Large Lake Wales Development Rejected for Failure to Meet City Aspirations
Two Large Development Proposals Met Very Different Fates at Hands of City Commission
Last updated 6/29/2023 at 10:59am
Two large residential developments proposed by the same developer recently met with very different responses from the Lake Wales city commission.
After unanimously approving a 930-lot single-family subdivision known as the Grove at Orchard Hills, the commission's 3-2 vote rejected a neighboring 300-unit project brought by the same developer.
The two new proposals came amid the city's initiation of the Lake Wales Envisioned planning process, which seeks to create a higher standard for new development, including Traditional Neighborhood Design (TND), "complete streets," and outward-facing neighborhoods rather than walls lining existing streets.
The initiative was shaped by a list of eight "aspirations" adopted by the commission in January. The planning process is ongoing, but city staff has encouraged developers to engage with the new concepts with mixed results.
Waronker has expressed skepticism that traditional neighborhood designs, which encourage alley access instead of garage-forward architecture, will work in Lake Wales. His refusal to adapt to those aspirations apparently led to the rejection by the commission.
After expressing some concerns, the commission passed the larger development, which will adjoin Ridge Manor, just east of Scenic Highway. It lies on 223 acres south of Belleview Drive, east of Scenic Highway South, north of Passion Play Road, and west of 11th Street South.
The Grove at Orchard Hills will include an 8.2 acre commercial center which will allow for a reduction of external auto trips in favor of pedestrian and bicycle access to services.
Orchard Hills was redesigned after the initial plan, featuring long straight streets, was changed to shorter blocks of curved streets and a central roundabout on 9th Street. That existing street, which bisects the project, will also feature a landscaped central median as a "traffic-calming" device.
In presenting Steeple Chase to commissioners, Interim Planning Director Autumn Cochella pointed out that, other than proposing an "enhanced landscape package," the developer had rejected suggestions to improve the design by "including a mix of housing types and re-orienting the houses toward the streets and open space areas."
The design would have fronted South Scenic Highway and accessed that thoroughfare with an extension of Grove Avenue adjacent to the Lutheran Church. Cochella referred to the proposal as "isolated" from adjacent neighborhoods, which would be confronted by the backs of houses.
Cochella described the proposal as "automobile-dependent, which will increase traffic on existing roadways." She has reminded the commission on more than one occasion that the "special exception use permits" are "not a right," but rather a reward for developers who attempt to meet city standards.
In defending his plans, Waronker told commissioners that the TND designs "can't be built everywhere." He committed to contributing $500 for each home built on his two projects toward city landscaping and trails projects.
"I tried my best over the last six, seven months to see how we could configure this, to see how we could make it a little bit different," Waronker said.
Traditional Neighborhood Design rejects the use of walled subdivisions, instead facing homes toward "the public realm" according to planning documents. Waronker cited the proximity to a pending nearby industrial use among reasons he couldn't see developing to a higher standard, telling planners and commissioners that he couldn't turn houses to face Belleview Road because heavy truck traffic would be using Belleview Road. That scenario in not included under city conditions for approving the Advanced Drainage Systems pipe plan site east of 11th Street.
After the presentation Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson opened discussion of the item by saying that "there's still room for adjustment toward meeting, coming closer to meeting, the aspirations, especially in the mixed use housing." He went on to cite the city-funded Zimmerman economic analysis, which shows "considerable profitability" for TND in Lake Wales.
The study identifies demand for TND in Polk County exceeding the scope of expected new development in Lake Wales on an annual basis, meaning that Lake Wales could provide the supply to meet much of that demand.
"One thing's for sure," Gibson added, "they are unique in Polk County, and they will stand out from the tract houses that are all over this county."
After Daniel Williams offered a motion for approval, seconded by Danny Krueger, Williams voted against his own motion. He was joined by Gibson and Mayor Jack Hilligoss. Newly-elected commissioner Keith Thompson voted yes.