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City Commission, CRA Considering Sale of City Park For Apartment Complex

Lake Alta Park Would Accommodate Parking Lot for 28 Units

A "pocket park" lying in a quiet neighborhood of single-family homes on the near north side of the city may be converted to a parking lot to serve a new housing complex, Lake Wales News has learned.

The Lake Wales City Commission approved a "consent agenda" item on January 16 transferring ownership of the 3.566 acre Lake Alta Park to the Lake Wales Community Redevelopment Agency. The city commission also sits as the CRA board. That body can negotiate property sales directly to buyers without competitive bids.

Tucked between Osceola and Kissimmee Avenues, the park was depicted on the original street design plans for the city created by the famed Olmsted Brothers landscape and planning firm in the 1920s.

The park surrounds tiny Lake Alta, a small pond, and is bisected by Lake Alta Street. The proposed closure of the street has also been requested to add that land to the project to provide parking for the 28 units. The park lies just across Kissimmee Avenue from the Lake Wales Trailways, a former rail line converted to a bike and walking path.

A majestic longleaf pine dominates the southwest corner of the park, and live oaks draped by Spanish moss provide a peaceful setting at the heart of the neighborhood just south of Spook Hill Elementary.

Resident Giselle Baker bought her home across from the park over ten years ago because she loved the quiet nature of the neighborhood and thought that the city park across from her would "never be sold." Baker says that a fox family lives in the park and that owls can often be heard calling from the trees at night. Now she fears that the peaceful setting is threatened.

The City of Lake Wales transferred the 1.4642 acres adjacent to the park to the CRA in 2015, which in turn sold them to HAB Holdings, LLC, owned by Harout "Henry" Kebabjian, for $8,111.11. They were apparently rezoned to medium density (MDR) sometime later, providing up to 12 units per acre, or 17 units.

Kebabjian sold the property on October 22, 2022, to J. Walter Homes, Inc. for $250,000, an increase in value of more than three thousand percent. That firm plans to build on the property, and work has already begun though final approval for a proposed Planned Development Project has not been granted by the City of Lake Wales.

On January 23rd a representative of J. Walter Homes went before the Lake Wales Planning and Zoning Board seeking approval of a Planned Development Project (PDP), which would allow them to build 28 homes on the property instead of the allowed 18. The park land is needed by the developer to meet the "recreation and open space requirements" for the PDP, allowing for the higher density.

Residents living around the park also showed up at the P&Z meeting to voice their dismay at the sudden loss of their city park, expressing shock at finding out that such a large development was proposed on their quiet street. They shared their concerns over the loss of the park and the additional parking on what they knew had always been city property.

As a result of the outcry, the P&Z board rejected the staff recommendation of approval of the PDP, and instead told the developer to go back and work with the neighbors to create a PDP project that is not objectionable to the people living next to the project, which the developer is describing oas "cottages."

The PDP proposal will be brought back before the Planning and Zoning Board on February 27 at 5:30 pm in the Lake Wales City Commission Chambers.


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