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Huge Polk County Development May Impact Lake Wales Area

Creek Ranch Proposes 1,876 Homes on Rural County Lands

A huge development proposal in unincorporated Polk County not far from Lake Wales is drawing fervent opposition from neighbors and residents, who are showing up in Bartow to argue their case against the project.

The Creek Ranch development requires the approval of a binding site plan for the 1,289 acres of rural land to accommodate 1,876 homes and commercial uses off Hatchineha Road. The site is mostly surrounded by conservation lands and lies north of Lake Pierce and east of Dundee.

The Polk Planning Commission recently approved the project on a 4-3 vote before a standing-room-only crowd united in opposition to the project. Area residents have since organized to file an appeal which will be heard by the county commission.

Residents fear that the resulting increase in traffic will overwhelm rural roads, a condition that has already afflicted the nearby Poinciana communities, which experience serious traffic congestion. Impacts on wildlife, water, and schools are also subjects of concerns, along with potential flooding.

The proposal highlights the disconnect between city and county efforts to deal with development. As Lake Wales officials and a team of planning experts push forward with the Lake Wales Envisioned effort, promoting ideas that will halt the sprawl of suburban walled communities in favor of "Traditional Neighborhood Design" (TND), Polk County has continued to allow developers to push disfavored proposals. The Creek Ranch proposal features a square street grid with long straightaways, a feature that Meagan McLaughlin of Plusurbia objected to in a prior development proposal in Lake Wales as "blocks that are almost 2,000 feet long with no break. That's going to be a very high-speed street...that's going to be potentially very dangerous if you have kids running in the street."

Planners are generally rejecting long straightaways in favor of short, curve blocks described as "traffic calming," with an interconnected grid of sidewalks and walking trails. Envisioned planners propose discontinuing the sprawling developments that have produced scores of walled, inward-facing "neighborhoods" filled with what a Lake Wales planning official referred to as "garage-itecture."

Traditional neighborhoods follow the model built prior to the late 1940's housing boom, featuring rear alleys and garages, front porches facing tree-lined streets and sidewalks. A mix of housing types allows for rear cottages or "over the garage" apartments offering affordable housing for seniors.

The historic residential areas in Lake Wales are offered as great examples of the attractive neighborhoods that result from those design standards. Similar projects in other areas, such as the town of Seaside, and Orlando's Baldwin Park have attracted enormous demand.

Some of the new projects approved by the county are within the Lake Wales Utility Service Area, which is the subject of the Envisioned effort. Three new subdivisions, including two on Scenic Highway north of Babson Park and a third at the intersection of Masterpiece and Timberlane Roads, have already raised concerns among residents.

The Envisioned program was initiated by the Lake Wales city commission after waves of development proposals totaling more than 14,000 units were brought forward by developers and property owners. Managing that growth has inspired several steps by the city, including a proposed name change for the planning division from "Development Services" to "Growth Management," according to News sources.


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