The potential map amendments of land near North Park Isle caused community members to voice their concerns during Monday night’s commission meeting.
Nothing strikes the spark that ignites passions on both sides quite like the topic of development.
During Monday night’s commission meeting, that sentiment proved true when the topic of a map amendment that would add hundreds of acres into North Park Isle led to several impassioned comments from the public.
Two map amendments have been proposed, changing both the Residential-1 designation to a Residential-6. The area is currently very rural, full of strawberry fields and lined with trees. The land is being voluntarily annexed into Plant City by the applicants and they wish them to become a part of North Park Isle, the planned residential development.
In fact, much of the property surrounding the land in question is already owned by North Park Isle. The other lands will require a buffer between the drastically different residential densities if this is approved.
One of the two properties in question is 109.63 acres. The other is 128.28 acres. The currently planned residential development site of North Park Isle is approximately 460 acres. Adding another 238 acres would make a massive impact on the potential development of the facility.
The public hearing was held to determine if commissioners would adopt a resolution directing staff to transmit the two proposed map amendments to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, along with other state and local agencies, so they could review and add comments to the proposal. This was merely the first step in a lengthy process.
However, when the possibility arose, neighboring home owners as well as concerned citizens headed to the podium to voice their apprehension.
“I’m a native from here, I was born in South Florida Baptist Hospital… my parents and grandparents grew up in Plant City and I’m very emotional about this,” Mary Cronkrite, owner of an abutting property, said. “My property that I have lived on for 40 years butts up, I go out in my back yard and admire the yard and the nature there. We have migrating ducks that come in that we watch on this property. I know it’s hard to back up anything that’s called progress, but we’re here.”
Cronkrite went on to say that she is worried about the ecosystems in place on the piece of property in question behind her home. There is a pond there she says they frequently watch the wildlife flock to and she dreads finding out it could potentially be on the chopping block. She implored commissioners to think about what they could be putting at risk if they go through with the amendment and allow North Park Isle to develop the land.
Planning Director Mark Hudson addressed the concern and said a variety of studies would need to be done before they would be allowed to plan for the future of the land. If they discovered it was a natural waterway, then odds are it would be protected by Southwest Florida Water Management District. He also explained the steps prior to any development would include having in-depth traffic analysis, environmental studies and many other surveys completed.
Arley Smude, a resident of Plant City who is present at every commission meeting, also stepped up to voice his thoughts on the topic. Echoing Hudson’s claim that the development was a in line with Plant City’s Imagine 2040: Comprehensive Plan, he inquired as to the details in place that led the city to that conclusion. He didn’t contradict the statement, but stated he would be interested in learning more about the plan and how it would keep the balance between preserving nature and planning for growth.
“More broadly, I feel like this is something as a community we’re going to have to ask ourselves, the charm we all love about Plant City, it’s probably the reason that most of us are here, whether we grew up here or we moved here. Eventually that will erode if we continue down this path of replacing strawberry fields with development,” Smude said. “I’m not saying this one particular instance is the one where something must be done, but it’s something that eventually, when we cross that threshold, we will need to stop and address.”
Two others also stood and voiced their concern with the proposal. They discussed the sorrow of watching “old Florida going away” and one said while progress was imminent, there has to be a line to draw to ensure you can keep a little of both worlds at the end of the journey.
However, commissioners are faced with a blunt reality. Plant City is filling up faster than it can provide homes. Nestled along the I-4 corridor between major cities like Tampa and Orlando, the strawberry town has become an oasis for families and businesspeople looking to find a home and commute to work.
The increase of industrial opportunities right here in town is also drawing in massive waves of residents.
“By the horizon year, the Imagine 2040: Plant City Comprehensive Plan projects the municipality having a population of more than 70,000, with much of this residential growth envisioned to be in northeast Plant City,” the city said.
Despite the massive growth, Plant City hasn’t had a major residential development since the 1970s when Walden Lake officially sprung onto the scene, a point Mayor Rick Lott was quick to make following the public comments.
“When you look at this, yes, in a perfect world you don’t want to see any of the farm land go, but those are homeowners as well and those homeowners have the right after they’ve farmed a piece of land for 15, 20, 30, 40 years to sell that property and do something else with it, as well,” Lott said. “That’s their investment, just like all of us here have land and property that is a big portion of our personal assets. We are in an area in the I-4 corridor where we have a need for homes. We have a need for houses.”
Commissioners agreed unanimously to send the amendments to the required agencies. It is expected to return before the commission in September.