The Palm Beach County Commission last week postponed a request by PBA Holdings to allow 1,200 acres of land zoned agricultural to revert to its previous residential approval for 2,000 homes it once had before the economic downturn.
At the commission’s zoning meeting Sept. 26, the developer asked to abandon the agricultural use approved in 2008 for the land approximately 2.5 miles west of Seminole Pratt Whitney Road to a previously approved residential planned unit development zoning district.
The Highland Dunes project is set on land that was previously part of the Palm Beach Aggregates rock mining operation. The land in question was rezoned for houses a decade ago, but the project never got underway.
Commissioner Jess Santamaria, along with several residents who live near the project, asked that the item be pulled from the consent agenda for discussion.
Santamaria asked for a 30-day postponement on Highland Dunes because none of the current seven commissioners had been involved with the original approvals in December 2004 and January 2006, which would allow 2,000 residential units and 50,000 square feet of commercial.
“All current commissioners have been primarily working on the 2014 budget just approved,” he said. “This application has just come before us within the past few days, and because of these other very important issues, I, for one, didn’t have much time to look at this application.”
Santamaria also pointed out that most of the people affected by the application had no knowledge of it being on the Sept. 26 zoning agenda.
“I was informed that only 28 notices were sent to over 130,000 residents affected by this very large development,” he said. “I believe that 30 days would be a reasonable time for all of us seven commissioners to familiarize ourselves with all important aspects of this large development, and for the affected residents surrounding this development to be given the opportunity to become informed of the development facts, and enable them to give comments if they so choose.”
Land planner Kieran Kilday, representing the applicant, said that proper notice had been given. “There’s rules in the book. We met the rules in the book, and notice was there,” he said. “[This] included notice to the surrounding property owners, and in this case, there are not a lot of surrounding property owners.”
He said notices were sent to the Village of Wellington, the South Florida Water Management District, a property to the east and Deer Run to the north, which has several lots abutting the site.
“Because there are other people in the general area who get affected, we are required to put up big yellow signs,” he said. “We have a mile of frontage on this property, and so for the last month or two, we have 23 yellow signs along our entire frontage along Southern Blvd.”
Kilday added that they had met the requirements for legal advertising. “To postpone this item because there may be people beyond the legal requirements who are interested is inappropriate,” he said.
He added that his client had met all the requirements of the county’s comprehensive plan and land development code.
“These are the rules that my property owner, who is a constituent of the county, has to obey,” Kilday said. “What you are being asked now is to institute a new rule of notice. You are being asked to postpone this so we can now give additional notice to an even broader segment of the population… But this applicant made an application starting in February 2013 to be able to get here today, and they deserve to go by the rules in it.”
He added that a 30-day postponement would result in the same outcome as acting on the petition that day, asserting that everything being applied for is laid out in the comprehensive plan. “It’s not a discretionary thing,” Kilday said.
He also noted that the project, because it was previously approved, can get underway quickly, creating job opportunities.
“If there ever was a project that was close to shovel-ready in the private sector, which means employing many of those people living in that area, it’s this job, so I would ask you to not delay hearing this project,” Kilday said.
Loxahatchee Groves Mayor Dave Browning said he had heard about the project in an e-mail from a resident two days before the meeting. “We have not had a chance to look at this,” Browning said. “I find it ironic that our community, which is really the closest to this project and probably the most impacted because of potential use of Okeechobee [Blvd.], which divides our community, we were not notified… We need time for us to deal with this from our town council, and we can only do it in the sunshine, so I think we need to at least postpone it 30 days.”
Royal Palm Beach Mayor Matty Mattioli also asked for a postponement.
“We are asking you to make a decision that will affect not 50 people but over 100,000 people,” Mattioli said. “They put you in office, not the developer. I found out about this at 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon.”
Acreage resident Patricia Curry pointed out that the only way someone would see the notice signs that had been posted would be if they were going to Belle Glade or Palm Beach Aggregates.
“I think the county’s notice requirements really are lacking, and I’ve spoken about this in the past,” Curry said. “I don’t think a 30-day postponement is going to hurt anything here. There are some major concerns with the traffic issues especially.”
George Lewis, president of the Deer Run Property Owners’ Association, said his community would be affected by the development more than anyone else. “We are also asking for a postponement primarily because we got no notice,” Lewis said. “It was by accident that we found out that this project was going forward.”
He said that flooding issues in Deer Run are heavily affected by runoff from the Highland Dunes property, also that Deer Run’s entrance is where the Okeechobee Blvd. extension would be constructed. “With 2,000 homes being constructed, we would have a significant increase in traffic,” Lewis said.
Commissioner Shelley Vana said she agreed that the notice requirements appear to be lacking, although the applicant met the requirements. “They did follow the rules in what they did, and yet our rules are still kind of limiting who knows what’s going on,” Vana said.
Santamaria said he thought the item should not have been on the consent agenda, but rather on the regular agenda.
“How this particular request would be on the consent agenda, I was dumbfounded,” he said. “I couldn’t believe that an agenda item that is going to produce 2,000 homes, some 4,000 additional cars on Southern Blvd., 5,000 more students in our public school system, I just could not understand how, regardless of rules that were followed, how only 28 notices were sent.”
Santamaria added that he believed that since the applicant had given up the residential designation to go back to agricultural, they should have to reapply for residential.
Vice Mayor Patricia Taylor said that out of respect to Santamaria, whose district covers the area in question, they should postpone the request for 30 days.
Taylor made a motion to that effect, which then carried unanimously.