Communication Builds Our Community

Lake Wales Growth Manager Autumn Cochella Resigns

Served as Interim Director for a Year

Lake Wales' Interim Growth Management Director Autumn Cochella has announced her decision to step down from her role effective April 12. Her announcement may have come at an inopportune moment as the city commission is currently contemplating the adoption of new ordinances governing Planned Development Projects and Traditional Neighborhood Design.

News file photo

Autumn Cochella will continue to serve as the interim Growth Management Director while a search goes on for a permanent replacement.

Cochella was appointed to the interim position in January 2023 after the resignation of former director Mark Bennett. A replacement was hired for Bennett last fall, but was dismissed after only weeks, putting Cochella back in the top job.

"This place has grown me, nurtured me, challenged me, and promoted me into leadership roles I've been proud to serve in. I'll never take the opportunity and experience for granted," Cochella reflected. "It's been a blessing."

Cochella is a certified yoga instructor and nutritionist. She said she looks forward to more "joyful and peaceful" living and has a significant social media following. She will eventually be relieved of dealing with more than 40 residential development proposals, multiple commercial projects, and the adoption of the multiple aspects of the Lake Wales Envisioned plan, a community-crafted effort to guide growth into sustainable forms.

"It's not a job for the faint of heart," Cochella acknowledged, but her passion for the city and its future remains as strong as that expressed in a recently rediscovered letter which she had written at age seven explaining her love for Lake Wales and concerns about future growth. Cochella earned her certification as a planner from the American Institute of Certified Planners in January of 2022.

The proposed TND ordinance call for conforming development proposals to bypass both the city's Planning and Zoning Board and the city commission, allowing developments to be approved administratively, placing enormous authority in the role of growth management director.

Cochella first joined the City of Lake Wales in what was intended to be a temporary position while she finished college, but soon fell in love with the work and the community, she told the News, and went on to grow into leadership roles that she has been proud to serve in over the years. During her tenure, Cochella has worked closely with City Manager James Slaton, whom she called "the best in the state."

Though the growth and change the city has experienced has been difficult for some residents who want to preserve the character of the community, Cochella remains committed to supporting the city's efforts to grow responsibly and make Lake Wales "a bit better & more beautiful." To that end, Cochella will continue to serve in a consulting capacity until a replacement can be found, to ensure a smooth transition.

"I'm still that little girl, and as a citizen here I will continue to support the City's efforts to grow responsibly," Cochella affirmed.


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