County Approves Huge Development on Hatchineha Road
Appeal of Controversial Proposal Denied by County Commission on 3-12 Vote
Last updated 9/27/2023 at 10:22am
On a split vote, Polk County Commissioners refused to overturn the narrow approval of a sprawling development on a rural two-lane road in eastern Polk County about ten miles northeast of Lake Wales.
The Creek Ranch development required the approval of a binding site plan for the 1,289 acres of rural land to accommodate 1,876 homes plus 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 had approved the project on a 4-3 vote before a standing-room-only crowd that was heavily in opposition to the project. Area residents then organized to file the appeal before the county commission.
Residents expressed concerns at Tuesday's hearing, emphasizing the negative stormwater and traffic impacts they expect will overwhelm rural roads. The nearby Poinciana communities already experience serious traffic congestion.
"You cannot ignore the development that is taking place in Poinciana," County Commissioner Martha Santiago told the audience and fellow commissioners during discussion of the issue. "All throughout Poinciana, we have development. So, I can't say that this is not compatible."
Commissioner Neil Combee disagreed, asing "I don't think this is compatible. The road system out there is terribly inadequate. It's a nightmare waiting to happen." Combee was the sole vote against the project.
The proposal highlights the disconnect between city and county efforts to deal with development.
"This development, the way it's laid out, how it's designed, this is what Polk County has been trying to get to for years," said Commissioner Rick Wilson. "This is one of the most compatible things I've ever seen."
The Creek Ranch proposal features a square street grid with long straightaways. Meagan McLaughlin of the city's consulting planning firm Plusurbia raised objections to that exact feature in a prior development proposal in Lake Wales as "potentially very dangerous if you have kids running in the street."
"Blocks that are almost 2,000 feet long with no break...that's going to be a very high-speed street," McLaughlin had warned city commissioners
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 have been offered by planners as great examples of the attractive neighborhoods that result from those design standards. Similar projects in other areas, such as the Florida panhandle town of Seaside and Orlando's Baldwin Park, have attracted enormous demand and generated rising property values.
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.
Planners have proposed that the two governments connect and attempt to work out supportable development standards for the Lake Wales area. The Lake Wales Envisioned project may result in a set of higher development standards that will be applied to the entire Lake Wales utility service area. The proposal will be presented to the Lake Wales City Commission at an October 24 meeting, giving the public an opportunity to weigh in on the concepts.