City Commissioners Consider Code Changes for Garden District

The view of the proposed building from the parking lot entrance.

In the months since the Lakeland City Commission began talking about increasing the height limit on multi-family buildings in the historic Lake Morton neighborhood’s Garden District, developer Baylis Consulting put together plans for a 54-foot-tall, 40-unit apartment building.

But the developer cannot start construction of the contemporary-style building until city commissioners decide whether to amend an ordinance that would raise the building height limit from 40 feet to 60 feet.

When commissioners gathered Friday morning to get background information about issues they will be voting on Monday afternoon, they found out that approval by the Historic Preservation Board is not part of the equation for new construction in the Garden District. The Historic Preservation Board’s reach mostly covers existing buildings.

Some of the commissioners voiced concerns that the contemporary look of the boxy building planned for the intersection of Indiana Avenue and Lime Street does not fit into the historic setting of the neighborhood.

After a long discussion, City Attorney Tim McCausland said that he could bring a proposed ordinance to the Monday afternoon commission meeting that includes the height limit change as well as guidelines concerning the architecture fitting the historic nature of the area.

The view of the proposed building from Indiana Avenue.

The Garden District

The Garden District has a combination of single-family and multi-family housing, most of it historic, and some offices and businesses scattered over a 70-acre area that basically is bounded by Lake Morton, Lake Mirror, State Road 98 and Ingraham Avenue.

City Planning Manager Teresa Maio said staff went through a long process and held several meetings with stakeholders in developing the proposed building height amendment, which defines where within the Garden District the taller multi-family residential buildings would be allowed.

The district is divided into six subdistricts that take into account uses (single-family, multi-family and commercial), density and the availability of buildable parcels, Maio said.

In gathering that information, it became clear that the concentration of historic single-family homes are in the subdistrict along Lime Street, Maio said. The proposal preserves the single-family nature along most of Lime Street and and other specific areas while permitting the taller buildings in areas with higher concentrations of multi-family use, she said.

The site plan for the proposed building.

The proposed building

The site plan for the 54-foot-tall apartment building, which was designed by The Lunz Group, shows the building would be set back as far as possible from Lime Street with the parking lot lying next to Lime Street, Mayor Bill Mutz said. But still for the home next door, the building would appear massive, he said.

Commissioner Scott Franklin said he does not see the planned apartment building as “fitting in with the historic structure next to it.”

Commissioner Justin Troller said, “I don’t have a problem with the height but I have an issue with preserving the historic nature” of the Garden District.

He suggested the guideline focus on having a historic preservation review process. And, he suggested the City Commission “should have final say.”

The Commission was left out of the loop when the NoBay apartment complex was reviewed, especially with changes made late in the process that “left a bad taste in our mouths,” Troller said.

Commissioner Don Selvage said that while he does not like the looks of the proposed apartment building in the historic district, “I have been told lots have been bought by developers based on our height guidelines and they want to move along with development. What are we going to tell them?”

Prompted by questions from Troller, Maio said there are opportunities for monetary incentives that could help buffer additional costs.

The view of the proposed building from Lime Street.

The height ordinance

The proposed height ordinance states that City Commission “wishes to encourage greater density and infill development and expand housing options” with the intent of, among other things, to “preserve the historic fabric and ensure architectural compatibility of new construction.”

It would limit buildings to a maximum of four stories totaling 60-feet high. The top three stories would have to be multi-family residential, however the first floor could be multi-family or other mixed uses that are allowed in that specific area.

If there is a ground-floor parking garage, it would not count as one of the four stories although it would count toward the total height of the building.

The commission meeting begins at 3 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 228 S. Massachusetts Ave.