Locals Say NIMBY to Planned Suburban Development near Masterpiece Road in Lake Wales
by James Coulter
Near Masterpiece and Timberlane Road lies nearly 20 acres of virgin natural Florida scrubland, home to eagles and other native species. That land may soon become home to new suburban housing. However, such a proposal has many locals proclaiming, “Not in my backyard!”
An appeal has been made to the approval of a request for suburban planned development (SPD) for a 45-lot single-family home subdivision. The project has been proposed on more than 20 acres of land outside of Lake Wales, north of Masterpiece Road and west of Timberlane Road off of County Road 17.
The request had been approved unanimously through a 7-0 vote by the Planning Commission during a public hearing on Nov. 3, 2021. However, Lori Cunningham a resident Lake Wales and Polk County School Board Member, has appealed the decision.
Her appeal will be heard during their County Commission meeting on Tues., Dec. 14. The Board can either approve the application and companion development order, deny the application, or approve as amended by the board.
“We want to make sure the request for rezoning is consistent with the comprehensive plan and land development code, we want to make sure it is compatible with neighboring properties, we want to make sure that the environmental limitations are noted and adhered to, and we want to make sure that the infrastructure is ready for the kind of density that is proposed with safety or traffic issues,” explained Jacque Goldberg, a local resident who is assisting and coordinating with Commissioner Cunningham.
Many local residents, especially those living near Masterpiece and Timberlane Road, have become vocal against the SPD. Many do not consider the proposed project to be a good fit to their community, especially with issues involving traffic, infrastructure, and endangered species.
Kathryn Gates-Skipper is one of those locals. She was suspicious of the request, as she claimed the board remained unaware of many issues within the area that would complicate the SPD. One such issue was the lack of a nearby adequate fire station, as the station along Timberlane no longer exists.
Another issue has been traffic. Within the past two months, there have been two traffic-related fatalities within the area, especially near the location of the proposed entrance to the SPD. Semi-trucks constantly barrel down Masterpiece Road to avoid the overflow along Highway 27, Skipper said.
“That is a very, very dangerous place,” she said. “I hear sirens all the time…If they did a traffic analysis, they would know that.”
Moreover, the location of the SPD contains virgin Florida scrubland, which is quite rare yet unique to the Ridge area. The ecosystem is home to many endangered species, including eagles, which Skipper sees flying over her house all the time.
“You can never replace virgin Florida natural scrubland,” she said. “I repeat that over and over again because it is so important and (because) of all the species who live there…They (the county commissioners) don’t understand that because they do not live there. They are all about growth. I am not opposed to growth, but there are certain areas that would and would not warrant it. Our area is one of them.”
She has been living in the area since she moved there the 1980s. Her husband has lived there all his life. Both of them know that the area is not the best for development due to the environment, endangered species, traffic, and infrastructure.
If the SPD request were to be approved, she would prefer that the construction limit housing to one house per four to five acres, as it would be more preferable to the local environment. However, she would rather the request not be approved at all. In the end, she wants the county commissioners to listen to people like her and considered rescinding their initial approval.
“They just have not done their due diligence and their homework,” she said. “I want them to hear it straight from the heart of the people who live there and know what is going on every single day. I respect our county commissioners, but they do not know what is going in these neighborhoods unless they are part of that neighborhood. So, they should hear from people in these neighborhoods and they should hear them well. It should not be to deaf ears. I am afraid that is what it is, and it is a shame…I would ask them to please do not approve this. The Ridge is very sacred and important, so please look elsewhere.”