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By Robert Connors
Managing Editor 

ADS to Host Public Meeting Over Pipe Plant Concerns

Company Will Explain Operations at Arts Center Gathering

 

Last updated 4/25/2023 at 9:40am

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The 97-acre triangular site proposed to house the ADS pipe factory, outlined in red, lies south of the Florida Midland Railroad, north of Hunt Brothers Road, and west of South 11th Street. The former Hunt Bros. citrus packing house is visible just to the east of the property.

A public meeting seeking to respond to public concerns over a proposed plastic pipe manufacturing facility will take place on Wednesday, April 26 at the Lake Wales Arts Center.

The meeting will be hosted by Advanced Drainage Systems, or ADS, the company seeking to build on a 97-acre site fronting South 11th Street and Hunt Brothers Road. The meeting will begin at 6:00 pm.

Some residents have voiced opposition to the "heavy" industrial use of the property, although it has been zoned for light industrial uses for about 15 years.

"It's fair for them to have concerns," said ADS company spokesman Vice President Darin Harvey. "I'd be the same way if I lived there."

"We appreciate the concern and want to address them and be as transparent as possible," Harvey continued.

The plant would manufacture corrugated drainage pipe, largely from recycled plastic pellets delivered by rail to the plant, which is planned for a site along the existing Florida Midland Railroad.

The site is also adjacent to the former Hunt Bros. citrus packing facility, which closed last year. The Hunt Bros. firm is the seller of the site.

Opposition to the proposal seemed to grow after a serious fire at a plant manufacturing plastic flowerpots south of Kissimmee. That fire covered five acres of outdoor storage and caused the evacuation of entire neighborhoods in Poinciana. The proposed facility would include a reported 35 acres set aside for outdoor storage of finished pipes.

The purpose of the meeting is "just to get the facts and information out there," Harvey said. "We operate 36 plants across the country, and we're very good environmental stewards."

Harvey pointed out that there is an existing plant using the same sorts of materials located in the heart of Lake Wales, on Scenic Highway downtown.

"We want to inform the community of who we are and what we do, and explain our manufacturing process," Harvey added.

The proposal for the plant was apparently advanced quietly starting nearly two years ago.

City commissioners seemed unaware, despite the involvement of city planning staff and the city-funded Chamber of Commerce's director of economic development.

Lake Wales Chamber Executive Director Skip Alford said it had been "well underway" since before he was hired to lead the organization in the summer of 2021. He held a public meeting at the Chamber in January to advocate for the plant, which may bring well over 100 jobs to the area, according to proponents.

The need for outdoor storage calls for a zoning change from light to heavy industrial.

Development Services Director Mark Bennett proposed a zoning ordinance change in the spring of 2022 that transferred the authority to grant zoning changes from the zoning board and city commission to Development Services staff.

The modification to the ordinance was approved by the zoning board and city commissioners, but apparently neither the zoning board nor the commission were aware of the impact of that element of the amendment, or the pending need for the zoning change.

That amendment was then accidentally reversed when staff used an older chart for a subsequent ordinance amendment, a mistake Bennett described as "a scrivener's error."

That mistake threw the issue back to the zoning board and commission, requiring a public hearing.

Bennett resigned in January, citing the stress of the job. The controversy was perceived by many as damaging the credibility of the city.

The controversy over the change to the ordinance also entangled City Attorney Chuck Galloway, who incorrectly told commissioners that staff could still deal with the matter administratively. The neighboring Village of Highland Park retained the services of a planning firm and attorneys who proved him wrong.

In late March the Zoning Board rejected reversing the error, leaving themselves with authority to voice their opinion on proposed increases in intensities. The city commission can still disregard their recommendations.

Robert Connors

This view looking south shows the elevated nature of the property. The water tower in the background belongs to the Village of Highland Park, which has opposed the siting of the facility. Windy Hill, which lies south of Babson Park, is visible in the distance.

Harvey said that ADS was unaware of the proposed zoning ordinance changes at that time, and only learned of them after the fact.

A recent "town hall" meeting in the community of Highland Park Manor also addressed opposition to the proposed plant. Fears in that community include both the proximity of the plant and potential increases in truck and auto traffic as the area grows. Highland Park Manor lies a few hundred yards east of the site, while the Village of Highland Park lies a similar distance to the south.

Multiple residential developments are proposed for the area north of the railroad, including a 448-unit townhouse development.

 

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