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Developers who want to place nearly 1,000 homes on the now-closed Wedgewood Golf Course at Carpenter’s Home pressed their case for approval today, telling city commissioners that they have tempered their plans several times over the last 11 months after hearing neighbors’ concerns.
But several neighbors who addressed city commissioners said they are still not sold on the 130-acre project, dreading the extra traffic that will result if more homes are added.
The City Commission is scheduled to vote Dec. 5 on adding 874 apartments, 60 townhomes, and 60 single-family homes to the community, which was originally opened in 1928 as a retirement community for members of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners union.
“This is definitely a substantial change to the golf course property as it exists today,” Planning & Transportation Manager Chuck Barmby told commissioners Monday morning.
The developers told commissioners that they began meeting with residents in January to explain what was happening and then with city officials later that month after getting feedback from the community.
The golf course closed last year after operating for more than 90 years, first as an amenity for the Carpenters Home, which eventually transition to use as Evangel Christian School when residency declined at the retirement home. The school closed in 2006 and sat vacant until 2016, when the complex was restored and repurposed as Lake Gibson Village, a privately owned assisted living facility.
In 1983, the historic golf course was redesigned to its current configuration to support new residential development. The now-closed golf course interweaves among seven neighborhoods that include single-family homes, townhomes and multi-family developments that were built from the early 1980s through the early 2000s.
The area was also home to Carpenter’s Home Church, a megachurch that opened in 1975 and had nearly 7,000 worshipers at its peak before closing amid financial scandal. That building was razed in 2015.
According to documents in the commission’s agenda, Jonathan Hall of SJD Development has requested a large-scale land use amendment to change the future land use designation of the city’s Comprehensive Plan from residential medium to residential low on approximately 19 acres and from residential medium to residential high on nearly 60 acres. Hall had originally wanted to build 1,028 apartments, 16 single-family homes and 204 townhomes, along with 150 assisted-living units.
“Over all, this is a net reduction in intensity,” said Bart Allen, an attorney with Peterson & Myers, a Lakeland law firm that is representing the developer. “Yes, we are going up in one particular area, but that’s to allows us to cluster intensity up along I-4 and away from single-family (neighborhoods).”
Allen said they went through several rounds with the city’s Planning staff, scaling back the number of stories for the apartment buildings from four to three and adding more single-family homes.
“We spent a lot of time working through those issues,” Allen said.
In addition, Hall wanted to ensure that a walking path will weave throughout the old golf course, that a good amount of green space is preserved and that there are landscaped buffers, including trees, between the new development and older neighborhoods. He also said that the clubhouses will include shared office areas as another amenity for people who are opting to work from home in the world’s changed office environment following COVID-19.
Commissioner Stephanie Madden said she wasn’t necessary concerned with the height of the apartment buildings, but wanted to ensure that there would be preserved green space.
“If the buildings were taller, you’d have more green space and nature and things that I also appreciate,” Madden said.
Commissioner Bill Read asked if a planned traffic circle could be built as a part of phase I, instead of waiting.
Allen acknowledged that there are concerns about traffic. The developer’s traffic study shows that at peak rushhour traffic in the afternoon, nearly 900 cars use Carpenter’s Way each work day. That will only increase with the development.
While the zoning change includes language about including new turn lanes, traffic engineer Christopher Hatten, speaking as part of the developer’s team Monday morning, said that no new turn lanes would be necessary and that left turn wait times were “anticipated to operate with acceptable level of service and new driveways are anticipated to operate with low delay times.”
But Gina Ward and Pat Teehan gave public comments at the meeting, saying they were speaking on behalf of five homeowners’ associations that were very concerned about the number of cars the development would add to the area.
“It doesn’t matter if they’re three stories, four stories, five stories — we can’t handle the traffic,” Ward said of the apartment buildings, adding that Sunday traffic was backed up for half an hour. “People were doing u-turns on Carpenters Way. Snowbirds are arriving. Traffic is gridlock. Maybe if there was a turn lane to go back to Wedgewood Estates (Boulevard). It is pure gridlock at any time of the day. Traffic is a huge concern of ours.”
Teehan said the issue isn’t just Wedgewood either and began listing other new apartments that are coming to U.S. 98 North: 276 where Sears used to be, 300 at Daughtery Road, and another 278 behind the Racetrac gas station.
“You bring these numbers on Carpenters Way on ¾ of a mile and then add 98 north — 2,168 vehicles on the road,” Teehan said. “Traffic is horrendous now on 98 North, so please consider all this traffic that’s going to be happening on 98 North and Carpenters Way.”
The City Commission is scheduled to have a second public hearing on the matter on Dec. 5, when it will vote on the development.
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