The Palm Beach County Commission voted 6-1 last week to let developers of the Shops at Indian Trails, a new shopping plaza planned in The Acreage, divide the commercial project into two phases and delay the start of construction.
Commissioners considered the request Thursday, Jan. 30 to adopt a resolution reconfiguring the site plan for the 31-acre property at the southwest corner of Northlake and Coconut boulevards, moving some square footage, modifying conditions of approval and restarting the date for the commencement of development.
Commissioner Jess Santamaria, who represents the western communities, cast the lone dissenting vote.
The project, approved in 2011, includes about 107,000 square feet of commercial space, including a restaurant with a drive-through, about 89,000 square feet for shops, two banks with drive-through lanes, medical office space and a convenience store with gas pumps and a car wash.
Robert Bentz of Land Design South, representing the developers, said his client was not seeking to change the approved square footage, percentage of open space, site access or retail uses but, rather, to build in two phases, move some square footage and extend the build-out date.
Bentz said the planned traffic light on Northlake would be installed on the eastern portion of the tract and then moved later to the original planned location farther west.
Neighboring residents voiced concerns that the area could become a strip mall, that traffic would overwhelm the community and that the gas station could lead to drinking-water worries in an area that uses primarily well water.
The issues raised were similar to the concerns brought up in 2011 when the development was approved.
The developers’ representatives emphasized that the scope of the project, the use of the land and the types of businesses to occupy the plaza already have been approved and would remain unchanged.
While Vice Mayor Paulette Burdick agreed to support the change, she was not happy that the project has been delayed.
“We approve a lot of these projects because we are told that they are going to create jobs, and by continuing to postpone them, we are not creating jobs,” she said. “I’m going to support the project, but I think it’s important, when we’re told that this is going to create X amount of jobs, as we postpone it, those jobs aren’t being created.”
Postponement of the project was blamed on the economy, and Bentz emphasized that no big changes were being sought. “What we are doing today is creating a phase line in our project,” he said. “This has no new impacts to the community.”
The biggest difference is moving the traffic light to the east, temporarily, and then moving it west, Bentz said.
“The changes that we are making, honestly, are… better for the community than what currently exists today,” Bentz said. “This center is a neighborhood-serving retail center. It’s going to serve the community in the Acreage area.”
Santamaria said that the feelings expressed by the handful of residents attending reflected the feelings of 80 percent or so of Acreage residents, and he noted that there was no one from the Acreage Landowners’ Association supporting the change.
He also said that development extensions in Palm Beach County have become too common. Phasing, Santamaria added, is too common as well, citing extensions he has seen that went beyond 10 years.
He said his main concern is access from Hamlin Blvd.
“I would be willing to support this project if they close the access on Hamlin,” Santamaria said. “That is the main reason that I will not approve this project or any other project in the future that negatively impacts a residential area. We must stop infringing on [people who] moved into an area because of the character and the peacefulness of the community. We are forcing congestion and traffic in the areas like The Acreage, and that has to stop.”
Commissioner Steven Abrams said that changing the time frame does not change the project itself.
“The fact is, eventually the project will get built and the jobs will be created,” Abrams said. “We just can’t control the specific market conditions as to the timing, and that’s presumably why applicants come in seeking a phasing, because they want to try to conform as best as they can to the prevailing market conditions.”
The commissioners’ 6-1 vote means construction won’t begin until 2017, and the project will be built in two parts.
ABOVE: The Palm Beach County Commission.