The Royal Palm Beach Village Council granted site plan and plat approval last week for the 822,000-square-foot Aldi regional warehouse to be built off State Road 7 near the Regal Cinemas, granting neighboring residents’ request to allow a stand of Australian pines remain until Aldi’s new landscaping grows in.
The Aldi warehouse will be built on about 42 acres of the 73-acre site, with the remaining parcels to be developed later, except for one parcel that is already developed with a storage facility.
At the Aug. 16 meeting, Jaime Blackwell of Bobwhite Road in the Willows said he and his neighbors are concerned about the existing vegetation being torn down, exposing them to the construction project before the new landscaping is installed.
“Many of the residents on my street have received letters from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with plans showing the Aldi project,” Blackwell said. “What they’re showing is that it is coming within 60 feet of the canal behind our houses.”
Blackwell said the plan calls for stripping the land up to the canal’s edge. “By doing this, all of our properties are going to become front-row view to just a crater,” he said. “There is not going to be any vegetation left for as long as it takes to build this property.”
Aldi plans to put up landscaping and an 8-foot wall, but Blackwell was concerned about the condition of the area between when existing vegetation is razed and new landscaping grows in.
“I’ve talked to a lot of my neighbors, and this is not acceptable,” he said. “This is opening all the homes on our street to noise and construction. If that whole area is stripped to dirt, it’s going to be very hard for residents on the street to sell their property within the next two to four years.”
Although most of the existing vegetation is invasive exotics, Blackwell asked that it remain until the construction is done. “We don’t want to look at a warehouse,” he said. “It will take away our privacy.”
Planning & Zoning Director Bradford O’Brien said Blackwell is correct in that plans remove existing vegetation, but the project will be scarcely visible once the wall and new vegetation are installed.
“The line of sight is a distance of 440 feet from the homes to the portion of the building,” O’Brien said, adding that Aldi is requesting a landscaping waiver to allow a depression in the buffer area to retain water for natural irrigation, rather than a three-foot berm required by village code, which the applicant asserted would require irrigation and sod.
Aldi agent Dana Gillette of Erdman Anthony said the trees on the property are Australian pines, which are not really pine trees but an invasive exotic that the village requires them to remove.
“It turned out that there were not too many native trees on the site that we could salvage,” Gillette said. “Along the canal bank, there are trees outside the property in the village’s land, and they are Australian pine trees. The village code requires that we do that, and it requires it for good reason, but we will be putting in a lot of landscaping to compensate for that.”
The buffer to the north between the site and existing townhouses will have the 3-foot berm with irrigation with an 8-foot wall due to loading activity on that side, she said.
Gillette also pointed out that the plans had been turned around so that trucks would be loading and unloading on the east rather than the west side in order to be away from the homes, although backing the trucks to the loading docks would be more difficult.
“The west side has no openings and will not be visible,” Gillette said. “The east side will be where all the activity is.”
Councilman Jeff Hmara asked about additional landscaping that would be provided as part of an economic grant that the village offered to attract Aldi.
“They have a standard formula to provide a number of trees that did not match up with what our code requires,” O’Brien explained. “In order to bridge that gap, we came up with an economic grant in order to attract them to the community.”
He said the amount that the village would give them was small compared with the anticipated economic benefit to the community from Aldi, estimated at $56 million for the first year and about $115 million for the next five years.
Hmara asked about Blackwell’s concern about the visibility of the project if the existing exotics are left in, versus replacing them with native vegetation. “Can you give us a rough feel for the difference in density between what there is right now and what will replace it?” he asked.
O’Brien said the existing Australian pines provide a “wall of green,” where the new vegetation will provide occasional windows of opportunity to see the building.
Village Manager Ray Liggins said there will be three rows of trees between the parking lot of the warehouse and the property line, in addition to the wall.
Vice Mayor Fred Pinto said the big win in the arrangement was persuading Aldi to reverse the site and have the trucking operations away from the homes to the west. “Is it a timing issue that this was going to be torn down before the new growth is in place?” Pinto asked.
Adam Wilhoit, a Willows resident since 1996, said the area is overrun with exotics. “I’ve scoured every bit of this area we’re discussing, and I can tell you that after 15 years, it has really become overrun with exotics and most of the wildlife has moved out,” he said.
Wilhoit said that about 15 years ago, the village removed the Australian pines on residents’ side of the canal but not the other side.
“There’s no disagreement with the plan by Aldi from my point of view, but crazy as it may be — I’m no tree hugger, but I’m no fan of exotics — I think my neighbors have a unique request,” he said.
Councilwoman Martha Webster made a motion to approve the site plan with the condition that Aldi leave the strip of Australian pines there until the buffer is built. The motion carried 5-0.