County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay gave an update on District 6 issues including roads, development and sober homes, to the Royal Palm Beach Village Council on Thursday, Aug. 18.
“In the 18 months I have been in office, I have to tell you if anything is going on in Palm Beach County right now, it’s in District 6,” McKinlay said. “We have a little bit of everything, from development proposals like GL Homes and the newest city, the City of Westlake, stuff going on in the Glades, discharges from Lake Okeechobee, and everything else in between.”
The South Florida Water Management District’s permit for the completion of State Road 7 to Northlake Blvd. has been challenged by the City of West Palm Beach. “It is now within the Department of Administrative Hearings, and I believe the hearing on that should start next week,” she said. “If there is a silver lining in this cloud, it’s that if the state is successful in this DOA hearing and does receive its permit from the water management district, regardless of any other lawsuits that may be going on, the state can move forward with the construction of State Road 7. They can put those shovels in the ground.”
McKinlay said that the SR 7 project has been on the state’s books since she was just a year old.
“My teenagers will tell you that’s back since the age of dinosaurs, but I can tell you I am pretty confident about this,” she said. “I was meeting with one of your council members today, and there are a hundred different issues we need to be working on with the City of West Palm Beach, and out of a hundred, we all work together on 99 of them. I’d like to be able to get this passed, get the road underway, and do it in a very environmentally responsible way.”
She noted that the 60th Street bridge widening at Royal Palm Beach Blvd. is on schedule to be completed by Oct. 2.
“The second part of that project, taking 60th Street out to Seminole Pratt and widening it there at the M Canal, is facing some hurdles,” she said. “For some unknown reason, they have not been specific, but the City of West Palm Beach has denied the county a permit on that. I have to believe it might be a coincidence, but the DOA hearings on State Road 7 start next week, and I hate to think that there’s some spite in all of this. Hopefully, we can get past that, because we need that improvement on 60th Street to help keep traffic off some of your local roads.”
McKinlay said that the Avenir project in Palm Beach Gardens is hiring a consultant to look at widening Northlake Blvd. to six lanes from 140th Avenue to where Northlake Blvd. would meet the SR 7 extension.
The county is still in conversations with GL Homes, whose development application will go before the county commission in mid-September. McKinlay said GL Homes still has to resolve its proportional share agreement.
“The holdup on that has been the Indian Trail Improvement District,” she said. “We’re not quite sure what road improvement projects they’re looking at in terms of their overall development proposal.”
Iota Carol’s proposal for more than 1,000 homes near the GL Homes project will also begin making its way through the county planning process this fall.
“I, like you, do not like these large-scale developments coming into our back yard,” she said. “But as you can see, as with this City of Westlake and their cheap-shot incorporation with five people, a lot of these decisions have been taken out of our control. We are in a position where we have to sit down with developers now, and at the very least try to come up with something that can at least work within our communities.”
On a brighter note, McKinlay said the Department of Economic Sustainability recently awarded a $68,000 ADA Community Development Block grant to Royal Palm Beach to develop sidewalks south of Okeechobee Blvd., and has awarded a total of about $2 million to families over the years to get them into homeownership.
Sober homes continue to be an issue that local governments have had trouble controlling.
“As you know, with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, you’re dealing with a clientele that is protected under federal law, so there are civil rights issues involved,” McKinlay said. “We have tried unsuccessfully at the state level to mandate reporting requirements so we know where these are located. There’s about 700 of them that we know of located in Delray Beach alone. They’re all over Palm Beach County; they’re all over Florida. But our hands are tied a little bit.”
She pointed out that the City of Boca Raton tried to zone out sober homes and lost a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.
McKinlay added that there is an inordinate amount of fraud related to sober homes, and that is something the county is looking into.
She said Congresswoman Lois Frankel has been an advocate on the issue, and is waiting for a statement from the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing & Urban Development that will at least provide a definition of what a group home is.
“Based on a definition of what group homes are, there are certain requirements that group homes have to have inside their facilities, which will allow us an avenue to go in and get our code enforcement in there and see what’s going on inside those homes,” she said.
At the state level, $275,000 has been appropriated to the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office to create a task force to investigate sober homes, which is to submit a report to the legislature sometime next year.
McKinlay added that the county also has a task force investigating sober homes.
McKinlay also touched on the November referendum on the proposed one-cent sales tax increase. She pointed out that she did not support inclusion of the Palm Beach County Cultural Council as a beneficiary.
“I think that we really needed to focus our efforts on catching up on our infrastructure backlog and repairing the failing schools, crumbling roads and the parks that are falling apart,” McKinlay said.
ABOVE: Commissioner Melissa McKinlay