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Winter Haven Planning Commission gives nod to subdivision with 553 homes

Winter Haven's Planning Commission approved the rezoning for a new 553-home subdivision on these former citrus groves east of County Road 653.
Winter Haven's Planning Commission approved the rezoning for a new 553-home subdivision on these former citrus groves east of County Road 653. (Hunter Engineering)

Nearly 200 acres of citrus grove and pastureland in Winter Haven would become a residential community under a plan by developer H.R. Baxter & Sons Enterprises for 553 single-family homes, continuing a decades long trend of shrinking citrus grove land.

The developer is seeking to rezone the 191-acre property from its current Single Family Residential — Small Lot (R-2) and Conservation, which has a maximum density of 824 homes. The city’s Planning Commission recommended approval to Planned Unit Development (PUD) zoning, which reduces the number of homes and the lot sizes allowed and gives planners the flexibility to add conditions and require expanded open space.

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“Smaller lots are in demand,” City planner Sean Martin told the planning commission, explaining that the R-2 zoning would have required minimum lot sizes of 6,000 square feet, while the PUD is minimum 4,250 square feet. “The idea with the smaller lot sizes, is they can sell them for a lower price point,” he told GrowthSpotter. “They believe that’s where the market is for the lot size. And that allows us to put in more open space.”

The PUD complies with the existing Low Density Residential future land use.
The PUD complies with the existing Low Density Residential future land use. (City of Winter Haven)

Martin also emphasized the city’s ability to place conditions on the build. Those include requiring trees on every lot, sidewalks on both sides of the internal streets and along C.R. 653 and Old Bartow Lake Wales Road.

The last condition requires the developer to work with the city on water storage in the 100-year flood plain to recharge the aquifer, Martin said. “There is a big environmental advantage to doing this PUD.”

Growing demand for single-family homes especially in the Orlando area has been eating up citrus grove acreage. Polk County lost the most acreage of any county in Florida in the past year, according to the annual end-of-season report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The county is down 2,590 acres in the past year.

The Winter Park developer wants to reduce the density over 25% by eliminating townhomes from the neighborhood.

The Winter Haven property made up of 4 parcels first was planned in a defined use in early 2000s but a site plan was never approved or permitted.

Civil Engineer Bryan Hunter of Hunter Engineering said the Baxters are in discussions with at least homebuilder. It’s expected the community will have multiple builders. It would be developed in three phases, with Phases 1 and 2 west of the Peace Creek Drainage Canal and Phase 3 to the east.

The site plan is consistent with the Residential Low Density future land use, Martin said. A planned unit density of 3.35 is at the low end of the allowed 2-10 density in that future land use plan. Two open space areas are planned — 3.2 acres in one location, 2 acres in another.

The proposal goes before the Winter Haven City Commission January 11 and 25.

Local homeowners pointed out that Chain of Lakes Elementary School is at capacity. Polk county school board owns 40 acres directly across from this site and has funding in its 5-year work program for development of an elementary school, Hunter said.

County Road 653 also will need improvements, Hunter said. “We will have to conduct a traffic study — a large-scale traffic study at the time of site-plan approval … We have requested a meeting with the county to discuss improvements along 653.” “It’s very early in the process in our design — it’s my understanding the road will need widening.”

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at Newsroom@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-6261. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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