City commissioners voted 4-2 to approve a rezoning for the 17.2-acre neighborhood activity center to high residential to allow for multi-family housing development.

A 252-unit apartment complex will be built on a wooded lot at the southwest corner of West Pipkin and Yates Roads, across from Geico’s offices.

“We have a lot of single-family homes being developed on this site, our need is going to be to look at multi-family because that’s also a market need,” Mayor Bill Mutz said. “I’m heartened by the thoughtfulness of this. The more you watch it, the more there is to love.”

Previously:Lakeland officials to review proposal for 252 apartments along Pipkin Road

More development:Developer of Lake Miriam apartment complex requests postponement of public hearing

David Smith, director of development and zoning at Stearns Weaver Miller, presented plans for the apartment complex to commissioners on behalf of Mosaic Development on Monday. The company proposes to build “Class A” luxury apartments, according to Smith, a mix of one and two bedroom units. The complex would consist of seven three-storey buildings adjacent to Towne Park Estates.

At a maximum cap of 252 units, the multi-family development will have a density of 14.6 units per acre, according to Smith. This is below the maximum of 75 units per acre allowed by the city’s high residential zoning.

The developer’s plans call for community amenities, including an 8,000 square foot clubhouse, heated swimming pool, dog park and passive recreational spaces, to be centrally located within the interior of the property.

Smith did not give details on the price of the apartments, but said the targeted tenants would earn around $80,000 to $100,000 a year.

“I don’t hesitate insofar as the design is poor. It’s wonderful – I think that’s the way we want to develop multi-family housing,” Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley said. “But it looks like it’s going to be a lot.”

Traffic problems

McCarley and Commissioner Bill Read voted against rezoning for the multi-family apartment complex development citing traffic issues.

“Traffic is our biggest villain,” Read said.

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Geico is expected to add hundreds of staff to its recently expanded headquarters, Read said, which could lead to a significant increase in traffic in the future on Pipkin Road.

“It’s a big concern for me,” he said. “I have serious doubts.”

The developer’s representative stated that the apartment complex should not create traffic problems. The proposed residential use is considered less intense than the neighborhood activity center zoning, which would allow for a large shopping center.

Richard Dempsey, a real estate agent for the owner, said he had aggressively marketed the location for more than two years with no interest in commercial or commercial use.

“Publix has four stores within a 5 minute drive of this location. You really don’t need retail,” he said of the site. “If you did, you’d get ten times more traffic than this proposition puts forward.”

Smith said ongoing work to improve West Pipkin Road is complementary to the apartment complex.

“There are no service level issues with the location in question, it is only getting better with the widening of Pipkin Road,” he said.

Construction to widen West Pipkin Road from two lanes to four lanes between Medulla Road and Old Highway 37, then expand it from two lanes to three from Old Highway 37 to South Florida Avenue is expected to be completed by fall 2024.

Completion of the road project should roughly coincide with when the developer hopes to start renting units, according to Smith.

Chuck Barmby, Lakeland Transportation and Development Review Manager, said Polk County also plans to significantly widen Yates Road from West Pipkin Road south to Towne Park Boulevard, from the existing two lanes at four lanes.

“It will not only help these projects, but also other ongoing projects,” he said. “The planned development aligns well with the county’s capital investments.”

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In addition to Pipkin Road, the apartment complex will have an entrance on Towne Park Boulevard.

Stephen Gehler, who has owned a home on Towne Park Boulevard for 11 years, said he fears adding more than 400 vehicles and parking permits to the complex will increase congestion. Gehler said he sees vehicles crossing the 25 mph zone and flying through stop signs on Towne Park Boulevard daily.

“The apartments are nice, don’t get me wrong, but the traffic is dangerous for all of us and it’s going to get worse,” he said.

The developer suggested making the Towne Park Boulevard entrance a right-entry, left-exit to slow traffic, Smith said. The suggestion was rejected by city planners.

Multi-family development

Mosaic Development is in talks with Polk County to add an entrance to the resort from Yates Road, according to Smith.

Barmby said a key aspect of the future multi-family development will be its access to public transportation. Barmby said the resort will be on the Citrus Connection Red Line, which has stops along Pipkin Road.

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The neighboring Riverstone developer is funding five years of Red Line improvements while the Hawthorne developer must pay $500,000 to be used towards purchasing a bus for the route.

These developing areas will later be annexed to the Lakeland Region Transit District to be taxed and serviced by public transit.

Sara-Megan Walsh can be reached at [email protected] or 863-802-7545. Follow on Twitter @SaraWalshFl.