Zoning Board Rejects Change to Ordinance That Would Permit Expedited Approval of Plastic Plant
Four-to-one Vote Keeps Requirement for Public Hearing
Last updated 4/2/2023 at 10:15am
In a surprise move, the Lake Wales Planning and Zoning Board voted 4-1 Tuesday evening to reject the "correction of a scrivener's error" that would eliminate a step in future zoning decisions. The decision has immediate impact in the impending decision regarding a proposed plastics manufacturing plant.
Dozens of residents filled the chambers as the board, unused to crowds, opened the meeting. Chairman Chris Lutton told the group that the controversial plant was not on the agenda, but few seemed convinced that the matter wasn't relevant.
After nearly a dozen spoke in opposition to the change and the plant, Lutton asked for a show of hands to indicate support or opposition to the comments of the previous speakers. The room was apparently united in opposition, save for a handful involved in the deal.
The "corrective" action would allow city planning staff to remove reviews of "special exceptions" and make future zoning changes without the involvement of either the volunteer zoning board or the city commission.
The zoning change for the 97-acre parcel adjacent to the former Hunt Brothers Packing House is required to accommodate outdoor storage of finished plastic pipe on more than 30 acres. Some residents in the area cited a recent fire at a five-acre site in Poinciana housing plastic flower pots that required evacuation of the surrounding area due to toxic fumes.
Blair Updike, the outgoing mayor of Highland Park, carefully explained to the board the impact of their previous decision to make the original change, which removed the requirement of a public hearing for zoning changes and would also remove the board from the process. The incorporated Village of Highland Park lies adjacent to the industrial site, which is requesting a change from "light" to "heavy" industrial zoning.
Updike told the board that the first change, approved by the Zoning Board in March of 2022, was made without full knowledge of its impact. That change was proposed by city staff shortly after they became aware of the proposed plant and the need for a zoning change, something that several critics have cited as a lack of transparency by city government.
The current ordinance was adopted months later, but "inadvertently" changed the requirement back to a full public hearing requirement. The city commission would have to conduct that hearing, something they have seemingly wished to avoid.
Attorney Tom Cloud, representing the city, sat on the dais with the board while arguing forcefully in favor of the corrective change. "What you are doing tonight is dealing with a policy issue," he told the board. "This change will apply to every industrial property in the city."
"You don't see an applicant here before you tonight," Cloud told them, "so even if it was appropriate to consider a single property, which it's not...the property was...rezoned in 2008. That train left the station a long time ago."
Former zoning board member Charlene Bennett, who was on the board when the easing of the regulation was originally approved in March 2022, wrote to object to it this time, indicating that the board was not fully informed of the ramifications when that vote took place.
Some who spoke in opposition to the fast-track change cited the recent start of the Lake Wales Envisioned process, which will address future land uses across the city's entire utility service area of about 100 square miles.
In the end only zoning board chair Chris Lutton supported the "correction." Zoning Board members Courtney McCrystal, Eric Rio, Kyra Love harriage, and Eugene Fultz voted against the change.
The city commission will now be forced to consider the change to the ordinance over the objection of their own citizen board.