Seminole Tribe Planning Rural Housing Near Lakeland

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is planning a housing development for its members on an 843-acre, rural tract northeast of Lakeland. Initially 50 single-family homes are planned for the acreage on the east side of Moore Road about a half-mile north of Old Polk City Road.

The tribe purchased the land more than a decade ago and has been going through the complicated process of having the U.S. Department of the Interior take it into trust for use by the tribe, said Gary Bitner, spokesman for the tribe.

“It is not possible for the tribe to use it for gaming,” even if it wanted to, which it does not, Bitner said.

Indian gaming is regulated by the federal government by an act signed in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan, he said. That act forbids casinos and gaming on tribal land acquired after 1988.

Infrastructure work is in progress following a January groundbreaking, and construction on the first 50 single-family homes and a community center is expected to begin in early 2020, Bitner said. Eventually the development could grow to 150 homes scattered across the sprawling parcel.

On Monday, the Lakeland City Commission approved an agreement providing wastewater treatment services.

Tom Mattiacci, the city’s manager of water utilities engineering, said tribal officials approached the city about connecting into the city’s wastewater treatment system, an endeavor that will cost the tribe an estimated half-million dollars in impact fees plus approximately $2 million in design, permitting and construction costs.

Neither the city nor county has jurisdiction over the land since the Seminole Tribe is a sovereign nation, City Attorney Tom McCausland explained to city commissioners during an agenda study session on Friday.

The tribe will provide its own police and emergency services but will contract for fire services, Bitner said.

Children are eligible to attend local public schools, however, a high percentage of Seminole parents choose to send their children to private schools, he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article quoted Bitner saying that local governments and other agencies likely will be asked to contract with the tribe to provide other essential services, such as fire, police and emergency services, On Wednesday, he said that information was incorrect.

The local development will be governed by the statewide tribal council, he said.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has about 4,200 members, about half of whom live on reservations and half of whom do not, Bitner said

The Lakeland development will be open to any tribal member, and some of the residents likely will work at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Tampa, 36 miles away on I-4, he said.

“In a way, you could say it is a homecoming,” Bitner said. “Historically, some Seminoles lived in the area before the tribe was officially established.”

A small community of Seminoles currently lives in the Tampa area, Bitner said. In 1981, the Tampa casino was established and in 2004 the existing Seminole Hard Rock Casino was built, he said. Although a few Seminoles had lived on that land, it is only 37 acres, and residents were moved to make room for the business, he said.

“They are paying a lot to put in sewer service out there,” Mattiacci said told city commissioners during the Friday study session.

“And it will add to our customer base, which is good,” Commissioner Justin Troller said.

Construction costs include laying a six-inch force main with nearly a mile of pipe on Seminole land, building a lift station with standby emergency generator and flow – which the city will own and maintain – and rehabilitating an existing eight-inch force main with 9,713 linear feet of pipe near Old Polk City Road.

The eight-inch force main was laid decades ago by Scandinavia USA along Old Polk City Road but the development stalled and the main was never put into use, Mattiacci said. Over the years, the gaskets in the pipes have degraded. Rehabilitating that city-owned main will cost the tribe about $978,000.

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