East Rose Street
It will now be easier for developers to put build affordable housing projects in areas like East Main and East Rose Streets. | Cindy Glover, LkldNow

Lakeland city commissioners voted unanimously Monday to make it easier for developers to put affordable, multifamily projects alongside warehouses and factories in commercial or light-industrial areas of Lakeland.

The commissioners amended the Land Use Development Code so qualifying projects no longer require zoning changes and approval from the City Commission – only compatibility review by the Planning & Zoning Board – removing a significant hurdle for developers.

“It’s in response to a change the Legislature made in the last session, allowing affordable multifamily housing to be developed in nonresidential districts,” Chief Planner Matthew Lyons explained during an agenda study session.

Lakeland is only the second city in Florida to codify a process for implementing the law. The first was St. Petersburg, which city planners looked to as a model.

Lyons said instead of a three- to four-month approval process for a zoning change, the new process offers developers of qualifying projects a “one meeting and you’re done” option.

“It would allow for areas like Rose Street, East Main Street and areas east of downtown which have struggled for a long time to be redeveloped for this,” Lyons said. “We think that would probably be the ideal location for what we’re proposing.”

Affordable housing developments are now permissible in all commercial zones in Lakeland and in light industrial areas zoned I-1, but not near heavier types of industry with I-2 and I-3 zoning.

Planning and Transportation Manager Chuck Barmby said parcels on Drane Field Road and New Tampa Highway would probably not be eligible.

To benefit from the streamlined process, projects must be at least one acre with at least 12 units. Buildings must be a minimum of two stories and at least a quarter of the units must be set aside for people earning 120% or less of the area median income.

“We want to make sure that these are substantial projects. We don’t want some small investor coming in and trying to buy a single-family lot and do something that’s really going to be inconsequential,” Lyons said.

City Attorney Palmer Davis said the 2022 statute passed by the Legislature would have allowed the commission to “simply make this a permitted use in any of those commercial or industrial districts.” But formalizing a process provides sensible safeguards.

In addition to looking at site plans and elevation drawings, the Planning and Zoning Board will consider the types of commercial and industrial activities nearby, ensuring that a proposed location wouldn’t be a noisy, hazardous, or unpleasant place for residents to live. It will also shield established businesses from complaints from new residents about smells, noise, or late-night truck traffic. 

Property owners within 250 feet will still be notified of proposed developments ahead of time and given an opportunity to comment.

Developers of market-rate apartments aren’t eligible for the fast-tracked process but can still petition the City Commission for zoning changes.

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Cindy Glover moved to Lakeland in 2021 after spending two decades in South Florida. Her career has included journalism, education, digital marketing and public relations. She was a crime reporter, City Hall reporter and chief political writer for newspapers including the Albuquerque Journal and South Florida Sun-Sentinel. She spent a year as a community engagement coordinator for the City of Lakeland before joining LkldNow. Reach her at cindy@lkldnow.com or 561-212-3429.

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