Impact Fees Issues Lakeland City Commission

I was disappointed this week to read that the Lakeland City Commission is considering a move that would no longer require new development to pay its fair share.

The proposal, which will be up for discussion next Monday, involves approving cut-rate impact fees which will reduce the city’s revenues to deal with growth-related infrastructure by millions of dollars.

This is significant because for many years Lakeland was the leader in Polk County in adopting fiscally sound impact fee schedules that allowed the city to deal with growth responsibly, often in sharp contrast with the Polk County Commission, which did not.

The best example is Lakeland Highlands Road. Lakeland was able to widen the northern section years before Polk County widened the southern section.

Dealing with growth costs money. There’s no free lunch or shouldn’t be.

Maybe the taxpayers will show up Monday and give Lakeland commissioners some input.

Land Protection Efforts In Polk Pay Off For Star Anise

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided the tree know as Star Anise or Yellow Anise does not need to be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
One important reason for the decision is that this species is being protected as a result of the purchase of conservation lands that protect its habitat. The plant is listed as endangered by state environmental officials.


Locally the plant is found throughout the Marion Creek Basin in northeast Polk County .
This is one of several species that were protected by the efforts of Sierra Club and other conservation organizations and the late County Commissioner Ernie Caldwell to protect  the area..
Some of the first sites purchased under the Polk County Environmental Lands Program were in that basin and were supplemented by other lands purchased by the South Florida Water Management District.

Polk Commissioners Set To Quietly Advance Southwest Toll Road Connection Plan

Buried in next Tuesday’s Polk County Commission consent agenda is a resolution that relates to one of the controversial toll roads approved earlier this year by the Florida Legislature..
The resolution endorses the idea of joint planning with state transportation officials in selecting the location for the connection of the northern terminus of the proposed toll road between Polk and Collier counties.
Polk officials propose a location that would connect the planned Central Polk Parkway and State Road 60 to the new highway near what is now called Florida’s Gateway Intermodal Logistics Center, which is the CSX freight terminal that opened in 2014 in south Winter Haven.
The western leg of the Central Polk Parkway, a new toll road that would run from State Road 60 to the Polk Parkway, is in the middle of final design. Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2024.
One of the unresolved issues is how big a bite the new road would take out of Marshall Hampton Reserve, a popular outdoor recreation site across Lake Hancock from Circle B Bar Reserve and how state transportation will mitigate the damage to public access the road project will cause.
An eastern leg of the Central Polk Parkway is proposed to arc through rural areas east of Haines City before circling back to join an already heavily congested section of Interstate 4. It  is on hold because state transportation officials concluded it would not generate enough toll revenue to justify its cost.
Under state legislation, the three new toll roads, which are now being discussed by state task forces, are supposed to be under construction by Dec. 31, 2022 if the projects are feasible.
There’s no word at this point on what kind of evidence would be necessary to persuade state officials any of the projects are not feasible.

Polk officials seek funding for Green Swamp highway; what’s next?

County Road 557 has been used by some motorists in the Winter Haven area as the most direct route to get to and from Interstate 4 for some time now as U.S. 27 becomes more congested by new development and the consequent new traffic lights.
Now the County Commission is working on plans to four-lane the road through the southern portion of the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern between U.S. 17-92 and Interstate 4.
At Monday’s Polk legislative delegation meeting, County Commission Chairman George Lindsey asked legislators for  $12 million to purchase right of way. Polk County has already budgeted $70 million to cover estimated construction costs, he said.

Construction is still a few years out.

The question is whether in the long term the project will end at Interstate 4.
Deen Still Road and Old Grade Road are also used as shortcuts to avoid the very congested I-4/U.S. 27 interchange
In years ahead, more car and truck traffic will use that route. That could result in pressure to build a four-lane highway deeper into the Green Swamp to Deen Still Road and to rebuild sections of Deen Still Road, portions of which now flood where sections pass through swampy terrain and the minimal roadside ditches overflow, to improve traffic flow to and from U.S. 27.
Such road improvements could spur demands for increased development density to justify the public investment and revive a decades-old proposal to open that section of the Green Swamp to more development.
The land along the east side of Old Grade Road is occupied by either state conservation land or a defunct subdivision called Orlando Pines that was subdivided in the 1970s in the aftermath to attract gullible out-of-state investors seeking land “near Walt Disney World.”

