Communication Builds Our Community

Lake Wales Envisioned Process Moving Ahead, Rotarians Told

Planning Effort Expected to Set Higher Standards For Future Development

A vision for the long-term future of the Lake Wales region that shifts away from the contemporary development style toward "traditional neighborhoods" was the subject of discussion at the Lake Wales Breakfast Rotary Thursday morning.

"Most towns are already 100 years old when they decide what they want to be when they grow up," city planner Victor Dover told more than two dozens in attendance, explaining that Lake Wales has a huge head start due to the efforts of the city's founders and the work of the Olmsted planning firms.

"Everything we love about Lake Wales comes from those plans," Dover said. The planning firm of Dover, Kohl & Partners is leading the efforts to develop a "roadmap" called "Lake Wales Envisioned."

The city-funded process will address the needs of the entire surrounding city utility service area. The presentation shared the status of the extensive planning process that has already involved more than a dozen professionals and hundreds of area residents.

Sharing visuals that included such features as proposed wildlife corridors and parks as well as areas suitable for intense development, Dover explained that we are experiencing a "crisis of confidence about growth and change."

"Growth at the edges is always more controversial, and there's a lot of it proposed," Dover said, adding that suburban sprawl coating the landscape for the sake of economic growth is "a trade-down" that is unacceptable in terms of impacts to lifestyle.

The Polk County area shifted from a 3.3 percent surplus of housing in 2012 to a 7.8 percent deficit in 2019, initiating a rush to development. In response the city has adopted a set of nine "aspirations" that provide the guiding principles for the Envisioned effort.

There are several large-scale developments already at advanced stages of approval that will likely be developed under the old standards before the recommendations likely to come from the Envisioned effort can be adopted, Dover said.

"New Urbanist" development models feature a return to traditional neighborhood designs connected to adjacent neighborhoods with walkable streets and trails and featuring front porches and rear garages accessed by paved alleyways. Popular new developments such as Reunion offer those features.

Dover shared images from a prior webinar by economist Joe Minicozzi who showed the relative retained and increased property values of traditional neighborhoods on a per-acre basis.

Minicozzi explained that most contemporary development fails to pay its own way and increases the pressure on governments trying to provide services. Low-density sprawl, which consumes vast amounts of land but provides poor lifestyles dependent upon cars, generates less tax revenue but more traffic congestion, Minicozzi said.

Watch the webinar video here.

Highlighting the difficulties facing reshaping the dominant development patterns that are negatively impacting central Florida, Dover said that the common response of developers asked to rethink their models is "you're in Polk County, you can't have nice things."

Revealing the impending release of a market study that proves there is substantial demand for traditional neighborhood designs, Dover told Rotarians that the challenge is to convince developers to recognize that "if I switch up my plan and ask the city's blessing, I could make more money."

"If you want to have high standards, then the wrong time to decide is after all the land has been developed with low standards," Dover said.


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