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.