The city of Lakeland’s public hearing and decision on a proposed 244-unit apartment complex at the Lake Miriam Shopping Center originally scheduled for March 21 will likely be postponed until April 4.

The Lakeland City Commission during its Friday agenda study is expected to sign off on Atlanta-based Preferred Apartment Communities‘ request to delay the hearing and vote on the hotly opposed proposal until early April.

Lakeland Transportation & Development Review Manager Chuck Barmby told the city’s Planning & Zoning Board on Tuesday that the developer requested the continuance and it is “to be discussed” by commissioners Friday.

Barmby told LkldNow afterwards that the developer is seeking the delay because the project’s traffic engineer, Michael Raysor of Wesley Chapel-based Raysor Transportation Consulting, “has a scheduling conflict” and will not be available March 21.

With traffic the chief concern raised by project opponents, all eyes and ears will be on Raysor during the public hearing, which will likely draw a large group of opponents.

“Absolutely,” Brambly said. “He’s going to be key to the entire conversation.”

During their brief March 7 discussion on the proposal, commissioners appeared to be searching for ways to deny the project for reasons other than traffic concerns in the context of state law that prohibits them from doing so. 

Failing that, they want to ensure Raysor is there to explain how the proposal is a “downzoning” that reduces future road impacts by exchanging 40,000 square feet of commercial space for a 244-unit apartment complex.

“The overarching issue is this development generates less traffic than what is already allowed,” Barmby told commissioners. 

That’s a difficult sell to area residents who don’t see the project’s future traffic benefits when, they say, current traffic at Lake Miriam Drive’s intersection with South Florida Avenue is already untenable.

Preferred Apartment Communities is seeking a zoning change from commercial to multi-family for a 12-acre portion of the Publix-owned Lake Miriam Shopping Center. Its site plan proposes four three-story and two four-story buildings offering studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments on a parcel within Publix’s original 1993 Lake Miriam Shopping Center planned unit development.

That 1993 plan allowed up to 180,000 square feet of commercial space. It has been amended several times, including 2002’s addition of 39,979 square feet of commercial space in the area where the apartments are now planned. 

In 2018, a 34,000-square-foot LA Fitness Center was approved but never built for the parcel. Raysor estimated with the fitness center, the shopping center would generate 3,224 car trips per day, including 276 during afternoon peak. 

Working off the 2018 study, Raysor forecasts a 244-unit apartment complex would generate 1,328 daily and 104 afternoon peak trips. 

Exchanging the 40,000 square feet of commercial development for apartments would generate 800 fewer external trips a day, including 72 trips less in afternoon peak traffic, the analysis contends.

Since filing its proposal, the developer has modified its site plan to add a second egress from the complex into Lake Miriam Square Shopping Center and towards South Florida Avenue. 

The developer also added a pedestrian passage onto the sidewalk in the part of the complex closest to Lakeland Highlands Middle School.

The city’s Planning & Zoning Board on Feb. 15 approved its zoning change and site plan in a 3-2 vote.

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