The Palm Beach County Commission on Monday unanimously approved a special transmittal process for the proposed Minto West project — a decision that county planners said would actually give more time for the review process.
County staff recommended approval of the request, explaining that the state now allows an unlimited number of large-scale amendment rounds to be processed each year. The commission can grant additional rounds by a super-majority vote.
Planning Director Lorenzo Aghemo said there was an erroneous perception that the special process would accelerate the approval. “To the contrary, this will give us more time,” Aghamo said. “If this request is not granted by the board, we have to come in February with the submittal date, and we will have wasted almost four months for us to review this proposed amendment.”
Residential developer Minto recently purchased the 3,800-acre Callery-Judge Grove property for $51 million. The land, located off Seminole Pratt Whitney Road, currently has a future land-use approval for up to 2,996 dwelling units and up to 235,000 square feet of non-residential uses.
Minto is requesting an additional amendment round to allow for the components of their development proposal, which asks for up to 6,500 homes and about 1.4 million square feet of workplace and community-serving commercial uses.
Aghemo said Minto West would submit its application Tuesday if the request was approved. “That will give us time,” he said. “Their intent is to have this reviewed by the board sometime in the summer of 2014. We think that we’re going to have sufficient time to do a thorough review that it deserves for a project of this magnitude.”
Aghemo said approval would also facilitate the implementation of the Florida statute pertaining to agricultural enclaves. One of the requirements of the statute is that after the application for the future land-use amendment is submitted, the owner has 180 days between the property owner and the local government to agree on the density and intensity of use. Callery-Judge is considered an agricultural enclave under the statute.
“We believe that the additional round will allow us sufficient time not to come into conflict with the statute,” Aghemo said.
Donaldson Hearing with the planning firm Cotleur & Hearing, representing Minto, said they were not requesting anything special.
“It’s in your comprehensive plan, and it’s really intended for projects such as this,” Hearing said. “This is a regional project, it’s of regional significance, and we know there are some concerns. This gives us the ability to take a really focused approach.”
He said the process will also allow them to submit details, which were not required previously for a comprehensive plan approval.
“We’re proposing to bring in those details so you can see exactly what it is that we’re proposing,” Hearing said, adding that he had met with a number of local organizations regarding the plan. “We have committed to them to be transparent, to work with them throughout this process.”
He noted that Minto had sent out more than 15,000 postcards to residents and organizations surrounding the community, inviting them to visit www.mintoinfo.com, where they can learn when and where meetings are planned.
Loxahatchee Groves Mayor Dave Browning said he agreed with the staff recommendation if it gives them more time to review the application.
“The part that scares me is right there on their letter that basically says that this will allow them to move forward through the process without being delayed by accompanying requests as part of the formal round,” Browning said. “We just want to make sure that we have time to address this issue. This has major impact. It’s not just this development. It’s all the others out there.”
Dr. Bill Louda of Loxahatchee Groves was also concerned about the language in the letter that had been sent to residents. “They are asking you to be enablers to move this quickly,” Louda said. “I like the extra time, but the speed is what jumped out.”
Acreage resident Lillian Hall said she thought the development would destroy surrounding rural communities.
“They are not our friends,” Hall said. “They have not behaved like our friends. They tried to get a special meeting with one of our Acreage Landowners’ Association officials, and he told them to come to a public meeting and talk to all of us.”
Former Loxahatchee Groves Councilman Dennis Lipp, who led a petition drive that got about 6,000 signatures urging the county commission to turn down a previous request by Callery-Judge for 10,000 homes on the property, said a more global look should be taken at the entire area.
“I think getting our arms around what this really means to this county is something that we need to breathe some life into,” Lipp said.
Loxahatchee Groves Landowners’ Association President Marge Herzog said the only way she could see the project moving forward was with the approximately 3,000 homes and 235,000 square feet of commercial that had already been approved.
Loxahatchee Groves Town Attorney Michael Cirullo said he realized the topic at hand was whether to approve an additional approval round, but town officials were still concerned about the underlying purpose.
“It will be about six times as much non-residential commercial use, plus the hotel, plus the stadium, than is currently approved, so it is a significant, if not game-changing, development for that area, and particularly for the Town of Loxahatchee Groves,” Cirullo said. “The concern is that a special round will allow this project to be looked at in isolation, as opposed to other applications that may come in with the county next year.”
Aghemo reiterated that the request before them was not to expedite the process but to give additional time to allow staff to review the application.
“Whether you approve it or not, staff is going to have a large development application to review, other agencies have to review and it has to be vetted out into the community,” he said.
Commissioner Hal Valeche agreed that an additional round would allow more time for the review process and made a motion to authorize it, which passed unanimously.