Commissioners voiced their concern with a proposed map amendment that would pave the way for a townhome development at the southeast corner of East Sam Allen and North Wilder Roads.
Debate at the dais last week showed a split in Plant City commissioners’ thoughts on the vision of the city after a map amendment for a potential townhome community was rejected in a 2-3 split.
Commissioners were taking part in a public hearing for a map amendment of a parcel of land — approximately 32.79 acres — at the southeast corner of East Sam Allen and North Wilder Roads.
The property required a future land use designation change in order to conform with the Imagine 2040: Plant City Comprehensive Plan. This is the plan that everyone from the planning committee to city planners and commissioners rely on when charting out the future of the community. When referencing the Plant City Vision Map, the site is envisioned as having future residential development. It’s located about a mile from the interchange of North Park Road and Interstate-4, which is labeled as a major commercial activity center for Plant City.
The preferred land use according to the Northeast Plant City Area Master Plan is Residential-4 and the applicant was requesting to have commissioners vote to have it be Residential-9 instead, meaning more residential units per acre.
That’s where the long debate began. A representative for the applicant presented commissioners with their plans to build a townhome development on the site whose primary access would be via Sam Allen Road. The plan was detailed, it was thorough and both the applicant and planning staff said that it technically fit the city’s vision.
The incoming massive development of the new South Florida Baptist Hospital less than a quarter mile to the east was referenced frequently as the main reason it would be allowed to be bumped up to an R-9 from an R-4 as such a large employer would inevitably have a slew of employees that would be looking for housing. Ideally those employees would chose homes near the hospital itself so that roads would remain unclogged from traffic. Hence the focus on North Park Isle and communities like this townhome development.
Commissioners, however, eyed the proposal with apprehension.
“I really struggle with this, OK?” Mayor Rick Lott said. “I mean I just do. We’ve been working on this for a long time, many, many years, and I think you and your staff have done a phenomenal job, I really, really do. I think it’s really hard to read the vision of this, our commission, because we’re planning it with longterm vision but also with what the building developers are looking for, what the market says, I get that. We have a really hard task getting to R-6 for North Park Isle. That was hard. We didn’t all get there either, but part of North Park Isle was with that type of layout and that type of development you got to actually two and a half per acre and not six per acre. This is nine per acre. It’s nine per acre.”
Lott and Commissioner Mary Mathis began to inquire if it was possible to have the townhomes go down to R-6 instead. Commissioner Bill Dodson reiterated his long stance that this level of development did not make sense for the Plant City community. The back-and-forth between the three commissioners, city staff and the applicant’s representatives took over an hour and delved into the details of the city code, the vision plan and the aspect of the new R-9 map amendment — which is a relatively new creation for the city — as a whole.
The applicant’s representative brought the fact that there was nothing said that evening by staff that said that an R-9 map amendment would not fit the vision for the community in question. She added that she understands this is a struggle, but if the commissioners didn’t want this type of development in this area they might want to go back and revisit the Vision Plan.
It was there that the other two commissioners — Vice Mayor Mike Sparkman and Commissioner Nate Kilton — seemed to agree.
“Unfortunately we sit up here as quasi-judicial, we are acting as a judge, as a judge would on a bench,” Sparkman said. “We’re to determine if in fact this has gone through all the appropriate procedures and is legal, for us to vote that it has done everything and is completely legal, and the property rights are protected in this situation. We don’t’ have the liberty to say ‘We don’t like something’ in this late part of the game. The public has had their time to come forward in these meetings and the planning board, the county and the city planning, and our staff is recommending approval. So if we do deny this we’re subject to a lawsuit that could overturn our verdict, our vote tonight, because we did not do our job as a judge.”
Kilton added he believed they should support the staff’s recommendation to allow the R-9 residential, saying they “owe it to our city and our staff.” However, he agreed with both Sparkman and the comments from the applicant’s representative that this has shone a spotlight on a portion of the city’s code that commissioners may not agree with. He too would be more comfortable with the land being R-6, but said he agreed with Sparkman that at this point in the process they were simply there to act as judges.
That led to another bout of discussion at the dais with Lott, Dodson and Mathis reiterating they were not comfortable permitting R-9 in that area. Sparkman interjected that he had been elected for more than 25 years “when it comes down to what’s recommended I look to our professionals and our certified staff.”
Ultimately it was a 2-3 vote rejecting the proposed map amendment. However, rather than make the applicant start at square one the commissioners unanimously agreed to continue the proposal until Aug. 23 or before so the applicant could come back with an R-6 plan.