Polk Rural Residents Once Again Survive Urban Invasion, But For How Long?

For the third time in the past couple of years, the Polk County Commission voted Tuesday to deny a proposal to bring urban residential density to edge of an enclave of rural homesteads in the Kathleen area north of Lakeland.

The proposals have been part of continued efforts by an investor who bought a piece of property that is predominantly wetlands to achieve some kind of return on the money he spent.

The vote was 4-1, with Commission Chairman George Lindsey dissenting.

Lindsey, a Lakeland developer, argued there were similar instances around the county where dense development has occurred near rural-density development with no ill effects, though some of the examples don’t exactly match this situation.

He said he wants to schedule a work session to look at the county’s development regulations to come up with a way to provide prospective developers with more predictable outcomes when they apply for project approvals.

I have some thoughts on this idea.

First, the predictability equation cuts both ways.

People who invest their hard-earned money to buy a home should have some assurance that the development density on adjacent undeveloped land will not be suddenly changed into something that they find incompatible.

The idea expressed by the applicant’s representative at Tuesday’s hearing that all kinds of residential development are compatible is a matter of dispute.

In decades of covering zoning cases, I have seen the owners of large houses oppose an adjacent development of smaller houses, owners of conventional homes oppose a mobile home development and mobile home owners oppose a proposed recreational vehicle park next door.

Second, a certain amount of the lack of predictability has its roots in the provisions in the county’s development code that are intended to accommodate developers by creating all kinds of loopholes.

Yes, the land-use map designates one home per five acres, but there are wetlands on the site so the developer can get density bonus points for not developing the wetlands (even though its restricted anyway) which gives him additional density. But wait, if we draw a line within two miles of the site and at least 60 percent of the land that is not wetlands or something (suddenly the wetlands don’t count as a benefit any more) then the site qualifies for a suburban planned development. Also, it may lie in a transit-supported development overlay area, which may allow additional density.

The fact is that the system in Polk County is mostly rigged in the developer’s favor.

Any move toward more “predictability” could be bad news for rural homeowners or anyone else who’s in the path of someone else’s development scheme.