Polk Proposes New Development Review Scheme That Will Bypass Public Involvement, Add Higher Voluntary Standards
Posted on October 29, 2023 by Tom Palmer
Polk County planners, at the encouragement of the County Commission, have come up with a cure for long Planning Commission agendas.
Their prescription, if approved by the Planning Commission and the County Commission, will mean that in some cases developers will no longer be plagued by having to sit through hearings and having to listen to complaints by the pesky public about the demerits of their projects.
Instead, all they will need is a favorable staff review that will occur without public notice.
But in exchange developers will have to add more sidewalks and park space, not cram their units so close together and plant some trees along the edge of the subdivision if their project is twice as dense as the one next door.
The effort, called prescriptive planned developments, will undergo its first public hearing Nov. 1 before the Polk County Planning Commission.
This approach raises some questions.
First is that planned developments or planned-unit developments as they were called when the idea emerged 40 years or so ago around here, was an attempt to push the envelope of the restrictions in existing zoning regulations by agreeing to additional conditions, This proposal expands that idea.
It will apply only in mapped Urban Growth and Utility Enclave areas, though the boundaries of those areas have a way of expanding unexpectedly or as the staff report puts it “Much of the UGAs and UEAs are not completely formed.”
Although it is billed as an “objective” approach to development review, it is based on the assumption that if the area is mapped within something called the Transit-Supportive Development Area– most of the areas along main thoroughfares outside cities—the development site has adequate infrastructure– at least when it comes to water and sewer service– for the addition of subdivisions containing up to 15 new homes per acre.
The ordinance is carefully worded to omit mention of other infrastructure deficits. If the stealth approval of new residential subdivisions means your kids are going to more overcrowded schools or your daily commute takes longer, this new ordinance is technically not to blame.
That’s because the Florida Legislature in cooperation with the development industry and the last two development-friendly governors did away with the state growth law requiring roads and schools to keep up with growth years ago and limited citizens’ rights to complain about it in court.
This is definitely part of a growing trend to grease the skids for development reviews by county planners whose staff reports—at least in Polk County– typically go out of their way to tout the advantages of any development that comes before them anyway.
Because of some restrictions imposed this year by the developer-controlled Florida Legislature, this ordinance will be available only to developers who voluntarily agree to abide by it. It also probably will be limited to developers who can justify their business decisions by being able to market to higher-end homebuyers willing to pay for the additional amenities. Affordable housing will occur elsewhere.
The proposed ordinance will expire at the end of 2024 unless the County Commission is happy with how it worked out.
In the meantime, you might want to watch and see how this works out in your neighborhood.
If you are unhappy, show up in Bartow and tell commissioners what you think.