The Polk County Planning Commission voted 4-3 Wednesday to recommend denial of a plan to develop a golf resort on Lake Kissimmee.
The developer’s representative and county planners described the project as a low-intensity golf resort on 300 acres within a 2,906-acre tract just north of Polk County’s Coleman Landing at Shady Oaks campground and park that would attract tourists and would only marginally increase the intensity of development allowed today.
But a procession of area property owners, environmental leaders and the property’s former owner testified that the project was a bad idea planned on marginal land that was purchased by the South Florida Water Management District so it could flood the property in connection with the restoration of the Kissimmee River.
They testified the property would be better suited to become part of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge that is being put together by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because it was unsuitable for development.
Although all that was before the panel Wednesday was a revision of the county land-use map, approving the requested change would make it more difficult to deny any development proposal it allowed, said Charles Lee, director of advocacy for Florida Audubon.
Longtime rancher Cary Lightsey recalled seeing the entire property flooded in the 1950s.
Ben Speight, the property’s former owner, said he was told before the property was condemned by the government to reduce septic tank pollution from the hundreds of residences that once were located there that there was no place on the property suitable for construction of a sewer plant.
A package sewer plant is in the developer’s proposed plan.
Additionally, the project lies within the path of low-altitude military flights engaged in training at the Avon Park Air Force Range and adding new development conflicts with a 2010 plan intended to reduce development conflicts around the military base, commissioners were told.
Some other interesting facts emerged from the hearing.
The land-use designation that was proposed to be expanded was a legacy from the time when fish camps and mobile home parks existed on the property more than a decade ago and was never revised to reflect the changes.
County staff would not/could not give panel members a direct answer when asked how much land was in the Leisure/Recreation designation there now compared to the 300 acres total involved in the development plan.
The case is not over.
The Planning Commission vote is only a recommendation to the County Commission, which will hear the case in a public hearing at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 7.