Winter Haven City Commissioners have given tentative approval, despite neighborhood opposition, for a 69-acre retirement community on land that was annexed into the city last fall.
The request, which involves a large scale land use amendment, was sent to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for review. It's expected to go back to commissioners for a final vote in March.
The property owner, Paul W. Schulz, owns the Outback Oasis event center and sought annexation into the city after failing to win approval from the Polk County in 2016 for a conditional use permit to allow nighttime events at the facility. The property also includes a former city landfill, which Schulz restored and plans to use as open space for the "aging in place" retirement community.
Schulz was seeking approvals for 500 age-restricted dwelling units plus a Neighborhood Activity Center that would include the event center, a 5-story Assisted Living Facility (ALF) and some ancillary commercial uses.
He agreed to reduce the density by 20 percent-- to 400 units and 40,000 square feet of commercial uses -- following a contentious Planning Commission meeting, during which 11 of 13 speakers opposed the project. He also agreed to limit the ALF height to 3 stories and to donate right of way for a future extension of Sage Road, which would be built on his property.
Winter Haven staff and the city's Planning Commission recommended approving the project with the density reductions.
Landscape architect Kent Foreman represented Schulz in the two-hour city commission hearing. He said Schulz would agree to construct a banquet hall at Outback Oasis for larger events and would agree to a condition that no amplified sound would be permitted outdoors.
"We want everyone to understand that we have listened to the concerns and tried out best to compromise to address those concerns," he said.
Jordan Engineering's Ray Stangle testified about the future Sage Road extension and stormwater management requirements. Mohammed Abudulla, principal with Traffic & Mobility Consultants, said the number of vehicle trips generated by the project would be significantly lower than a similar number of standard residential units.
Attorney Doug Lockwood also represents Schulz and spoke on his behalf.
The Schulz family founded Florida Chemical, which sells citrus oil, in 1942. Paul Schulz served as president and CEO for 21 years before retiring in 2006 to pursue a career as an artist. He opened Outback Oasis five years ago. It currently has a maximum capacity of 250 guests and must cease operations at 8 p.m.