Pulte Homes’ attempt to add hundreds of new homes to an area Haines City wants to save for future industry failed last week after several iterations and last-minute attempts by the builder to appease everyone involved.
Haines City Commission denied Pulte’s request 4-1 for a large-scale land-use change that would have allowed it to build a single-family home community by reclassifying 113 acres of vacant land along Bannon Island Road and State Road 544 to Employment/Office (E/O) and Low Density Residential (LDR) from County Agriculture/Rural Residential (A/RR).
The country’s third-largest home builder made multiple updates to its plan after speaking with city planners, commissioners, and residents – adding concessions as late as Thursday before the evening Commission meeting. Pulte initially proposed 365 houses with 52-, 60- and 70-foot lots, along with a 38,000-square-foot office/employment center on land owned by Bittle Family Trust and Schippers Haines City LLC. Pulte updated its plan last week with an agreement to put 70-foot lots on the western side of the property to reduce the footprint and cut the number of lots by about 10, Bart Allen of Peterson & Myers law firm told commissioners on behalf of Pulte.
Haines City planning staff recommended denial and the Planning Commission voted against the proposal in July. The Haines City Economic Development Board sent a letter opposing Pulte’s request. EDC President Cyndi Jantomaso also spoke against the proposal at the Aug. 4 meeting.
“We have had it in the marketing pipeline” as earmarked for industry, Jantomaso said. The EDC “does not believe it is an ideal location for the homes or the office/professional site.”
Allen reminded commissioners that the land “is not industrial today and has never been industrial.”
Mayor Anne Huffman and several residents expressed concerns about traffic and the need to build, extend and expand roads before building more homes. Allen said Pulte could and would help the city with future transportation plans in the area.
Vice Mayor Jayne Hall was the only commissioner to vote to approve the land-use change, saying of Pulte: “They’ve done their due diligence in the way they’ve designed it. Something is going to sometime butt up to industrial. I think they’ve done the right thing. They’ve got a road, they’ve got office, they’ve got an easement.”
This was Pulte’s second attempt to get approval for residential building. Almost a year ago – in September, the builder asked for the land to be rezoned Low-Density Residential. Haines City planning staff is recommended approval at that time. The Planning Commission denied the request, and Pulte pulled the proposal before it went to the City Commission.
Prior to last week’s meeting, Max Pearlman, vice president of land acquisition for Pulte, told GrowthSpotter Pulte was moving forward this time because of commitments and timelines with the landowners “who have stuck with us” and “what will be will be.” He declined to share the timelines.
“We certainly understand the need for a diverse mix of uses in the community,” Pearlman said. “But as far as industrial, we think there is a lot of industrial land for a buyer that will come in today. We just see a large need for residential units in Haines City as it continues to go through a lot of growth.”
The property owners want to sell their property they don’t have any industrial offers, Pearlman said.
Knowing what will satisfy Haines City officials and planners has been difficult, Pearlman said. He blames that on the rapid growth. “I think they are doing their best to deal with a lot of competing interests. I think it’s difficult to communicate to the development community what is it they actually want … There are probably a lot of factors they are dealing with — some we know about and some we don’t. I don’t think it’s any ill will.”
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