City Eyes 101.5 Acres for Park in Southwest Lakeland

After saying for years the city needs to add recreation in fast-growing southwest Lakeland, city commissioners are now pondering a land deal: $7 million for 101.5 acres to house a community park southwest of Lakeland Linder Airport.

The city Real Estate and Transportation Committee, made up of three city commissioners, will review a proposal Friday morning to purchase vacant land south of West Pipkin Road and west of Medulla Road. It’s adjacent to the Riverstone community.

FRIDAY MORNING UPDATE: The land purchase was unanimously approved by the three members of the committee: Commissioners Chad McLeod, Mike Musick and Bill Read. Next step: City commission approval on Monday.

Parks and Recreation Director Bob Donahay said this is a project his department has been working on for 11 years.

“This piece of property is a godsend. It’s like perfect … It’s relatively flat. It has two ponds on it. One is 15 acres. One is five acres … It’s just perfect for [building] athletic fields and those types of recreation amenities,” he said.

“Southwest Lakeland was an area that we identified that had no recreation amenities in it,“ Donahay said. “There’s neighborhoods springing up all around this area so it’s going to be heavily used at some point.”

The property is currently owned by English Creek LLC, whose principals are Donald Hillman of Maitland and Mark Wellman of Lakeland. The land appraised for $8.35 million, according to Pam Page, deputy director of Lakeland’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Donahay said he and Page have “been talking to these landowners led by Mark Wellman since 2014. They gave us a very fair price for it … They’re excited that we’re purchasing it and making it into a park.”

The property was once apart of a larger tract owned by the Wellman-Lord development company, according to Teresa Maio, the city’s planning and housing manager. Most of it became what is now Towne Park Estates. It was annexed into the city in 2001. Before then, the owners used the property for a borrow pit operation, which formed the lakes that exist today, according to Maio.

“The subject park property was given a Business Park future land use due to its location directly beneath a runway approach zone for the airport, which precluded residential development,” Maio said. “With the recent adoption of the new airport master plan, the runway approach will be changing.”

If approved by the city’s Real Estate and Transportation Committee on Friday morning, the park land proposal would then come before the full City Commission for a vote on Monday.  

View the city’s memorandum and sales contract here or at the end of this article.

Friday’s meeting starts at 8:15 a.m. and will be held virtually. It will be broadcast live on the city website and on cable: Spectrum Channel 643, FiOS Channel 43. Monday’s meeting starts at 9 a.m. at City Hall and will also be broadcast live.

“The housing market is just busting out of the seams right now.  Especially out in southwest Lakeland, to be able to find dirt land in that area, that was a tough task, and this was almost like our last shot at it because I’m sure a developer would’ve scooped it up quickly,” Donahay said.

Closing on the property is expected to happen within 30 days of commission approval.

“I believe that we’ll have full commission support. I don’t see any hiccups. We’ve done all of our homework,” Donahay said.

Donahay said the possibilities are endless for how the land could be used for parks and recreation.

“What we see is walking trails, dog park, picnic sheds, playgrounds and then at some point … the commission might decide they want to put a south branch library out there … a joint recreation building like Kelly Rec … They might want to do just a bunch of athletic fields,” Donahay said.

Funding the park’s construction would will come from impact fee revenue and proceeds of 2021 city capital bonds, unless an individual or company donates funds in exchange for naming rights.

No concerns about the property surfaced during a recent Phase 1 environmental assessment, according to a memorandum from the City Attorney’s Office.

Parks are built in phases, and typically it costs between $8 million to $15 million to construct a large park, depending on the structures being built, according to Donahay.

Donahay expects the park to open three to five years from now,  if the land purchase is approved.  

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