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The Lakeland City Commission voted 4-3 today to approve a 94,000-square-foot, two-story self-storage facility on a wooded piece of property along Harden Boulevard bordered by Muirfield Village at Grasslands, Holiday Senior Living at Azalea Park, and Beacon Terrace retirement community — and diagonally across the highway from an already existing self-storage facility.
Commissioners Stephanie Madden, Sarah Roberts McCarley and Sam Simmons voted against the proposal, with two of them saying it is incompatible with its surroundings and unneeded.
“For me, another storage facility that you can throw a rock at another one across the road is really kind of frustrating and I agree that the market gets to a point where it is saturated,” Roberts McCarley said. “I just can’t — as lovely as this looks. We’re going to continue to need housing for our senior citizens and (assisted living) facilities. We’re going to continue to need affordable housing. We’re going to continue to need space to put those different housing elements in, as well as businesses, too. And when I look at Pew Research, I see that millennials aren’t going to use storage units, and they are far outgrowing baby boomers.”
Madden noted that the storage facility on 4.33 acres will have 700 units – and that’s 700 people, their friends and co-workers who will have the security code to enter the gate right next to Muirfield Village, a cluster of townhomes in the master-planned community of Grasslands with values ranging from $300,000 to $360,000, according to Zillow.
“It is, at the end of the day, a warehouse … I feel like it wasn’t just the aesthetics at stake, it was the intensity of a use of a warehouse in the middle of a residential neighborhood,” Madden said to the applause of several dozen residents of Muirfield Village and Beacon Terrace, a 55-plus mobile home community. “Ninety-four thousand square feet of warehouse, even if it’s a pretty warehouse, is not better than even if it was a large, more intense building and it had an assisted living facility, which would go with a residential neighborhood … It’s appropriate to have assisted living in a residential neighborhood.”
The vote came after presentations from city Planning and Transportation Manager Chuck Barmby; Tim Campbell, an attorney representing Cogent Capital Group, the developer; and representatives of several area homeowners associations, along with residents.
Barmby reviewed the history of buildings planned for the property over the years:
- 1993 — Highway commercial uses
- 2006 — 38,043-square-foot medical office
- 2015 — 12 buildings for office support and retail
- 2016 — 42 age-restricted dwelling units (seven six-unit villas)
- 2018 — A 100-bed assisted living facility
Last year, the city’s Planning and Zoning Board approved a three-story, 102,675 square-foot self-storage facility, but the City Commission subsequently voted without prejudice to turn it down, asking the developer to come back with modifications.
Changes made to the proposed storage facility since then include:
- Removal of outdoor storage of boats and RVs
- Rear setback increased from 130 feet to 200 feet
- Reduction in height from three stories to two stories
- Reduction in square footage from 102,675 to 94,000
- Façade changes to resemble an office building
In addition, planning and zoning approved hours of operation from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. only, with customers not permitted to access the storage units outside of these hours.
Outdoor signs are also forbidden.
Tony Hudson, Beacon Terrace Homeowners Association president, told commissioners he represents nearly 300 homes. He asked the other homeowners in the audience to stand up and about three dozen people rose from their seats.
He showed a PowerPoint presentation that included Photoshopped images of the storage facility with signage. He went down a checklist of issues with the facility:
- Is this a warehouse? Yes.
- Is it compatible with the surrounding communities? No.
- Will this facility maintain or improve safety elements? No.
- Does it decrease traffic flows? No.
- Is it in compliance with the city’s comprehensive plan. No.
He said that Harden Boulevard is a beautiful roadway. “This stretch of road is one of the nicest in the city of Lakeland. Why we would want to ruin it with a 94,000-square-foot, two-story warehouse is beyond me,” Hudson said. “Let’s not turn this into another South Florida Avenue … There is no amount of buffering that will protect us from this eyesore.”
He noted that there are 49 warehouse self-storage facilities within the city and unincorporated areas and 140 located in Polk County.
Their community currently has a nature trail, with wildlife taking advantage of the area, he said. “If this goes forward, (the wildlife) will probably disappear,” Hudson said. “My wife tells me, as we grow older, our world shrinks. This is so true. And if this in our world becomes smaller, and we don’t have as many pleasures as we do enjoy, as we did when we were younger, if this goes away, it’ll be one less pleasure in our lives.”
Brian Coninx ,Cogent Capital Group’s chief operating officer and head of development, spoke at Monday’s meeting.
“We’ve heard about the nature trail, trying to preserve everything around that as best we can. We do have a bunch of trees along that border of the property that are mature that we’re not going to be touching at all,” Coninx said.
He added that the latest plans shift the building to the south as much as possible to preserve natural elements.
Susan Spelios, who lives in Muirfield Village, said she spent years in investment and economics and so she researched self-storage facilities. She told the commission that the self-storage industry is reaching saturation in the market, with central Florida having double the national average per capita and 40% greater than the state of Florida.
“As a nation, we have 5.5 square feet of storage per person. Florida has 6.3 feet per person,” Spelios said. “The Tampa Bay region has 10.5 square feet of storage facility capacity per person.”
Dwight Ash lives in Beacon Terrace and said often ambulances respond to calls in his neighborhood.
“The EMTs come into our property a lot, and any delay is very very adverse for the person that’s having the problem ,” Ash said.
Lionel Lindsay, who owns a condominium in Grasslands Village Circle, said he bought his home to look at the trees, not a warehouse, no matter how attractive they’re trying to make it.
“You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a warehouse,” Lindsay said.
Commissioner Bill “Tiger” Read complimented the developers for revamping their plans.
“I think they’ve done a great job with mitigating a lot of the circumstances for setbacks and trying to make it a better product,” Read said, noting that he had spent several years on the planning and zoning board. That “gave me a lot of insight on what we can and cannot vote for. Some may be against something, but invariably, if you follow the rule of law, you have to vote yes or no, and regardless if there’s a million people here, it really can’t determine how we vote from one standpoint because of the law. If we vote no, we’re probably going to get sued and then they’re going to win anyway.”
Read, Commissioners Mike Musick and Chad McCleod, and Mayor Bill Mutz voted to put the plan through.
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