Cabinet Hearing On BS Ranch Case Reveals Troubling Problems For Polk

This week Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet voted unanimously to uphold Polk County’s decision to reverse itself and amend its growth plan to correct a bad decision to change its development rules simply to accommodate the developers of a soil manufacturing plant on the outskirts of Lakeland that was built in the wrong place without the proper permits.

But it’s not really clear whether the ruling means much in the long run.

The dispute between Polk County and the owners of BS Ranch is still unresolved in the court system and that venue, not Tallahassee, is where this will all be sorted out.

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s hearing exposed the malleability of Polk County planning decisions.

The staff report at the 2016 hearing that carved out an exemption for BS Ranch to accede to the company’s request to remain in its industrial location used the same data from a survey of a handful of Florida counties as was used in the 2017 hearing that pulled soil manufacturing back into the same land-use category has landfills.

The only thing different in the 2017 staff report was the absence of gushing praise for the facility, which the staff report described as “like no other in Polk” in the best sense of the term rather than in the reality that ensued and brought the turnabout.

The change the commission approved in 2017 still allows BS Ranch to continue operating, but it may have problems expanding substantially or marketing its operation to another corporation as long as it is a legal non-conforming use.

One of the key findings in this week’s Tallahassee hearing was that it within county commissioners’ discretion to change their minds about issues.

The dispute as the legal fight continues is not over whether Polk County can use its discretion in making planning decisions, but how well based those decisions are.

This case, in some ways, is reminiscent of the fight over another business, which like BS Ranch, opened without getting the proper permits and sought an after-the-fact approval.

I’m talking about Thomas Landing on Lake Kissimmee.

This fish camp, which started out as simply a request to build a lakefront home on a lot that didn’t have frontage on a county road, opened in 1989 and finally came in for proper permits in 1991.

Polk commissioners denied the initial permit request and the owner successfully sued. A judge ruled in 1992 the denial was unjustified because it wasn’t based on sound data and analysis and ordered Polk County to give the man his permit.

The County Commission approved a permit with conditions in 1994.

Thomas violated those conditions by opening an RV park on the property in 2001, again without proper permits.

The case dragged on for years and Thomas Landing is still operating.

The BS Ranch case could drag on for years, too.

Trying to accommodate scofflaws will get you every time.




The Road That Will Not Die

If you thought the eastern leg of the Central Polk Parkway was dead, think again.

State transportation officials in late 2015 had shelved the project because they concluded it was not economically viable as a toll road and could not be justified as anything other than a toll road.

Thursday the Polk Transportation Planning Organization approved the draft amendments for the Florida Department of Transportation’s Transportation Improvement Plan.

Included in the list of projects was $13.2 million for preliminary engineering for four sections of this proposed 25-mile toll highway, which would stretch from somewhere near the CSX freight terminal in Winter Haven across U.S. .27 and into rural areas east of Haines City before looping back to connect to somewhere on Interstate 4.

Sierra has opposed this road because it promotes urban sprawl, threatens wildlife habitat and makes management, particularly fire management, more difficult.

The road is being backed by the business community, which sees it as a tool for opening additional areas for development and providing a more direct route for freight transportation.

The purported reason local planners have advanced for the road, which was first proposed in 2008, was to offer an alternative to the increasingly congested section of U.S. 27.

However, it is worth pointing out that the congestion on U.S. 27 reflects general growth in the state as well as the growth decisions that local officials have made in the past two decades that has increased local traffic as well.

All new roads are development magnets and in the result is that we’ll end up with two congested corridors instead of one.





Remember the Bluebelt Amendment? It may be coming back

In 1988 Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment that would allow local officials to allow property tax breaks for land that offers high recharge value to the aquifer.

The idea was championed by the late Henry Swanson, a longtime head of the Orange County Extension Office.

The Legislature left it up to counties to decide whether to authorize the tax break. There were few if any takers.

Now comes Denise Grimsley, a Republican candidate for Florida agriculture commissioner, who has issued an extensive position paper on water, which includes encouraging more counties to enact the tax break.

The tricky part of this tax break is what the incentive means for landowners.

For instance, if the property already has a greenbelt classification, the taxes are already pretty low.

To qualify for another exemption, the landowners would have to establish whether their property qualifies for the additional tax break.

This requires some kind of technical evaluation, according to a 1990 U.S. Geological Survey pilot study to determine how this all might work.

