Polk County's Planning Commission voted 4-3 this week to recommend denial of a land use amendment that was considered the first step for developing the proposed Lost Oak golf resort on the south shore of Lake Kissimmee.
The prospective buyer and developer was seeking a 300-acre expansion of the Leisure/Recreation (LR) land use on the 2,909-acre site, which is just north of S.R. 60, about five miles from Westgate's River Ranch resort.
Kimley-Horn planner Mark Wilson said the parcel already had several hundred acres of L/R land on what was a long-time RV park and fish camp. Wilson said the developer is planning a resort similar to Polk County's wildly successful Streamsong Resort -- but less intense.
"What we're looking to do is just have forty cabins, a clubhouse and a little fishing area," Wilson said. "Only 26 percent of the land would be developed, and that includes the three golf courses."
He said the developer has already engaged Nicklaus Design to design three distinct courses that would serve the private resort.
"Our client has been successful in the past developing golf resorts," Wilson said. "The golfers who take these trips want to get away and play on courses that aren't surrounded by housing development. It's really golf in its purest form. It's what Streamsong tries to market, and that's similar here."
Polk County's planning staff had recommended approval of the map amendement. The developer would still need to win approval of a conditional use permit for the resort's water and sewer treatment plants.
Miller said the developer could build the golf courses on the existing Agricultural/Rural Residential land use. But short-term rental is prohibited in A/RR zones, so expanding the L/R land use allows construction of cabins on the golf course instead of concentrating them on the site of the former fish camp.
"If we didn’t get the land use today, we could still do the project. We’d just have to tighten the community," Miller said. "This just gives us more flexibility to space our units out there now."
But the majority of planning commissioners were skeptical of the plan.
"I'm trying to figure out how 40 cabins would ever support three golf courses," commissioner Reggie Baxter said. "Would the applicant guarantee they won't ask for more units in the future?"
And environmentalists spoke out against the project and its potential damage to the lake and sensitive Kissimmee River Valley. They emphasized the history of the property, which was siezed through eminent domain by the South Florida Water Magement District only to be sold a few years later.
"The state bought this property to protect it," rancher and former owner Cary Lightsey said. "There were two fish camps there, and they removed them because they felt like they were going to pollute the lake."
Charles Lee, director of advocacy for Audubon Florida, said that allowing development of golf courses would be regressive from an environmental standpoint because of the industry's use of pesticides and fertilizers.
Brad Weihrauch, president of the Kissimmee River Valley Sportsman Association, agreed, saying the project would add pollutants that would flow downstream, into Lake Okeechobee and the Florida Everglades.
"I'm against any development on this particular piece of property," he said.
The Central Florida Regional Planning Council and an attorney for Avon Park Air Force Range also weighed in, noting concerns that the resort would be located in an area designated for low-altitude fighter pilot training.
Miller said the county could easily restrict the density of the project by limiting the capacity of the water and sewer plants.
"And we're OK with that," he said. "We understand the significance of this land, and we're paying homage to it."
The case is scheduled to go to the Board of County Commissioners on Aug. 7.