State Planners Give Polk A Pass On Warehouse Proposal

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has given Polk County a pass to change its growth plan to put warehouses next to residential subdivisions in the Four Corners area, which will be the subject of a lengthy public hearing Tuesday afternoon in Bartow.

The Polk County Commission had forwarded the change to DEO officials in Tallahassee last month for review.

DEO’s comments only address whether the change affects state resources, not whether the project is a good idea.

The debate over the change has instead involved local issues.

This case involves a request by a landowner, which had previously gotten approval to develop the site into a shopping center with a movie theater, now wants to develop it into a warehouse distribution center.

Some key issues in this case include:

What obligation does the County Commission have to bail out a developer whose original development plans didn’t work out as planned?

The original proposal occurred during the pre-recession real estate bubble that ruined or set back many real estate investments. The idea that two regional shopping centers—this one and Posner—would both succeed on opposite sides of the same highway interchange in this market seem far-fetched in retrospect and may have seemed overly ambitious at the time if you were unaffected by development fever.

Does allowing light industrial development to encroach into the edge of residential areas here set a precedent that could threatened homeowners elsewhere in Polk County?

This is a slippery slope. Although the county’s technical staff has recommended against this change, the County Commission is the ultimate decision-maker. If the County Commission decides this is OK, will there be any staff pushback on the next case? Commission policy, rather than the tenets of good planning, sometimes molds staff positions.

Should the County Commission deny the project without prejudice to allow the landowner to resubmit an alternative, less-controversial development proposal without having to wait a year?

One wonders whether other types of development might be suitable for the site to allow the landowner, who has held the property in an agricultural classification for decade—market value is about $5 million, but taxable value is about $40,000–to sell the property and move on.