Florida Wildlife Corridor Protection, Growth Management Figures Into Hatchineha Road School Discussion

The proposal to redevelop Creek Ranch in the eastern reaches of Hatchineha Road for a new school complex, complete with athletic fields that could reduce the rural area’s dark sky atmosphere and its place along the Florida Wildlife Corridor was a recurring theme during a public meeting Thursday night at the FFA Conference Center.

The meeting, which was attended by a standing room only collection of area residents and Polk County School Superintendent Frederick Heid, focused on a proposal to locate a new high school and perhaps other schools in this relatively rural area of northeastern Polk County to deal with overcrowding at the three existing high schools farther west as a result of exploding development in urban areas.

There was no dispute about the need to reduce school overcrowding, but residents told Heid that school officials should look at more creative solutions to deal with the problem rather than pushing deeper into the countryside.

That included considering sites that were more compatible with existing land-use patterns and more fiscally responsible. They cited one proposal that would have asked taxpayers to pay eight times the per-acre price that a developer recently paid for one site proposed for a school site in the middle of the corridor.

This part of the county contains section of the Lake Wales Ridge, the home for many species found nowhere else on the planet, and the headwaters of the Everglades, one of the most important wetlands expanses in the world.

Additionally, the corridor has been documented to have been used by Florida panthers and Florida black bears, wide-ranging creatures whose survival requires large tracts of land.

Heid said he would consider the new information, but explained the Polk County School Board needs to make a decision by next year to continue attempts to stay ahead of predicted population growth that includes the growth of demand for classrooms.

He said, in response by audience members to simply ask city and county commissioners to simply cap building permits, that current more permissive state growth laws now allow school officials to consider capacity in adjacent school attendance zones before even considering a growth moratorium.




Posted in Group Conservation Issues.