A rendering shown to city commissioners on Friday gives the public a glimpse of the design being considered for a large new park planned for Southwest Lakeland at Pipkin and Medulla roads near Lakeland Linder International Airport.

“We’re talking well over almost 101.5 acres in an area that is extremely active right now in terms of residential development,” Chuck Barmby, the city’s planning and transportation manager, told commissioners at their agenda study meeting on Friday.

It “goes to great strides of satisfying one more big level of service needs for a park facility in this area. And so this is a result of probably 10 or 15 years of investigation between Parks and Recreation, Community Development (and) others to find a suitable sight,” he said.

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Barmby said it will be comparable in size to the combined Lake Parker and Lake Crago parks on the city’s north side.

Amenities shown in the rendering include:

  • A library/recreation building
  • Multipurpose fields
  • Small- and large-dog parks
  • A playground
  • A pedestrian trail
  • Pickleball courts
  • Bathroom facilities
  • Shelters
  • Existing wetlands with ponds

The city is taking the first steps in the process of developing the site by seeking to amend the future land use map of the Comprehensive Plan from “Suburban Special Purpose” to “Preservation, Conservation, Recreation.”

The Planning and Zoning Board on June 21 already approved the land-use change. The City Commission is scheduled to take it up at its Sept. 6 meeting.

Parks and Recreation Director Bob Donahay said earlier this month that residents in neighboring subdivisions are already excited, stopping his maintenance crews to ask when the park might open.

The property sits adjacent to the Riverstone community and there are plans to have an entrance for neighborhood residents.

Barmby said the timetable is to open the park by 2030 – within eight years. But some commissioners are hoping to move that date up.

“That’s the most common question I get from residents in that area,” said City Commissioner Chad McLeod. “Very excited about it, as they should be. But when is it going to open? So as that changes, I know you will, but keep us updated and whatever we can do to work toward that 2030 — or maybe advance that.”

Bonnet Springs Park

The city commissioners also discussed another large Lakeland park on Friday morning that is one step closer to receiving a multi-million-dollar state grant and will see a street at its entrance renamed.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has awarded Lakeland nearly $43 million in Community Development Block Grant – Mitigation funding for the Lake Bonnet Drainage Basin Flood Hazard and Debris Mitigation Project.

The project is a part of and adjacent to Bonnet Springs Park, a privately funded public park set to open Oct. 22. Park officials have also already worked to clean up the waterway flowing through the property before it reaches Lake Bonnet.

“The fully reimbursable grant is in support of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s program to fund eligible projects that demonstrably increase community resilience through infrastructure projects, such as rehabilitation of stormwater management systems, improvement to drainage facilities, and restoration of critical infrastructure,” City Manager Shawn Sherrouse told commissioners. “The project funded through this grant will consist of wetland restoration, development of flood mitigation facilities, and infrastructure retrofit to reduce flood risk for the May Manor Mobile Home Park and surrounding areas.”

The project will consist of three phases: a feasibility study; design and engineering; and construction.

The DEO is reimbiursing the city for 100% of all allowable costs when the project is finished, which is currently scheduled for 2027. They city is expected to pay annual interest of approximately $157,000, which will come from the unappropriated surplus of the Stormwater Utility Fund. The principal will be repaid with grant funds as they are reimbursed when the project is finished.

City Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley noted that it has been 16 months since Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the funding for the city.

“We move at a glacial pace in government funding, but this is really, really exciting,” Roberts McCarley said. “We’re almost at the two year mark of starting to even talk about this … So thank you. I just want to commend our staff on this. This was a Herculean effort, literally, and so thank you all so much for doing it because it really will benefit overall. One of the exciting pieces of this is it kind of goes into the waters that end up in the Hillsborough River, that ultimately end up in the Gulf. So this is one of those really big issues that seems like a Lakeland project, but it’s so far beyond us.”

The city is also scheduled to vote Monday on a proposal to rename a portion of North Sloan Avenue to “Bonnet Springs Boulevard.” The portion that would be renamed runs from Lake Beulah to the park entrance. The portion from George Jenkins Boulevard to the park entrance was recently repaved. The portion of Sloan Avenue north of the park entrance, which includes several residences, will not be renamed.

Other Business

The city is set to vote Monday on changing zoning on a lot in the Westgate neighborhood to allow for a three-story, 96-unit apartment complex.

The Lakeland City Commission meeting begins at 9 a.m. on Monday at City Hall, 228 S Massachusetts Ave. Free parking is available in the Lakeland Electric garage off Iowa Street.

Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning reporter and a Lakeland native.  She can be reached at kimberly@lkldnow.com or 863-272-9250.

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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at kimberly@lkldnow.com or 863-272-9250.

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