City Commission: Don’t Move Morgan Creek Preserve Pond

Morgan Creek PreserveAn audience of Morgan Creek Preserve homeowners cheered Monday afternoon when the Lakeland city attorney explained the significance of city commissioners’ tie vote: The developer may not proceed with a plan to move a scenic retention pond so eight more houses could be built.

Developer Landstar Lakeland had asked the City Commission to hear an appeal of a Planning and Zoning Board’s 5-to-1 denial decision involving the subdivision off West Pipkin Road near Lakeland Linder Airport.

Tim McCausland, city attorney, explained that the 3-to-3 vote meant the developer did not have the needed majority for the City Commission to open an appeal hearing. The Planning and Zoning Board’s 5-1 decision on Aug. 21 to deny the request was affirmed.

Morgan Preserve residents cheered and some gave a standing ovation after today’s vote.

The original plans for the gated, upscale community on 255 acres were approved in 2004 as a planned unit development. The 123 acres in phase 1 is almost built out with 133 lots for single-family homes and 7.3 acres set aside for recreation and stormwater retention.

When the original site plan was approved, the 7.3 acres could not be used for housing because it lay within the runway protection zone for the airport. That protection zone has since shifted, and the developer requested the plans be modified to allow eight more housing lots. Part of the pond would remain, and another pond would be built.

The developer’s attorney Brent Geohagan, had 10 minutes to present the arguments of developer Landstar and its engineer David Carter on why the City Commission should hold an appeal hearing.

Then, Ray Feldwick presented a 10-minute rebuttal, representing 99 homeowners and 80 households who had signed a petition in opposition.

Commissioner Bill Read made a motion to hear the appeal.

Commissioners split 3 to 3 on the vote, with Commissioners Scott Franklin and Justin Troller voting with Read. Commissioners Stephanie Madden, Philip Walker and Mayor Bill Mutz voted to uphold the Planning and Zoning Board’s decision. Commissioner Mike Dunn was absent.

Dunn, a strong property rights advocate, is the subject of a homicide investigation in the Oct. 3 shooting death of Cristobel Lopez, who was allegedly shoplifting a hatchet from Dunn’s store, Vets Army Navy Surplus.

On Monday morning, just hours before the commission meeting, Lakeland police released a video that showed Lopez and Dunn in the store’s doorway, Lopez breaking away from Dunn’s grasp on his arm and trying to run out the door as Dunn fired. The video then shows Dunn walk outside, gun in hand, while Lopez lay injured on the pavement, the hatchet a few feet away. Nobody rendered aid during the rest of the video, approximately three minutes.

No comments were made about Dunn’s absence from the meeting.

The disputed area is on the east side of Morgan Creek Preserve, located just north of West Pipkin Road.

Geohagan had argued that the proposed change would be consistent with the city comprehensive plan and land development code, pointing out that the city development staff had recommended approval as a minor modification and the planned unit development plan has been modified five times over the years.

“It is in harmony with the surrounding land uses, context, building forms and environment,” Geohagan said.

“What is proposed here is the same type design and density,” Geohagan said.

Feldwick said the homeowners agree the core issue is compatibility.

“The Planning and Zoning Board recognized that the surrounding use is recreational, not residential,” Feldwick said.

The subdivision has a unique entrance, with a humped bridge, then the road splitting to the right to go around a landscaped island, past the pond and recreation area or to the nearby mail kiosk area, he said.

“The social value of the community would be destroyed” if eight houses are built on the recreation area, Feldwick said.

With the proposed change, “There is no place for our kids to play and to hold parties.”

“Why tear up phase 1? It took us took us 12 years to build phase 1; let’s move on to phase 2,” Feldwick said.

The developer has the recourse to file an appeal with the Circuit Court.

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