Lake Ashton Expansion Revives Road Capacity Questions

Winter Haven officials are poised, after a slight delay, to approve the next major expansion of the Lake Ashton development along Thompson Nursery Road in a formal rural and now booming suburban corridor along the Winter Haven-Lake Wales boundary.

As the vote approaches, some area residents such as former County Commissioner Jean Reed are asking how this project will affect traffic on the two-lane road when up to 1,747 new homes are built and sold out there.

In an exchange of emails involving Reed and county and city staff, county officials acknowledged there are no current plans to widen Thompson Nursery Road or to make any further intersection improvements within the next five years.

The main intersections that would be affected by the expansion are Ruby Lake Drive and U.S. 27.

County officials assured everyone there is adequate traffic capacity and that isn’t expected to change within the next five years.

Discussion of the widening and realigning of Thompson Nursery Road/Eloise Loop Road has been under way for several years, but Polk County officials have never come up with the tens of millions of dollars the project would cost.

It was one of the projects money from an additional half-cent sales tax proposed in was expected to fund. Voters rejected the tax.

Supreme Court Upholds Land-Use Limits

The U.S. Supreme Court issued an important ruling last week on the issue of when are local environmental regulations restricting development not a taking.

This issue involved a Wisconsin case over restrictions on riverfront development on a designated Wild and Scenic River.

The 40-page decision was decided by a 5-3 vote. Justice Gorsuch did not participate in the case.

The takings issue has been sometimes a factor in Florida zoning cases since the passage of Bert Harris Act, which laid out standards for when government regulations might go too far.

Sometimes the fear of provoking a claim under the law has been used to temper local zoning actions.

Perhaps this Supreme Court ruling will bring the pendulum back into balance.

The core issue is when regulations constitute a government taking of private property, which the Bill of Rights of U.S. Constitution bans without proper compensation.

One of the key principles is whether the regulations deprive private property owners of all beneficial use of their property or whether instead it restricts use for a proper public purpose.

The court majority ruled there was no taking because the property owners retained development rights, just not as many as they wanted.

Swiftmud Events Coming Up

The Southwest Florida Water Management District has scheduled a couple of events of local interest.

The monthly Governing Board meeting will be held Tuesday, June 27, at 9 a.m. at its Brooksville headquarters.

Items of local interest include a consent order with Conhagen Properties in the Mulberry industrial park for permit violations and approval of an easement to allow for the construction of a new boat ramp on Saddle Creek to allow boat access to Lake Hancock.

The Polk County Commission approved the agreement Tuesday (June 20).

Polk County officials expect to have the boat ramp completed by early next year.

On July 12, Swiftmud officials will hold a public meeting at Lake Wales City Hall from 5:30 to 7 p.m. to receive comments on a proposal to set levels on Lake Easy.

As Economy Rebounds, Conservation Lands Tax Talk Revives

Commissioners in Collier County are discussing raising taxes this year to revive its local conservation land preservation program called Conservation Collier, the Naples Daily News reports.

The move comes at a time when the public is still waiting for the Florida Legislature to implement the voters’ intent in a 2014 constitutional amendment to restart the Florida Forever program to acquire and protect land for conservation to finish the job begun in the 1980s.

The lack of state conservation land funding affects local conservation land programs because it can provide matching funds for land purchases.

Polk’s conservation land funding was diverted to road expansion and parks funding , which suffered from the five-year impact fee moratorium.

There has been no talk of restoring funding.

Activists are working on a campaign to persuade legislators to approve funding for the program rather diverting the money to cover routine operating expenses or projects unrelated to conservation preservation.

The plan will be discussed in a webinar Wednesday organized by 1000 Friends of Florida, featuring former Gov. Bob Graham.

Go to 1000 Friends’ website for details.

Lakeland Plans Stormwater Fee Hike; Anyone Else?

The Lakeland City Commission on Monday will consider a 60 percent increase in its stormwater fee over the next four years to deal with the increased costs of complying with federal pollution regulations to fund pollution-control projects to aid lakes within the city.

It will be worth noting whether any other local jurisdiction with substantial lake-improvement needs—primarily Winter Haven and Polk County—will consider any increases as they consider next year’s budget.

The only tax increase that has been discussed so far for the County Commission involves plans to fund the backlog of growth-related road projects that were unfunded during the impact fee moratorium.

The Ledger reports there are plans to fund preliminary work on the widening of Lake Wilson Road and a portion of Cypress Parkway around Solivita, an upscale community adjacent to Poinciana by diverting $30 million from a fund that was supposed to provide the county’s share of the cost of building the second phase of the Bartow Northern Connector, a truck bypass around Bartow for which Polk had finally obtained funding in next year’s state budget and which escaped Gov. Rick Scott’s veto pen.

There have been no reports so far of any plans by Winter Haven officials to increase the city’s stormwater fee.


Cabinet OKs Area Conservation Easement

This week Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet agreed to spent $9.8 million to purchase a 6,071-acre conservation easement in portions of Hardee and Polk counties to protect another part of a regional habitat corridor in the Peace River Basin.

The property owned by Crews Groves contains 3,826 acres of uplands and 2,245 acres of wetlands around Old Town Creek, which flows toward Charlie Creek, a tributary of the Peace River.

The property contains cutthroat grass, gopher tortoises, pygmy fringe tree and Florida scrub lizard.

It is adjacent or near to existing public and private conservation lands, including The Nature Conservancy’s Saddle Blanket Scrub.

Rain Raises Peace; Arbuckle Parking Ban

The steady rain this month has finally raised the level and flow in the Upper Peace River to the point where it may be navigable again, according to provisional figures posted on the USGS Realtime Streamflow site.

It’s a good idea to check conditions downstream for obstructions.

In other paddling news, the County Commission is scheduled to take action Tuesday to ban parking at the Reedy/Livingston Creek bridge on Rucks Dairy Road in Lake Wales Ridge State Forest’s Arbuckle Unit.

There will continue to be legal parking nearby.