A recently filed lawsuit may resolve a long-simmering dispute that has pitted rural homeowners against developers and Polk’s developer-friendly planning practices.
The specific case involves repeated attempts to win approval for various versions of a subdivision in a still-rural section near Kathleen, an unincorporated area north of Lakeland.
It involved creating a subdivision with as much as 10 times the density of the adjacent rural homesteads.
The rationale for approval by county planners has included one of the made-up sops to developers that give them extra density credits for not developing wetlands on their property even though a lot of wetlands are undevelopable anyway and a policy that says that if there is denser development on a majority of the land within two miles of the project site, it’s okay to approve denser development here. Sometimes they also throw in the transit-supported development district overly even in areas where transit use isn’t likely to justify higher density.
The rationale for that two-mile policy and its application appears to be at the heart of the court challenge, according to a report in The Ledger.
The controversy over this development, which was first proposed in some form or another a couple of years ago, spawned a short-lived effort to draft regulations to better define compatibility to give developers some way to predict when their proposal would be approved. The effort ended when it became clear that compatibility is always a subjective judgment.
Subsequent controversial public hearings, such as the decision on whether to allow a solar farm in the middle of the Chicora community in southwest Polk, have reinforced this conclusion.
The rural solar farm disputes are now moot. The Florida Legislature has stepped in to tell local officials that solar farms can go into any rural agricultural area with a willing seller and they don’t have much say in the matter.
Legislators also passed a measure to include a property rights element in local growth plans. In land-use cases, property rights claims cut both ways, so it will be interesting to see what the effect will be and whether the rules will be written to accommodate development interests at the expense of surrounding homeowners since property rights claims have been raised in some recent development cases.