Limits

 

Last updated 1/26/2022 at 3:47pm

Eric Marshall

City Development Services Division staff met recently to discuss the numerous projects they are working on.L to R: Darrell Starling, CRA Project Manager; Jasmine Khammany, Senior Planner; Autumn Cochella, Assistant Director; Mark J. Bennett , Director; Shena Rowland, Executive Assistant; Cheryl Baksh, CRA Specialist

The year just ended saw a wave of filings for growth projects in the city, with more than a dozen subdivision, townhome and apartment complex proposals now on the books. The new year has begun at the same frenetic pace, but the City of Lake Wales Development Services Director Mark J. Bennett is expanding his team to support the unprecedented amount of development.

In order to meet current demand, and in anticipation of more projects being added to the growing workload, several new positions have been added.

Bennett said keeping the development process smooth and efficient is important as people eye Lake Wales as a place to call home and conduct business. "It hasn't quite hit yet, but we want to be prepared with the right staff in place to handle it," said Bennett. "We're ready for when new developments start getting constructed and single-family house permits start coming in," he noted.

One of the new positions is senior planner, filled by Jasmine Khammany, who holds a bachelor's degree in planning from Iowa State. Lake Wales is the third city that she has worked for in her career. Khammany has experience working in growing communities, and she is familiar with Polk County.

Corey Stripling has been hired to fill the existing position of building official, with a broad scope of responsibilities in the department. Corey has significant experience in the private sector, and he has worked as the building official in another city in Polk County, which was also experiencing rapid growth.

"Corey is responsible for what I call the vertical development activity, new buildings, building renovations and plan reviews for building projects," said Bennett. "Basically, anything related to building construction falls under Corey's purview."

In addition to Stripling, Alisha McClain has been hired to fill a second position of permit technician.. She is a certified permit technician through the International Code Council, and she has experience working in other jurisdictions in Polk County processing large volumes of permits.

In filling these positions, Bennett was looking for employees with experience in handling rapid growth and development to ensure that the city continues to provide the best customer service possible.

Bennett said one of the benefits to adding the new position is allowing Assistant Director of Development Services, Autumn Cochella, to work on bigger picture items going forward. "This will free up Autumn to focus on other planning related projects, a major one being proposed changes to our land development regulations," Bennett explained.

"Over the next few years as the city has more development activity, depending on how busy we get, I could see a need for some more staff, but we're not there yet," said Bennett. "I've done some preliminary projections on what staff we would need based on certain parameters."

Bennett also indicated he's pleased at how far the department has come in the last 16 months, having grown to 12 full-time employees.

Bennett, who's been a Lake Wales resident for nearly 25 years, joined city staff in the fall of 2020, with the goal of making the development process more streamlined and user friendly when it comes to reviewing plans and issuing building permits. Bennett acknowledged his team is prepared to be proactive with developers and builders as new homes and businesses come to the city.

 

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