Most of the rest of Grimsley’s views on water resources and water pollution pretty much mirror the existing philosophy in Tallahassee and those of the current ag commissioner.


Florida Officials Want Feedback On Greenways And Trails Plan

Florida’s Office of Greenways and Trails is seeking comments on its latest draft plan to fund, expand and promote the state’s trail system.

The deadline to comment is Aug. 31. Comments should be directed to .

–Some of the highlights of the proposal include:

–Proposing land or water trails that provide important links to conservation lands, historic sites or other destinations.

–Connecting existing trails to provide some longer, multi-day trail experiences.

–Securing funding –the Office of Greenways and Trails has received no state funding from the Florida Forever program since 2010—to develop new trails.

–Develop a marketing program to make the public and tourists more aware of the trail system’s recreational opportunities.

–Providing technical help to small and rural communities to develop local trail systems.

In the meantime, visit a new trail or a new trail section and get to know what the system has to offer.

To learn more about the Florida hiking, bicycling and paddling trails, go to this site.




Stormwater Tax Funding Lots of Projects

The stormwater tax the County Commission finally approved in 2012—after 25 years of discussion-is helping to pay for a lot of water-quality improvement projects, according to the annual report presented to the County Commission Tuesday by Dave Carter, chairman of the Stormwater Technical Advisory Committee.

Overall there are $15.6 million in planned projects.

They include restoring the natural rehydration of drained marshes wests of Crooked Lake, restoring drained and damaged habitats along tributaries of the Peace River, restoring depressed lake levels on Lake Eva in Haines City, Lake Annie in Dundee and Lake McLeod in Eagle Lake. Another project would explore the feasibility of reducing pollution to Crystal Lake.

Carter said the current tax rate of 10 cents per $1,000 of taxable value is adequate to fund approved projects for the foreseeable future.

Summer Rains Fuel Peace River For Now

The Upper Peace River’s only source of water is rainfall.

The ebb and flow of river flow react graphicly to the weather.

It has been rainy in recent months in the upper part of the basin and relatively dry in the lower part of the basin.

A spot check of tentative river flow data compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey and rainfall data compiled by the National Weather Service illustrates shows the vagaries of this phenomenon.

July rainfall in Winter Haven was 13.14 inches (4th highest on record) and 12.26 inches in Bartow (15th highest on record). Flow in the Peace River at the Bartow gage was around 150 percent of average flow this week., but by the time the river reached Fort Meade and more tributaries had fed in, flow was more than 300 percent of average.

The flow at Zolfo Springs was about 250 percent of normal but rainfall in Wauchula in July was only 4.02 inches, which appears to be the 9th driest on record.

The flow at Arcadia was about 150 percent of average. Last month’s rainfall in Arcadia was 8.28 inches, the 48th wettest July on record.

None of the river flows was record-setting. Most of the records in this part of Florida date to 1960, the last year that scientists used to describe the wet period of the 1940s and 1950s.

Water managers use that data and something they call the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation to argue the recent declines in streamflows are directly tied to changes in rainfall patterns.

How climate change will affect future rainfall and streamflows in Central Florida is a question that will bear directly on water supply planning as utilities look for non-traditional/alternative sources of water.

This year’s rainfall and consequent river flows have attracted attention because they are unusual, not the basis of long-term planning.

It will be interesting to see what the figures look like by year’s end.


Developer Withdraws Lake Kissimmee Golf Resort Proposal

Plans for 2,900-acre golf course development on Lake Kissimmee have been withdrawn, Polk County officials confirmed today.

The project known as Lost Oaks was proposed for a sprawling site north of Coleman Landing at Shady Oaks, a county lakefront park.

The Polk County Planning Commission, which rarely recommends denying any project, voted 4-3 to deny this one following testimony from local environmentalists and area property owners about the site’s unsuitability for development and its potential conflict with planned wildlife corridors and military flights at nearby Avon Park Air Force Range.

The case had been scheduled to be heard Aug. 7 by the County Commission.

The site had originally been purchased for conservation by the South Florida Water Management District as part of the Kissimmee River restoration project to return lake levels t o historic patterns, which would sometimes flood some of the property.

However, the property returned to private ownership as a result of a land swap involving the district’s interest in obtaining a parcel near Lake Okeechobee for the Everglades restoration.

The development was first proposed a couple of years ago, but concrete plans did not surface until this year.