Owners of one of the largest undeveloped tracts on Polk County's U.S. 27 corridor want the county to allow a change in use to meet the insatiable demand for more warehouse distribution space.
Albertson International filed a notice of proposed change to the Four Corners DRI as well as a Comprehensive Plan Amendment (CPA) and revision to the county's Land Development Code -- all to add 1.5 million square feet of distribution warehouse space on 113 acres that were slated to be a regional shopping center.
The company and its owners are heirs of grocery store magnate Joe Albertson. Atlanta-based developer Seefried Industrial Properties is the buyer/developer.
The land, dubbed the Four Corners Town Center, is at the southeast quadrant of U.S. 27 and Ronald Reagan Parkway (C.R. 54). It's located north of the I-4 interchange and just across the highway from the Amazon fulfillment center and highly successful Park 27 business park, which is adding another 600,000 square feet of flex industrial space now.
Planning consultant Centrecorp prepared the justification report, noting that distribution warehouses would provide a greater number of high-paying jobs than retail uses.
"The proposed amendment achieves the objectives of the Economic Element by generating local job growth and diversifying the job market in the northwest quadrant of the county," they wrote. "Warehouse/distribution facilities have demonstrated a significant market demand in this location where other options are limited, if available at all. There are few remaining sites that are available and designated Business Park Center for the proposed use; not only from a locational perspective but also as an economically viable solution to meet current market demands."
The Albertson cases go to Polk's Development Review Committee next week, but the proposed changes are almost certain to run up against stiff opposition from nearby residents and from county planning staff.
Principal Planner Erik Peterson told GrowthSpotter on Tuesday this is the first time he'd received opposition letters before the application had even been filed.
Peterson said the planning staff is uncomfortable with the idea of distribution activity on land that was intended to be a commercial hub serving the surrounding neighborhoods.
"Growth is coming so quickly, it's almost like 2005 again," he said. "These neighborhoods are building out in two years, and all those houses will be filled with people who will need places to shop. There will be commercial demand, and if you replace retail uses with non-retail uses, you upset the balance."
The county has a special area plan in Four Corners that specifically prohibits warehouse distribution east of U.S. 27. The proposed text amendment would restrict that use north of Reagan Parkway.
"This area had a vision and a plan that was developed with input from the property owners," Peterson said. "Now we're talking about doing a complete 180."
A conceptual plan by Kimley-Horn shows a 150-foot buffer between the proposed business park and the Buckingham Trace neighborhood to the east. Centrecorp also wrote in its application that multifamily development could be permitted as a conditional use in areas that abut residential areas to provide a better transition.
Peterson acknowledges that current homebuilding activity on the U.S. 27 corridor has proven residential can co-exist with industrial uses.
"In those cases, the warehouses were there before the residential," Peterson said. "Here, you've got established neighborhoods, so it's a different situation."
The CPA seeks to change the designated land use, RACX (regional activity center), to BPCX (Business Park Center.) However, the owners would keep entitlements for up to 452,000 square feet of commercial uses within the business park. Another 152,000 square feet of commercial uses could be developed on the corner parcel that would maintain its RACX designation.
"That's a positive," Peterson said. "We discussed that during the pre-application meeting. We encouraged them to have a row of retail at the front."
The plan also completely eliminates the proposed Loma Del Sol Drive extension, which was intended to provide connectivity between the retail village center and the neighborhoods across Reagan Parkway and to Buckingham Drive.
Peterson said the planning staff hasn't even filed written comments yet for the CPA, etc. He doesn't expect an up or down vote during the July 6 meeting, and the final staff recommendation probably won't come out until late August.
"Our staff has a reputation of being pro-growth," he said. "Right now we've got to take in a lot of information. We've got some legwork to do. I'm going to go out walk the site myself and look at the proximity to the neighborhood."