The west side has fewer owners including a handful of homesteads. Although this may unrelated, someone is trying to assemble property there by filing adverse condemnation actions.

Stay tuned.

Temperatures Are Rising Locally; Rainfall Trends Are More Complicated

If you want to get an idea of what’s happening with climate change locally, one piece of evidence is the summaries assembled by the National Weather Service in Tampa.
Forget the rankings on whether last month was the hottest or the third hottest of the tenth hottest September on record.
Look at the fact that the majority of the hottest Septembers in the area have-occurred within the past 20 to 30 years. and the majority of the coolest Septembers occurred more than 50 years ago.
Rainfall records are more complicated because the showers are scattered throughout the region and whether it happens to rain at a specific weather station is a matter of chance except in moths where there is widespread rainfall as a result of tropical weather or similar weather patterns.

As criticism builds, toll road supporters try to respond but questions remain

The idea of diverting millions of dollars of state funds from  the state budget to build some new toll roads instead of funding projects such as the widening of State Road 60 that the public actually wants has received a lot of pushback lately.
An editorial in The Ledger as well as local columns have raised questions about the wisdom of the projects.

At a recent Heartland 2060 symposium, Florida Department of Transportation District 1 Secretary L.K.Nandam defended the idea of building parallel roads to existing state highway corridors as a way to meet future  mobility needs.

The latest entry into the discussion is Sen. Ben Albritton of Wauchula, whose guest commentary published in The Ledger didn’t respond to the criticisms, but merely repeated the same talking points advanced by Sen. Bill Galvano, who was Senate President during the last session and the main influence in jamming this idea through the Legislature.

It is self-evident that building new roads always opens land to new development. All you have to do is to compare before and after aerial photographs of the routes of the Polk Parkway or the toll roads around the Orlando area to see the results.

The question throughout this debate is whether this is a desirable result for Florida’s heartland that contains the last remaining wide open spaces and important habitats for many of Florida’s vanishing wildlife species.

Additionally, although the roads are touted as a way to relieve urban congestion, the  planned routes are far from the parts of the state that are experiencing congestion today. Instead, the likely outcome would be to introduce traffic congestion to parts of Florida that have never experienced any.

Additionally, it defies logic to think that there is some magical way to build your way out of congestion in the third most populous state in the nation.

Even more mystifying is the argument that t these roads are vital to extend water, sewer and broadband service to rural areas unless there are some secret plans for new cities  that will become the new centers of commerce after the new roads bypass Wauchula, Arcadia and other established communities in southwest Florida.

Additionally, it is worth noting that the idea that broadband as an engine for economic development has recently come into question, according to a recent article in Governing magazine.

Anyway, there are more meetings on  these road projects coming up later this month. One will be in Lakeland Oct. 30 following by an open house Oct. 31 in Wauchula. Meeting details are still unpublished.

People need to show up and educate themselves and ask questions.

1000 Friends Challenges Law To Squash Citizen Challenges On Growth; Seeks Repeal

1000 Friends of Florida has announced it will challenge a hastily-approved bill that will discourage citizens from challenging local growth decisions.
Under the bill (HB 7103) citizens whose challenges fail would be forced to pay the other parties’ legal expenses.
The bill has hastily brought to a vote with minimal debate and no staff analysis and is another example of anti-environmental mindset in Tallahassee.
“Passage of this act is an attack on the rights of each and every one of Florida’s 21 million citizens,” says 1000 Friends former Legal Director Richard Grosso.
1000 Friends is also asking members of conservation groups to ask their local legislators to repeal the law in the 2020 session.
The effect would be to stifle substantive challenges to local growth decisions and is unnecessary to prevent abuses of the current system..
Courts already had the authority to force plaintiffs to pay defendants legal expenses in cases where lawsuits were filed maliciously or frivolously.
Citizen challenges are now the only way to enforce local growth plans since the Florida Legislature acted in 2011 to strip state planning officials of the ability to challenge growth plan provisions they felt were inconsistent withy state law.
Locally, the threat of a state legal challenge was a powerful tool in forcing Polk County officials to protect the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern from overdevelopment.