Thursday, October 02, 2008

Poinciana Residents Say No to New Development

A group of local residents is making a concerted effort to stop a development of more than 5,000 acres on ranch land located on the Polk County side of Poinciana.

'This is the right project at the wrong time in the wrong place,' Fernando Valverde, a Solivita resident and member of Concerned Poinciana Residents for Smart Growth, told The Reporter.
A West Palm Beach developer, Hatchineha Ranch, LLC, wants to build an adult community of nearly 5,000 single-family and multi-family homes on the property it owns on the west side of Lake Hatchineha. The plan also includes an 18-hole golf course and 80,000 square feet of commercial development on land that is currently a cattle ranch and hunting camp.

Valverde and his group opposes the plan because there is no infrastructure in place to support a development of that size.

Valverde made his argument before the Polk County Planning Commission on Sept. 8, saying, 'We are very concerned that the impact of the development on the Greater Poinciana area and its water needs, medical access needs, public facility needs, recreational and roadway needs have not been adequately addressed by the developer in his proposed plans.'

The citizens group presented petitions signed by more than 375 Poinciana residents opposing the development to the commission. In response, the commission voted 4-3 to recommend against the project. The Polk County commissioners, who have the final say on whether the development will be approved or denied, take up the matter at their Oct. 22 meeting in Bartow.
'Everybody sees the infrastructure problems,' County Commissioner Jean Reed told The Reporter last week.

In an article printed in The Ledger on Sept. 9, reporter Tom Palmer noted that traffic, utilities and the environment were primary concerns expressed by the planning commission in recommending against approval of the project.

Palmer pointed out that at buildout in 2021, the development would increase traffic in the area by nearly 20,000 vehicles a day on a two-lane road network, and that the site includes more than 2,100 acres of wetlands that are adjacent to the Allen D. Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve.
Two years ago, Reed had voted with the majority of the county commissioners in turning down a much smaller development project on the same property. Since then, the land has changed hands and the current owners have brought forth the proposal that, because of its size and designation as a development of regional impact, would require changes in the county's land-use plan.

Reed would not predict how she will vote on the new proposal, saying she will keep an open mind.

'I was really interested to see where the planning commission would go with it,' she said, adding that she wants to hear what the developer has to say in regard to the infrastructure questions.
Among the promises made by Hatchineha Ranch is an improvement of road intersections, along with the widening of Hatchineha Road as the project progresses.

Palmer also pointed out in his article that development plans include setting aside 72 percent of the site for habitat preservation.

Despite the lack of a recommendation for approval from the planning commission, Bob Whidden — whose company, R.J. Whidden, is the land planner for the developer — is confident the project will get final approval.

'This project will stand on its own merits,' he told The Reporter in a telephone interview.
Whidden said most of the complaints he heard from local residents have been about services they haven't been able to get, but will be available to those living in the new development if it goes into place.

When Poinciana was first conceived in 1969, he said, it was developed in a remote area and home buyers were able to purchase houses at low prices because of that. Now they are clamoring for services.

'They have a lack of facilities that they don't have because they bought at low prices,' Whidden said, adding that churches, schools, parks and commercial amenities raise the cost of developments and will be part of the Hatchineha Lakes project.

Poinciana, a sprawling community of more than 80,000 residents spread over two counties, has been struggling with traffic issues for several years as it has become one of the fastest growing developments in the area. That growth has been somewhat stunted by the current real-estate crisis. Still, the limited number of roads in and out of the community has been a major concern of residents and developers alike, because it is a bedroom community with a high number of commuters who travel to jobs outside of Poinciana.

One of the main arguments community activists have used in their efforts to get a hospital constructed in Poinciana has been the difficulty emergency vehicles have getting to and from the villages within Poinciana during peak traffic times because of congestion. Poinciana is made up of 10 villages.

Neighborhoods on the Polk County side remain without many commercial outlets, although as Poinciana has grown in population it has attracted a growing number of stores, banks and other commercial venues. Courtesy The Reporter 10/1/08.