Communication Builds Our Community

Proposed Plastic Plant Meets Another Roadblock After Hearing Cancelled

Conflict With Ordinance Cited as "Error" by City Attorney

Final approval of a manufacturing plant proposed for a 96-acre "light industrial" site adjacent to Hunt Bros. Road and South 11th Street has been delayed for at least another month by what Lake Wales City Attorney Chuck Galloway described as a "scrivener's error" in an updated ordinance adopted by the city commission in October.

The proposed Advanced Drainage Systems plant would manufacture plastic drainage pipes and requires a "special exception" to allow for the storage of the finished products outdoors, which is permitted only in "heavy industrial" zoning.

Galloway had announced at the conclusion of Tuesday's commission meeting that a public hearing before the city's Planning and Zoning board, scheduled for Thursday night, had been cancelled as he had determined that the exception could be granted administratively.

Galloway was subsequently presented with a letter, backed by a planner's review of city ordinance, that had him quickly changing that opinion.

The letter from attorney Andrew J. Hand of Maitland, representing the Village of Highland Park, was backed by analysis from PlanActive Studio showing that the city's current ordinance does in fact require action by P&Z.

"Residents here are concerned that this is too much of a round hole for a square peg," Highland Park Mayor Blair Updike told "We're not anti-industrial, we're just trying to get them to do the right thing," she said of Lake Wales officials.

The original announcement of the plant's siting surprised even some city commissioners, despite more than a year of behind-the-scenes negotiating between economic development staff, city planners, land owners, and ADS officials.

The planner's report listed a dozen omissions in the Lake Wales Development Services staff report, including a lack of assessment of utilities, impact on traffic, surrounding land uses and communities, or "any potential noise, air quality issues, etc. that could have additional impacts." Review of those issues is required by the city's Comprehensive Plan.

When Highland Park commissioners heard of Galloway's announcement Tuesday night, "it made us uncomfortable, because Chuck's our attorney too," Updike said. Highland Park reluctantly sought other counsel, and the additional review of Lake Wales Comprehensive Plan requirements, as well as the governing ordinance.

"I look forward to the City’s compliance with its land development regulations regarding the ADS application," said Hand. "I also look forward to the City’s future cooperation with the Village of Highland Park in land use matters that affect both jurisdictions per the requirements of the City’s own comprehensive plan. The Village is legally entitled to have its seat at the table."

Galloway proposes to bring the ordinance back to the Lake Wales commission to change the authority back to an administrative issue, as it had been in a 2002 ordinance. Such land-use changes require two public hearings.

Galloway maintains that neither the city commission nor planning staff intended to change the prior ordinance, even though the change was clearly included in the updated document they voted on.

The alternative option, to bring it before the P&Z board after re-advertising, is apparently still available to the city.

News of the proposed facility had come as a surprise to residents of the area around the site, including those of Highland Park and nearby Highland Park Manor. That despite the prior zoning of the site, adjacent to the former Hunt Brothers citrus packing house, as light industrial.

"Will it be adequately buffered? Or will it be daylight at midnight?" Updike asked.

The PlanActive report also raised questions about idling trucks, since the site plan includes 58 parking stalls for them. Traffic routes in and out of the site have also raised concerns for residents, since it is unclear how east-bound truck traffic would access SR 60. Congestion is already an issue at two obvious intersections, at 11th Street, and at Hunt Brothers Road, adjacent to Wal-Mart.

"We need to get out of the 'flat map' mentality and get into reality," Updike said of the high, rolling tract. "It's a beautiful site with views over Lake Easy. Zillion-dollar views. I wish it could be residential so people could enjoy that view. As much as we dislike apartments, it's an attractive place for something tall," she added.

"We're also concerned for residents of (unincorporated) Highland Park Manor. They're in the county, and the county doesn't pay much attention" to such issues, Updike said.

Highland Manor resident Bruce Francis echoed those comments, saying that "we're all for development, but it has to help everybody, not just people who can afford ADS stock. How is this going to affect our property values? What studies have been done?"

The plant would import recycled plastic pellets by rail, which would then be melted in an enclosed furnace and extruded into molds to form the corrugated drainage pipes.

Lake Wales planners should be aware, Francis said, that "the decisions you make affect all of Lake Wales. People across the line count too. We don't know anything about emissions, or the pellets that escape into the soil."

Francis said that he had seen spilled pellets embedded in retention pond soil during a visit to an existing ADS plant in Sebring. "Planning staff did nothing but add a signature to what they (ADS) want to do,"

"We're looking forward to Lake Wales doing a thorough job," Updike said. "A better outcome for them is better for us, too."


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