Developer wants to build beside landfill, prison in Balm
BALM - You know what they say about real estate. Location, location, location. A proposal to build a residential village across the street from a busy construction landfill – referred to by residents as Mount Balm -- includes a site for an elementary and middle school next to a shuttered state prison. The school and the village would border a two-lane road used as a truck route between Polk County and the Port of Tampa. Chemical-laden 18-wheelers heading to the port and massive dump trucks hauling fill from two nearby dirt pits for house and road construction travel County Road 672 all day on most days. Tentative plans for this residential village, including the school site, were slated to go before the county’s Zoning Hearing Master on April 22, but the county staff has requested a delay until June 3. During the hearing, a zoning hearing master will take testimony, then will have two weeks to render a recommendation to the County Commission.It is unlikely Balm residents opposing the development will show up en force. They’ve trekked downtown many times previously, only to have their comments fall on deaf ears, said long-time area resident Daniel Dixon. “We’re country people. We’re not high density. We don’t have a lot of money to fight them, so they dump it on us. “Whatever the county doesn’t want, they dump it in Balm,” Dixon said, standing near the Goodson Packing House. It’s a bad location for a school, he says. Two school sites had initially been located in Summerfield Farms to the north. This rezoning requests that a single combined school site be moved and that the developer be allowed to extend Clement Pride Boulevard south from Big Bend Road so it will border the school. That would open the site previously designated for the schools to be used for houses. That just causes more traffic problems for Balm residents, said Glen Fiske, president of the Balm Civic Association. Truck traffic from the construction debris dump, the dirt pits and a county landfill further east is already bad enough, he said. The area’s residents don’t want more. Plus, he says, he believes schools in the area can accommodate the growth. There are plans to four-lane CR 672, also known as Balm Road, east to where the Urban Service Area ends. That’s right about where the school site is, said Lisa Silva, with the Planning Commission, who has been working with residents on the Balm Community Plan. There are no plans on the county books to four-lane the road east of there. Balm, a once-sleepy rural area filled with farmers and ranchers, is now nearly surrounded by either housing developments or protected conservation lands. In between, developers are gobbling up land that has historically been farmed for bell peppers, cucumbers, cantelopes and cauliflower. One development is under construction now, just west of the construction landfill. The proposed 320-home residential village would go on 160 acres owned by Leland Carlton. It is right on the outer edge of the Urban Service Area, the portion of the county designated for more intense development with county water and sewer hookups. Residential villages are intended to serve as transition areas between land in the Urban Service Area and land in the Rural Service Area. It allows for “clustered and self-sustainable development” on properties of 160 acres or more, but must include on-site shopping and job creation. However, there’s a big loop-hole in the county’s requirements for such a village. If there is suitable commercial development within five miles, the village doesn’t have to include any neighborhood commercial development within its boundaries. In this case, the developer plans to use that exception, according to paperwork filed with the county. The proposal calls for a residential development with a school site and a village center, which may or may not include an amphitheater, open space, a gazebo or community garden, but no commercial. Judi James, a land planner representing Carlton on this rezoning request, and County Transportation Review Manager Charles White could not be reached for comment.