Lake Kissimmee Golf Resort Plan Gets Denial

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.

Crooked Lake West Plan Is Meeting Topic

Plans for future public access and use of the Crooked Lake West property will be the topic of a public meeting June 14 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Babson Park Women’s Club on State Road 17.

Polk County and the Southwest Florida Water Management District bought the property 10 years ago after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service purchased a conservation easement on a substantial portion of the property. It is a former private cattle ranch—some grazing still occurs on the property—on both sides of U.S. 27 west of Crooked Lake and south of Lake Wales.

USDA officials plan to eventually restore extensive wetlands on the site that were drained by a network of ditches to create pasture. Planning public access to the property has been delayed, pending the county’s getting more information on the federal plan for the property to avoid any conflicts.

Although the area of the site nearer to U.S. 27 consists of extensive wetlands, sections farther west contain scrub habitat.

The property also is being used by Swiftmud officials to drill an exploratory well to test the feasibility of pumping water from the Lower Floridan Aquifer to meet future water demand as more people move to Polk County.

Some potential uses for the property include hiking, nature observation and waterfowl hunting.

May Rainfall Causes Mixed Results

It was a wetter-than-normal May in Polk County.

Rainfall ranged from a record 19.19 inches in Lakeland to 7.58 inches in Winter Haven, the 7th wettest month on record.

The rain has increased flow in the Upper Peace River to well above average for this time of year, ending the usual spring dry spell that usually temporarily curtails some local paddling.

The rain also overwhelmed some local utility systems.

Earlier this week Lakeland officials reported a 100,000-gallon spill from an manhole near Lake Hunter south of downtown Lakeland.

Hurricane season began today signaling the beginning of the normal rainy season in peninsular Florida.