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Wal Mart Stores : Polk planning panel backs proposed US 27 warehouse near Davenport despite opposition

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10/06/2017 | 12:15pm CET

A massive warehouse proposed for the east side of U.S. 27 near Davenport is closer to reality after the Polk County Planning Commission voted Wednesday to recommend changes to development guidelines that now forbid it.

After about three hours of presentations and discussion, the board voted 4-2 in favor of the bid for revisions to the county comprehensive plan sought by owners of the 98-acre property north of Dunson Road and south of Ronald Reagan Parkway. That vote went against the recommendation of the county planning staff.

The owners have proposed building a 1.5 million-square-foot distribution center.

The request for revisions to the comprehensive plan and land-development codes now goes to the Polk County Commission for final approval. The commission will hold a first hearing on the matter Nov. 7 and will vote on the proposal Dec. 19

County regulations now restrict development of the site to commercial retail. The countys comprehensive plan, last revised in 2005, limits warehouses to the west side of U.S. 27, where Amazon and Walmart have built distribution centers in recent years.

The county would have to change 11 areas of its development guidelines to make construction of the warehouse possible.

About 15 residents of neighborhoods near the property spoke during Wednesdays meeting, with all but one of them urging rejection of the proposed warehouse. Most of the residents arrived at 9 a.m. for the meeting and waited until almost noon for the panel to get through other items on the agenda.

They waited another three hours to speak, following an overview by a county staffer, a lunch break and an hourlong presentation from representatives of the property owners and developer.

Chanda Bennett, a comprehensive planning administrator for Polk County, gave a presentation outlining why the staff recommended denial of the revisions to county development guidelines. She said the staff found the warehouse proposal incompatible with the general character of the area.

Tim Campbell, a Lakeland lawyer representing the property owners and the proposed developer, Atlanta-based Seefried Industrial Properties, led the argument in favor of the revisions. Campbell used written reports and illustrations to make his case that a distribution center is the best use for the site, now a vacant field dotted with pine trees.

Campbell said the owners, Albertson International and Centrecorp Inc., have tried for years with no success to find a retail buyer for the property. He said the owners have contributed millions of dollars to the county through impact fees and other payments, yielding road improvements in the area while they have waited to develop the site.

Campbell was joined by Paul Seefried, the warehouse companys vice president of development, and traffic and land-use specialists from Kimley-Horn, a Lakeland engineering firm. They argued that the only major commercial demand in the area is for warehouses but said there is no more room for them on the west side of U.S. 27.

Campbell showed steps the developer plans to take to create buffers around the perimeter of the site and reduce the aural and visual impact on neighbors. He also shared photos showing homes in close proximity to existing distribution centers on the west side of U.S. 27.

Campbell said the developers are willing to cover the cost of creating a connector road between Ronald Reagan Parkway and Dunson Road on the eastern edge of the property.

Much of the discussion centered on the amount of traffic the warehouse would generate.

James Taylor, a traffic engineer with Kimley-Horn, presented assessments showing the traffic would be only about one-fourth of what a major retail center would create about 10,500 a day compared with 45,000 for a shopping center.

Taylor said the warehouse would even generate less overnight traffic than a retail center. He acknowledged the warehouse would have a higher percentage of heavy truck traffic.

The warehouse proposal drew an endorsement from Marc Reicher, senior vice president of Rida, developer of ChampionsGate, a sprawling mix of residences, retail and golf resorts a few miles to the east, most of it in Osceola County.

During the open comment period, Gwen Torgerson, said: I live in ChampionsGate, and I guarantee you Rida would never let a warehouse be built next to ChampionsGate.

Bennett said the county had received 66 phone calls, 10 emails and four letters from residents opposed to the warehouse plan, along with two letters supporting it.

After waiting for nearly six hours, opponents of the project finally got their chance to speak. Planning Commission Chairman Rennie Heath reminded them in advance of a three-minute time limit for comments, and he warned against reiterating points made by other speakers.

The opponents included Kate Bernard, who has lived for 21 years in Loma Del Sol, just across the Ronald Reagan Parkway from the site. Bernard presented commissioners with petitions signed by residents of nine subdivisions near the property.

In no way, shape or form did we ever think a warehouse would be next to our houses, Bernard said.

Other residents said they feared their property values would decline if a distribution center is built near them.

One woman said, If these developers think this is such a good idea, they should come and buy a house in Loma Del Sol so they can walk to work.

Stephanie Patterson, who lives in the Dunson Hills neighborhood, was among several who said traffic is already a problem on Dunson Road. The entrance to Ridge Global Studies Academy lies along that road, just east of the warehouse property.

Im not a developer, Patterson told the commission. I dont have big money. I dont have the same power these developers do. You guys are our voice. We look to you to represent us.

Opposition also came from owners of a 17-acre parcel at U.S. 27 and Ronald Reagan Parkway, bordered to the east and south by the warehouse property.

Jim Sanders, the propertys owner, said he and developer Rashid Khatib are negotiating with grocery companies interested in the site. Sanders said construction of a distribution center would pretty much wipe out what we are looking to do there.

During discussions before the vote, Planning Commission member Robert Stanz praised the planning staff for its conclusion that the proposal is incompatible with the countys vision for the area. When Stanz signaled his opposition to the warehouse, some in the audience applauded.

This is not a carnival, Heath admonished the audience. We dont need to clap.

Stanz made a motion to deny the application, and it failed by a vote of 4-2.

The commission then held a pair of votes on recommending approval of the proposed changes to the comprehensive plan and the land-use code. Both passed 4-2.

Those voting for the proposal were Susan Brewer, Kevin Updike, Reggie Baxter and Heath. Matt Cain joined Stanz in voting no.

Commissioner Becky Troutman was present in the morning but did not return after the lunch break.

(c) 2017 Arab Finance Brokerage Company All rights reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info)., source Middle East & North African Newspapers

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