An opinion from the office of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in response to a recent request from the Town of Loxahatchee Groves on Minto West’s interpretation of “surrounding communities” puts the onus on Palm Beach County to ask that question.
The 3,800-acre Minto West property north of the town has been determined to be an Agricultural Enclave, which grants it the ability to develop in the same manner as communities that have grown up around it, with conditions.
Loxahatchee Groves residents and members of the town council, however, have taken umbrage that the developer has reached as far as Royal Palm Beach and Wellington to include in its definition of “surrounding communities,” while ignoring the low-density, rural character of Loxahatchee Groves, next door to the south.
Minto West is preparing to ask for up to 6,500 homes and about 1.4 million square feet of workplace and community-serving commercial uses. The land currently has a future land-use approval for up to 2,996 dwelling units and up to 235,000 square feet of non-residential uses.
The town council, after discussion at its November meeting regarding Minto West’s plans, decided to have its legal staff write a letter to Attorney General Pam Bondi asking for the state’s legal definition of “surrounding communities.”
The office’s response was that it was inappropriate to respond to Loxahatchee Groves because the county is the jurisdictional entity for Minto West.
A letter to Town Attorney Michael Cirullo from Senior Assistant State Attorney Gerry Hammond stated, “After reviewing the information you have submitted, it does not appear that this is a matter upon which this office may comment.”
Hammond wrote that the attorney general is statutorily limited to providing legal advice and opinions to governmental agencies and officers on questions relating to their own duties and responsibilities, and the issue the town raised — that the owner of a parcel of land and a local governmental entity are to negotiate in good faith to reach consensus on the land uses and intensities of use that are consistent with the surrounding area — was not in the town’s purview.
“It appears that the local government involved in the scenario you have presented is Palm Beach County,” Hammond wrote. “A response to your letter would necessarily involve comment on the ongoing process involving Palm Beach County and an applicant for an amendment to Palm Beach County’s comprehensive plan. In the absence of a request from Palm Beach County… it would be inappropriate for this office to comment.”
Former Councilman Dennis Lipp, who is chairman of the town’s Planning & Zoning Board and also a member of the Palm Beach County Planning Commission, said he will talk to county planners and legal staff about the issue. “I think ‘surrounds’ is pretty straightforward,” Lipp said. “If they go out five miles, why not 10?”
Lipp led the opposition to a proposed land-use amendment submitted by Callery-Judge Grove, former owners of the site, in 2008 that was shot down by the Palm Beach County Commission. That proposal asked for up to 10,000 homes and 4 million square feet of non-residential space. He said that application reached out in a radius of 5 miles to pick up developments such as Madison Green, while ignoring Loxahatchee Groves and The Acreage.
According to Lipp, the Growth Management Act has changed with the demise of the Department of Community Affairs, which was replaced by the Department of Economic Opportunity, but it still leaves a great deal of the decision-making at the county level.
“I think it’s going to be who convinces who the loudest,” he said. “This being during an election cycle, with three districts in the county up for re-election, there’s going to be a lot of money spent on campaigns, because when you boil that all down, it’s four votes.”
The Palm Beach County Planning Division will present the proposed text amendment to the planning commission on April 11 for a recommendation, and to the county commission for initiation on April 28. The application will be before the planning commission in a public hearing on May 23. It will be on the county commission transmittal hearing agenda June 9.
To stay up to date on the Minto West process, visit www.pbcgov.com/pzb/minto.htm.