by James Coulter
Jobs. Green. Neighbors. These are the three main aspects Lake Wales should focus on moving forward with economic development and renovations within the next 10, 20, or even 50 years.
A preview of the future of what the City of Lake Wales could look like was presented during a workshop hosted on Thursday evening at the Lake Wales Art Center.
The meeting showcased Lake Wales Envisioned, a plan currently being formulated to, as their website states, “guide growth and conservation throughout the city and its surrounding utility service area for decades to come.”
The event on Thursday evening served as the culmination of Charrette Week, which included several workshops and planning sessions to collect feedback from residents about their city and what they wish to see for their community.
The input from these meetings was collected and compiled to create a tentative plan for the city, which, according to the website, “should lead to growth that will be economically and environmentally sensible, worthy of historic Lake Wales, and representative of the community’s priorities.”
During the past workshops and planning sessions, residents were asked what they considered most important about the city. The top three answers were: protect the natural environment, parks and open spaces, and economic development.
This feedback was used to create a prospective vision plan to guide Lake Wales development. The three highest priorities are:
Jobs. Polk County is set to become the fastest-growing county in Florida. Lake Wales will need to prepare to facilitate this population growth with economic development to provide new residents with new jobs.
Such economic development should be spurred on by investments in new technology, especially with old industries such as the citrus industry experiencing declines.
“If we have population growth but we do not think wisely on how to employ that growing population and to rise with upward mobility for better wages for their households and lives if we miss that, we lose,” explained Victor Dover, principal-in-charge of Dover, Kohl & Partners.
Action steps proposed included incubating small businesses, investing in technology, identifying new sites for industry, and providing a variety of housing to attract employers and industry.
Green. Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. was a renowned city planner and conservationist who helped make Lake Wales what it is today. He focused primarily on enhancing and conserving the natural beauty of the area.
As such, any vision plan for Lake Wales should continue his legacy through efforts and initiatives that focus on conservation. Such objectives in the Envisioned plan include constructing green buildings, greenways, and nature trails.
Action steps proposed included pursuing conservation funds, incentivizing conservation, acquiring land and conservation easements, adopting green building initiatives, and updating the parks and recreation plan.
Neighbors. With Lake Wales and Polk County expected to experience a population boom, the city should be developed to not only accommodate potential new residents but also create hospitable neighborhoods worth moving to.
Lake Wales Envisioned focuses on “traditional neighborhood development” through zoning, initiatives, and complete streets that provide walkable, hospitable neighborhoods and diminish urban and suburban sprawl.
As one of the “initial aspirations” of the Envisioned plan states: “We will seek to make traditional neighborhoods with walkable, connected streets that create a high-quality public realm the norm.”
Action steps proposed included making traditional neighborhood development, fixing the zoning, and adopting complete street standards.
To help achieve these high-priority objectives, Lake Wales Envisioned proposed several goals. These goals include:
Prioritize conservation areas. To help facilitate the city’s conservation efforts, Lake Wales should connect to the “Big Green Network” of surrounding nature areas.
This would involve connecting historic scrub and sandhill habitats with the Kissimmee River Corridor and protecting water resources along the Peace Creek River.
The plan would help bring the Big Green Network into the city with scrub and sandhill restoration, street trees, lush trails and greenways, and parks used for stormwater treatment and backyard habitats.
Prioritize infill areas. Countless square feet of property within the city facilitate urban sprawl with empty lots and parking areas. These infill areas could be utilized to provide residential housing and green public spaces.
One example provided was a local strip mall with square feet of empty parking space. Concept art showed how this space could be better utilized for the development of residential housing, apartments, and green public spaces.
“We have a lot of lost space that can be utilized to facilitate growth,” Dover explained.
Control limited growth areas. Part of the Envisioned plan includes making the community more walkable, which would involve renovating streets to narrow and slow traffic flow, planting more trees and other streetscaping, and providing better pedestrian accommodations such as bike paths and wider sidewalks.
Furthermore, updates to construction codes and zoning would help prioritize housing with front porches and wider lawns to facilitate a more hospitable neighborhood community.
Dover explained that this vision plans remain tentative and are not set in stone. The plan can and will continue to change to better facilitate future visions for the city. What the plan showcases is a proposal of what things could be and what city officials and planners could push forward through renovation efforts.
“The property owners and business people and city staff has not signed off on any of this,” he said. “What we have is starter work that we will work on perfect over the coming weeks and months. This meeting is to help us start the process.”
To learn more about Lake Wales Envisioned, visit their website at: https://lakewalesenvisioned.com/