City Commission Discusses Historical Park Demolition and Land Sales

The Winter Haven City Commission meeting brought forward several topics, among which the potential demolition of Chain of Lakes Park Phase 2, the sale of city-owned land for retail development, and the amendment of pension benefits for firefighters were most prominent.

At the heart of the meeting, the commission deliberated on the impending demolition of structures at Chain of Lakes Park Phase 2. The projected cost of demolition is estimated at $1.2 million, which raised concerns over the public’s reaction to the loss of a park with historical significance. The emotional ties that some community members have with the park were acknowledged, and the potential backlash was anticipated. There was also consideration given to salvaging aspects of the park, such as seats from the stadium and the lighting system, to preserve some elements of historical value or for repurposing.

The discussion extended to the transfer of funds from a bond initially allocated for a Downtown parking facility to the Chain of Lakes Park Phase 2 project. The commission sought clarification on the project’s timeline and funding, expressing an interest in the efficient and transparent use of city resources. Additionally, the commission discussed the pre-authorization of a purchase order for the demolition, contingent upon bids received through the Construction Manager at Risk (CMR) process.

Another topic was the proposed sale of two small parcels of city-owned land to Mr. Bob Cameron, who offered $225,000 for the property. The land, totaling 0.18 acres, is intended for the development of a small retail shop specializing in bicycle sales and rentals. The city staff recommended the sale, noting the lack of other offers and the parcels’ limited utility for the city. A debate ensued regarding the inclusion of a clause in the sale agreement that would grant the city a first right of refusal.

The commission also tackled proposed amendments to the city’s code regarding fences, walls, building maintenance systems (BMS), and hedges. These amendments seek to clarify regulations and improve the organization of the code for better usability, with the Planning Commission unanimously recommending approval.

Further discussions at the meeting included the alignment of firefighter pension benefits with those of the police department. The proposed ordinance changes aimed to lower the retirement age for firefighters to 45, facilitating earlier access to their benefits. This move is in line with an effort to standardize retirement policies across city services.

Regarding community development, the allocation of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding was proposed for improvements to the neighborhood service center. The improvements would include modernization, ADA upgrades, and addressing flooding issues with a public hearing scheduled for further discussion.

The commission also considered a proposal from Mr. Terry Dudney for the purchase and redevelopment of a small piece of property within the Florence Villa CRA. The proposal outlined plans for a mixed-use project, which would encompass retail and apartment spaces, with the commission tasked with deciding whether to sell or donate the property to facilitate this development.

Additionally, the meeting addressed the overhaul of the HVAC system at Norm Hall, recognizing the unreliability of the outdated system and its impact on temperature control within the building. A contract with Mechanical Services of Central Florida was proposed to assess the current system and develop a plan for necessary upgrades.

The commission also made decisions regarding appointments to the Airport Advisory Committee (AAC), with a focus on maintaining member attendance in accordance with city ordinance requirements. Further discussions included the city manager’s authority in emergency situations, the flexibility of fund transfers within cost centers, and the need for real-time accounting to inform future budgeting decisions.

In terms of civic participation, the commission approved a road closure permit for upcoming parades and road races, fostering community engagement and activity. The commission also expressed interest in participating in a 5K event associated with the South Lake Howard Nature Park project.

Towards the end of the meeting, disclosures were made about a commissioner’s new voting status on a committee and the funding of a trip by an external party. The commission also acknowledged the recognition of an employee as a Paul Craig Athenian fellow by The International Institute of Municipal Clerks.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.
Nathaniel J. Birdsong, Jr.
City Council Officials:
Nathaniel J. Birdsong, Jr., Brian Yates, L. Tracy Mercer, Bradley T. Dantzler, Clifton E. Dollison, Amanda Jo Nicholson (Assistant to the City Manager)

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