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Lake Wales
Friday, April 12, 2024

Lake Wales Residents Urge City Not to Give Away Public Land at Lake Alta to Private Developer


by James Coulter

Lake Wales residents raised concerns over the city’s intent to give away a 3.5-acre public park near Lake Alta to a private developer to build a proposed housing complex.

At their meeting on Jan. 16, Lake Wales City Commissioners approved a consent agenda item that would transfer ownership of a 3.5-acre park near Lake Alta to Lake Wales Community Redevelopment Agency CRA. As Lake Wales News reports, “That body [the CRA] can negotiate property sales directly to buyers without competitive bids.”

The property contains a natural area, considered a “pocket park”, in a quiet neighborhood of single-family homes on the near north side of the city. Located between Osceola and Kissimmee Avenues, as Lake Wales News explains, “the park was depicted on the original street design plans for the city created by the famed Olmsted Brothers landscape and planning firm in the 1920s.”

The property had been transferred to the CRA in 2015, which then sold it to HAB Holdings, LLC for more than $8 thousand, and which was then sold to J. Walter Homes, Inc. for $250 thousand. As Lake Wales News reports: “That firm plans to build on the property, and work has already begun through final approval for a proposed Planned Development Project has not been granted by the City of Lake Wales.”

However, many residents, especially those living near the property, have raised concerns about the city transferring it to the new developer, from increased traffic to the troubling precedent of selling public land to private companies.

David Price, President of Bok Tower Gardens, claimed the entire situation set a bad precedent involving handing over public land to private companies, which would inevitably degrade the surrounding natural area.

“When we as a city start giving away our parks, it is a dangerous thing,” he said. “We should protect our parks because we cannot get more natural land, and just because a piece of property is not developed…does not mean it is not valuable. It is valuable to those people [living near it] and it means a lot to those people. When you ask people what is important to Lake Wales, it is our parks; and when you ask what is important to our parks, they will say it is the wildlife, it is the water, it is the trees.”

Patricia Lettieri is a resident who has been living in the neighborhood near Lake Alta with her family for more than 15 years. She said that buying a house near the land and the lake was a highlight, and she urged the property to remain under the city’s care. She claimed that the proposed development would increase traffic and affect parking for her and her neighbors, and that giving it to a private developer would take control away from them.

“Once this land gets transferred to the developer, it becomes part of an HOA, which has a say over our neighborhood, and we have no say about what happens on that land,” she said. “It is

unfortunate that we would have no say in the situation. It feels like our neighborhood is taking the burden of a decision of a poor plan.”

Susan Letteri, another resident, likewise raised concerns about the discrepancies between what the developer claims it would provide on the property and what was revealed in the proposed plans. The property was originally going to build six units, but that number was increased to nearly 26 units.

“The builder calls these [units] ‘cottages’, he said ‘small houses’,” she said. “Then he claimed that he was inspired to make them three-bedroom, three-baths. So I noticed there was a lot of language used that did not match. Two things were being spoken…If we lose control over it, we have no control over it. That affects the whole neighborhood. And once it is done and handed over, they can do whatever they want unless you stop them beforehand.”

Catherine Price, wife of David, complained about how the city had initially sold the property for $8 thousand, but was later sold for $250 thousand; and also how the original plan was to build six units, but was later increased to more. She decried the proposed project as a “travesty.”

“It is pretty obvious that the horse has been placed before the cart with the numerous things on this project,” she said. “This project will destroy green space and will degrade the Olmstead neighborhood.”

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