Polk County and Auburndale continue to get requests to build enormous warehouses in an area meant for research and development, local businesses and jobs that will keep Florida Polytech graduates from moving away.
National real estate developer Lincoln Property Company (LPC) is the third company to try to add huge warehouses at Polk Parkway and Pace Road in what is now an area called the Central Florida Innovation District. LPC, based in Dallas, is asking Polk County for a land-used change to allow for distribution and light manufacturing on 75.7 acres near Auburndale. LPC is proposing to build 1.3 million square feet consisting of 4 class-A tilt-wall construction warehouses with 1,016 vehicle parking and 173 trailer storage.
“That’s huge,” county planner Chanda Bennett told GrowthSpotter. One proposed building would have cross docks and three are proposed to be single docks. Bennett said single docks are much more appealing because offices can be created in front, making it a more attractive space, and fewer trucks would be going in and out.
“Is it a great location for trucking? Absolutely,” Julie Fife, Auburndale director of community development, told GrowthSpotter. Near Interstate 4 and Polk Parkway, “I understand the appeal, but does it meet the Innovation district standards? I don’t think so,” she said.
The Central Florida Innovation District encompasses roughly 3,000 acres out of 2,000 square miles of Polk and is aimed at providing a variety of opportunities to diversify the economy. The district – in the I-4 Corridor between Orlando and Tampa – was created to leverage major state investments and build upon the cutting-edge technology being developed at Florida Polytechnic University and tested at SunTrax, the Florida Department of Transportation’s 475-acre testing facility along the Polk Parkway.
The Central Florida Innovation District includes portions of Auburndale, Lakeland and unincorporated areas of Polk County. The district spans from I-4 and State Road 33, encompassing the university campus, and moves west toward Auburndale Teco Trail and then south toward Braddock Road, south of SunTrax.
“It’s really designed to be a place that fosters new ideas,” Fife said. “It’s really hard when you have these really large warehouses when there is one tenant or just for trucking. It doesn’t really tie into SunTrax. It doesn’t tie into Florida Polly.”
The innovation district is meant to bring in high-wage jobs and make a more economic impact with more tax dollars, Fife said. “The infrastructure placed off Pace Road was intended to be used for more than trucking.”
Neither of the cities nor the county has included the Innovation District in zoning or land-use policy but use it as a guide, Bennett said. The concept or bubble plan are merely conceptual, Fife said. The cities and county continue to follow their own zoning and land-use plans.
LPC’s proposed development is in the county’s Interchange Activity land use, which calls for a public hearing and Level 4 Review for anything over 250,000 square feet. Auburndale doesn’t allow warehouses larger than 500,000 square feet in that area, Fife said.
As for manufacturing inside the warehouses, Bennett said, “if there is assembly going on in the building and no one can see it” it’s ok. “But if they wanted to do hard-core manufacturing, it’s not allowed.”
LPC’s David Persons declined to comment. It is unclear from the site plan the company submitted to the Polk County Development Review Committee for a pre-application meeting this week what kind of manufacturing or trucking would take place on the property. The land currently is owned by Wellington-based Knight PC Holdings LLC. Bennett said the plan looks like LPC is building spec warehouses. The conceptual site plan was created by Nelson planning and design, based in Minneapolis. Orlando-based Boyd Civil Engineering is working with LPC.
If Polk County planners were to approve the request, it would still require a Level 4 review, Bennett said. That means a hearing would need to be held by the Board of County Commissioners. If it gets to that, Fife said, “we would write a letter of opposition if it comes in that size.”
Fife: The area is “like a gateway into the city so it’s really about what you want that gateway to look like.”
Auburndale officials’ opinions matter because the city would supply utilities to the project. To do that, LPC would have to file a voluntary application for annexation, which the city could reject while still supplying utilities, Fife said.
“In the past, there were some other developers that came in – for a million square feet – the city did not approve of that,” Fife said. “If it is presented before the board, we would oppose it.”