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On Jan. 5, the Winter Haven Planning Commission recommended that the city commission approve a Planned Use Development including up to 553 houses on 190 acres located just south of the Lake Ashton community, near the intersection of County Road 653 and Old Bartow Lake Wales Road.

The first reading on the matter was January 11. The second reading and final public hearing have yet to be scheduled.

During the discussion Jan. 5, Commissioner Brian Yates expressed concern about school overcrowding and asked city staff to see if staff from Polk County Public Schools could reassure the commission that, if the houses are built, there will be enough open school seats for the children who will live in the proposed subdivision.

City officials replied that Polk County Public Schools currently owns land in this area and that there are plans to build a new middle school in that area in the coming years. Later, plans were made to see if PCPS representatives can speak to the city commission before the final public hearing on the matter.

Some residents objected to the development, citing lack of open school seats and traffic. Mayor Brad Dantzler also expressed some concern, but said it's hard to slow growth.

“Sooner or later, those lots are going to get built on,” Dantzler said.

One component to the proposed development is how much of the 190 acres is low-lying wetlands. Current zoning, set by the county staff around a decade ago, would allow for up to 824 houses. However, city staff and the developer reached an agreement to change the zoning to a Planned Use Development — or PUD — instead of typical residential zoning so that no houses would be built upon a floodplain.

City officials hope to use some of the wetlands as a means to recharge the Upper Floridan Aquifer. As such, this development would become part of the proposed city-wide “Sapphire Necklace” plan — a plan to, among other goals, prevent summer stormwater from flowing outside of Polk County.