Commissioners Get Bus Tour Through The Acreage

Members of the Palm Beach County Commission joined county administrators and staff on a fact-finding bus tour last week of the county’s rural areas west of State Road 7, including The Acreage and Loxahatchee Groves.

The tour was in anticipation of a county commission workshop Wednesday, March 28 to discuss issues involving the county’s different growth management tiers.

The tour had been requested by members of the commission to become more familiar with the exurban and rural tiers. The workshop March 28 will address the history, objectives and policies of the county’s comprehensive plan as it applies to those areas.

The tour began at the Vista Center on Jog Road and went west on Okeechobee Blvd., then south on State Road 7 to Southern Blvd. and west to 20-Mile Bend, the edge of the exurban and rural tiers.

The bus then headed back to Seminole Pratt Whitney Road and north past the Sluggett property at Southern Blvd. and Seminole Pratt, then west on 60th Street North to 180th Avenue North, east on Hamlin Blvd. back to Seminole Pratt and then north to the Mecca Farms property off Northlake for a tour stop.

The 1,400-acre Mecca site was purchased by the county and partially developed for biotech uses before the project was scrapped and the Scripps Florida Research Institute was built in Jupiter instead. The Mecca property is now unused except for 750 acres that has been leased for farming and a water plant, according to Senior Planner Maria Bello.

The tour then proceeded back east on Northlake Blvd. to the possible future connection of State Road 7 east of the Ibis community. The tour went past several areas along Northlake that have been approved for commercial developments that have not been built yet.

The bus then headed south on Coconut Blvd. to Orange Blvd., east to Royal Palm Beach Blvd., east on Sunset Blvd. to 110th Avenue North, then south to Persimmon Blvd., where it cut across to the completed portion of the State Road 7 extension, back to Okeechobee Blvd., and then returned to the Vista Center.

Areas pointed out during the tour included the Sluggett property at Southern and Seminole Pratt, Lion Country Safari, Callery-Judge Grove, the GL Homes property, Mecca Farms and other areas in the pipeline for future development.

The tour also traversed several of the “T intersections” that will come under reconsideration for future commercial development at the March 28 meeting.

The bus tour was convened as a commission meeting with presentations by staff along the route. Commissioner Burt Aaronson did not participate in the tour.

The workshop will revisit the Managed Growth Tier System adopted in 1999 to protect existing neighborhoods and communities, and to direct the location and timing of future development. The tier system delineates five geographic areas: urban/suburban, rural, exurban, the Agricultural Reserve and the Glades.

“The route was planned to see as much as possible in the area based on the limitation of where the bus can go,” Planning & Zoning Director Barbara Alterman said. “The commissioners asked to do the tours to see it on the ground instead of on maps, and provide a context for workshop discussion.”

Senior Planner Lisa Amara explained that the difference in the exurban and rural tier is that the exurban tier can be developed at one residential unit per 2.5 acres and the rural tier can be developed at one in 5 or one in 10 acres. Both of the tiers allow low-density commercial development, Amara said, explaining that most of the tour was in the Indian Trail Improvement District.

“About 60 percent of this area is subdivided,” she said. “That’s about 28,800 acres. Eighty percent of the units within the subdivided area are built today. That accounts for about 14,000 dwelling units, and about 40,000 people call this area home.”

By 2030, the population is anticipated to be about 62,000, with almost 21,000 units.

Most of the designations in the tier were approved before 1989, Bello said.

The commission and county staff worked on the Sector Plan for several years and approved it in 2007 for transmission to the Department of Community Affairs, which no longer exists and has been replaced by the Department of Economic Opportunity.

The DCA found the Sector Plan not in compliance after several challenges from residents. “It forced us into a hearing or settlement, but we were unable to resolve it because of the parties involved,” Alterman told the Town-Crier, explaining that different people did not like different parts of the plan.

Eventually the Sector Plan was rescinded.

Alterman said that the trigger leading to the bus tour and workshop was a request by the owners of the Sluggett property to allow a big-box store at the intersection of Southern Blvd. and Seminole Pratt.

That request led commissioners to seek a review of the tier system. “We’re doing all of them so we can have a better grasp of the comp plan,” Alterman said.