In a 4-2 decision Wednesday, the Palm Beach County Commission decided to initiate the process to determine the feasibility of placing a “big-box” store on the Sluggett property at the intersection of Southern Blvd. and Seminole Pratt Whitney Road.
The decision was preceded by a staff presentation on the various tiers in the county, including the agricultural/exurban tier where the Sluggett property is located.
Senior Planner Lisa Amara said the central-western communities are the largest area of the agricultural/exurban tier and represent a unique agricultural lifestyle in the county.
The area currently has 41,000 residents and is destined to grow to more than 60,000 by 2030. It is home to the largest tracts in the county that are still unbuilt.
Amara said the area lacks a plan and needs one, pointing out that the ill-fated Sector Plan approved by the commission in 2007 was ultimately scrapped due to objections from different parties that could not be resolved.
“The issues the central-western communities face [are] significant on a countywide level,” Amara said. “It needs to be addressed on a comprehensive and cumulative basis.”
She said the Indian Trail Improvement District had supplied a resolution supporting the Acreage Landowners’ Association’s intention to update its Acreage Neighborhood Plan.
“In addition to updating their neighborhood plan for themselves, they are interested in expanding out to other areas and bringing other communities in,” Amara said.
Tom Pelham, former secretary of the Department of Community Affairs, was there representing property owner Richard Sluggett.
Pelham said he has been following issues relating to The Acreage for more than 20 years. “I first became aware of this area in general and The Acreage specifically in 1989 when Palm Beach County became one of the first counties in the state to submit its first comprehensive plan to the Department of Community Affairs for review,” he said.
He said The Acreage became a huge issue in the approval process. “I can remember the department literally being bombarded with postcards, letters, communications of various kinds from people who had an interest in The Acreage,” he said. “The department had a problem dealing with The Acreage because it represented to us a severe problem of urban sprawl, a huge expanse, 50,000 acres previously platted in various ways for residential development with virtually no supporting uses.”
The department would have rejected that portion of the county’s comp plan, but officials recognized that the residents had vested rights there that could not be wiped out by the adoption of the comp plan. “Nevertheless, we became aware of the area and the problems presented by it,” Pelham said.
Pelham said that after he left the DCA in 1991 and returned to private practice, one of his jobs included helping prepare the discarded Sector Plan, which had included the Sluggett property as a commercial center.
“When I returned to the Department of Community Affairs in 2007, I again had direct involvement with comprehensive plan and land use issues arising out of Palm Beach County, including matters that relate to the area that we’re talking about today,” Pelham said. “Based upon that extensive knowledge, I can say with great confidence that this area, The Acreage and some of the other areas around it, present a very serious planning problem. It was a problem in 1989. It’s an even greater problem now.”
Because the area is underserved commercially, people are forced to get in their vehicles and drive long distances to get to basic services, he said, putting more traffic on the road.
Pelham said he thought what Sluggett was requesting was relevant to the problems that exist there.
“It’s a reasonable request and good planning,” he said. “The county itself has recognized that this parcel of property is an appropriate location for substantial commercial development to the tune of 281,000 square feet of non-residential space. All that Mr. Sluggett is requesting is that a condition be removed that restricts any one use on this property to a maximum of 65,000 square feet.”
He stressed that it is not an increase in footage, only a reconfiguration of the 281,000 square feet to accommodate a sizable anchor tenant such as a Home Depot.
Four residents — Alex Larson, Patricia Curry, Nancy Gribble and Rosa Durando — spoke against the request.
During commission discussion on whether to initiate the Sluggett request, Commissioner Karen Marcus asked county staff what they would be likely to recommend, and Planning Director Lorenzo Aghemo said he would probably recommend that they keep the current approval for a neighborhood-serving anchor store.
“You don’t think it’s a perfect spot for a big box?” Marcus asked. “You think it’s more suited for the type of commercial that’s allowed, a Publix or something like that?”
“Yes, a neighborhood-serving entity,” Deputy County Administrator Verdenia Baker replied.
Commissioner Steven Abrams asked what the procedure was, and Aghemo explained that if approved, it would become part of 2012’s second round of comp plan amendments, which now go to the Department of Economic Opportunity, which has absorbed the functions of the DCA.
“Today you’re not approving anything,” Aghemo said, explaining that staff would proceed with an analysis and review and bring it back to the commission at the next transmittal hearing in July or August. “Then it will go to the state and come back for adoption,” he said.
Commissioner Priscilla Taylor, who had requested the agricultural/ exurban tier workshop, made a motion to initiate the Sluggett property change, which was seconded by Abrams.
The motion carried 4-2, with Marcus and Commissioner Paulette Burdick opposed, and Commissioner Jess Santamaria absent.