#Just Saying

Mitch Allen

Residents fight 6,000 units to be developed on Lake Wales Ridge

Allen said he’s also concerned that the development will cut off flood protection for the surrounding area.
In his Facebook post, Allen said the project is mostly floodplains to the north, acting as flood protection and
helping to ‘filter and recharge our groundwater source.’
‘If we don’t protect these lands and waters for our children and grandchildren, then who will?’ Allen wrote.
Allen thinks that even people who live outside the county should be able to speak against the project at
Wednesday’s meeting because ‘we all drink water.’
Allen is concerned that the development will open new sinkholes in the area, but Bennett said that is not
something staff considered when forming their recommendation.
‘The whole state of Florida is prone to sinkholes so that’s not something that we specifically look for in our
review,’ Bennett said. ‘That’s not anything that we really review honestly because I mean you hear sinkholes
popping up all over the news.’
As with most development issues, Allen and other residents are concerned about the compatibility of the project
with surrounding neighborhoods. The project calls for reduced setbacks and a higher density than the other
neighborhoods, which is why Allen wants to see the project reduced or at least redesigned before approval.
‘So there’s a lot of real compatibility issues and then it’s not going to help the state overall plan to fix the water
problem,’ Allen said.
Potential threat to endangered species Raeganne Eastman, a recruiter and environmental activist, is primarily
concerned with the development’s potential adverse effect on endangered plant and animal species that make
their home in the Lake Wales Ridge.
Eastman, 52, said the development isn’t worth degrading the Lake Wales Ridge, which has been around for
millions of years.
‘How long are those 6,000 units going to last? 50 years, 100 years? I mean, for real,’ Eastman said. ‘It’s not like
it’s 50 houses. It’s 6,000.’
According to past Ledger reporting, the Lake Wales Ridge is like the Galapagos Islands: Plants and animals that
evolved there ‘are found nowhere else on the planet.’ Allen called the area the county’s first beachfront property.
Many of the plants and animals in the area are endangered and some are nearly extinct. According to past
reporting, in 2009 85% of the ridge had been ‘plowed under to make way for human settlement.’
Eastman said if the development went forward, it would be helpful if a portion of the land was set aside for
animal habitat preservation. She added that while ‘ultimately, my goal is to stop it,’ just a chance to save
potentially endangered animals would be an improvement.
‘If the development occurs, we just, we need a little time for the public’s sake to assist with rehoming some of
the endangered plants and species. That’s my goal, really,’ Eastman said.
Eastman pointed to a variety of rare species that have been discovered in the area, such as the blue Calamintha
bee. She said her and Allen’s ‘ultimate dream’ would be to have the property purchased by a private
conservation fund.
Bennett said there are laws that require the property owners do a walkthrough of the land to identify any
potentially endangered species that would be impacted by development. Bennett said if vulnerable species are
located, property owners can either protect the species or safely remove them from the land

According to 2015 county documents, the developer has to look for the following species when conducting
their survey: gopher tortoises, Sherman’s fox squirrels, Florida Sandhill cranes, Southeastern American
Kestrels, bald eagles and imperiled wading birds.
Allen and Eastman will speak against the project at Wednesday’s meeting, and they expect other residents to
join them. The project is the next in a series of controversial developments that have been embattled at the
planning and zoning stage, such as the controversial Carillon Lakes approval and surprise Morgan Creek denial,
both in Lakeland.
‘If we’re to save our state, our leaders need to realize we have to change the way we build,’ Allen said.
A site visit photo from one of the three main plots up for consideration at Wednesday’s Polk County
Planning Commission meeting. Photo provided by Polk County
Copyright © 2021 Lakeland Ledger – All rights reserved. Restricted use only. 4/4/2021
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