Lakeland’s planning board today approved several changes to a 300-unit apartment complex planned for Airport Road at the entrance to Carillon Lakes: The buildings will be fewer but taller than originally planned, and for now a hoped-for access off Airport Road will be for emergency vehicles only.

The “minor modification” to the proposed Parkway Preserve apartment complex approved by the Lakeland Planning & Zoning Board will allow six four-story and one three-story buildings rather than the earlier-approved nine three-story structures.

But despite the board’s 3-1 approval, access to the proposed 29.3-acre complex remains a contentious issue with residents of Carillon Lakes, a mostly 55-and-over community consisting of 650 single-family and homes and attached townhouses in rapidly developing southwest Lakeland.

Parkway Preserve is planned for now-vacant land west of Airport Road and south of Carillon Lakes Boulevard. It will be across Airport Road from Publix corporate headquarters.

Under the tentatively approved site plan modification, access to Parkway Preserve will be through Carillon Lakes Boulevard and shared with the gated community behind it.

Attorney Timothy Campbell, who represents developer Matcon Construction Services of Tampa, said a second entrance on Airport Road serving Parkway Preserve is “not feasible for the project and not necessary to serve the development.”

Campbell said the complex will have “an emergency access off Airport Road” to provide egress onto the property exclusively for emergency vehicles only.

Matcon worked with the Carillion Lakes Homeowners Association and the Florida Department of Transportation to configure a separate entrance on Airport Road, he said.

The first proposal was rejected. Ultimately the DOT determined an entrance to Parkway Preserve is not necessary, but could be installed under a proportional share agreement with the homeowners association.

Matcon offered a $50,000 contribution for a second entrance before it was determined it would cost about $300,000, Campbell said, adding, “Instead of saying we’re not doing it, we determined to share” with an optional contribution.

“We wanted to be cards-on-the-table so we offered that” before “we subsequently learned the final numbers” for a second entrance, Campbell said.

Although talks with the homeowners association continue, that $50,000 offer stands, he said, noting if the homeowners association wants a second entrance, it should foot the bill for the bulk of it.

“Traffic access off Carillon Boulevard is appropriate. We are providing a right-hand turn lane” onto southbound Airport Road, Campbell said. “The association said they have no objections to this request. It was approved by (city planning) staff; determined that improvements on the site plan are adequate. It was always anticipated that the access to this project would be through Carillon Boulevard. I anticipate (a second entrance) will be no more feasible for the association than it is for Parkway Preserve.” 

The approved site plan modification will allow Matcon to build seven apartment buildings instead of nine. Six of the seven will be four stories, up to 55 feet high, rather than three stories capped at 40 feet high.

Voting for the updated site plan on Wednesday were planning board members Joseph Lauk, Lyle Philipson and Ronald Roberts. Jeri Thom voted against it. The other three board members were absent.

Site plan:

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Last January, the Lakeland City Commission approved Matcon’s proposed 300-unit apartment complex following a heated six-hour hearing that required the city to rent Sikes Hall in the RP Funding Center. The site had previously been approved for 142 townhomes.

City planner Phillip Scearce said the modifications “shift” the buildings south on the parcel and provide more open space without increasing density and provide the option for a second Parkway Preserve entrance on Airport Road under a cost-share agreement.

“We met with the association. We have good communications with the association,” Campbell said. “The association has seen the plan and have no objections to this plan. We are pleased to be at this point, moving forward.”

Carillon Lakes Homeowner Association Board member George Lussier said the board and residents have plenty of objections but few options.

“All of us are not happy but we do understand that resistance is futile,” Lussier said, noting the DOT approved a second entrance as “a cost-sharing venture. (Matcon) said they’d be willing to do their share — if we paid them $250,000. Mr. Campbell has a gift of making a sow’s ear sound like a silk purse.”

“It doesn’t have anything to do with a cow or a pig,” Campbell said. “If it is important enough for you to control (access), then this is what our offer was. This is not a good option. That is why we are passing on it and offering ($50,000) to the association.”

Planning board members questioned why Parkway Preserve, with average monthly rents of $1,800 that will generate about $6 million a year, determined $300,000 for an Airport Road entrance is “not feasible” and said, despite the tentative approval, access is still a negotiable issue and will receive further vetting.

Medical marijuana facility

Matcon’s site plan modification was among several matters on Wednesday’s agenda that concerned Carillon Lakes residents, including the prospect of a second large commercial marijuana plant abutting the subdivision.

JPRI Holdings LLC is proposing to build a 109,000-square-foot medical marijuana grow warehouse on a 14.5-acre parcel within a Gateland Drive industrial park.

JPRI representative Matthew Baker said the warehouse’s garage bays, windows and closed-loop exhaust vents are “all facing away from the neighborhood to mitigate noise and odors. The building would act as a buffer.”

Baker said venting and exhaust for marijuana plants is “something (JPRI) takes very serious” with “100% (of activity) happening in the building.” In fact, he said, the marijuana will be grown “in a building within a building” with an HVAC system that will scrub the air before exhausted.

Lussier said JPRI’s proposed plant would be “the second pot-growing facility on our boundary and I can tell you, we smell the pot growing” from an operation on nearly Hamilton Road just outside city limits.

Another Carillon Lakes resident said the plant will add to traffic woes and to “the smell on Hamilton. You are in the car and the overwhelming skunk cannabis smell overwhelms you.”

Assistant City Attorney Jerrod Simpson said the city’s biggest concern is how to deal with odor complaints. The best tact, he said, is to handle it through the code enforcement process and, perhaps, require such operations to include “an odor abatement plan” with their proposals.

Simpson expressed reservations about how many conditions the city can place on  commercial marijuana operations because “express provisions may be preempted” by the state, which is the industry’s primary regulator in Florida.

Whether the odor is coming from a plant inside the city or outside it “really doesn’t make a lot of difference to us,” Lussier said, predicting, “We will end up in a situation” where the two operators “stand there and point to each other” when there are complaints and nothing will happen. We are not real excited.”

Baker said the building was designed in coordination with Carillon Lakes Homeowners Association “over a decade ago” and that the plant would be at least 1,000 feet from the nearest Carillon Lake home. There are homes within the subdivision that are about 140 feet from the Hamilton Road plant, he said.

He agreed, however, to come before the commission again on Feb. 19 with an odor abatement plan.

Lussier said Carillon Lakes is increasingly surrounded by traffic congestion and “constant noise” from trucks and jets, and ”our new neighbor is a pot farm, so the smell of pot wafts through on a breezy day.”

“We are being offered taller buildings where  trees once stood,” he said. “More noise and smell. More danger for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. More rooftops than treetops. Are we supposed to believe this is progress?”

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