The Palm Beach County Commission conducted a public hearing last week with a “full house” of neighborhood residents packed into an auditorium at the County Governmental Center. The purpose of the hearing was to listen to the pros and cons and vote on the proposed second increase in zoning density to the property formerly known as Callery-Judge Grove, a 3,800-acre parcel of land completely surrounded by the community of The Acreage. When The Acreage was developed, this undisturbed natural habitat was zoned for one home per 10 acres, or a maximum of 380 future home sites; that was the number of homes the purchasers in The Acreage expected to see as their neighbors.
However, in 2008, the then owners, Callery-Judge, used their political influence to persuade the legislators to increase the zoning from the 380 to 2,996 home sites, plus an additional 235,000 square feet of commercial use, an increase in the home sites alone of 2,616 homes — a windfall profit for the property owner!
It turned out, even that increase in density wasn’t enough for Minto, a Canadian corporation that purchased the property in 2013 for $51 million and promptly renamed it “Minto West.”
Minto’s new rezoning proposal to the board requested that the number of homes to be further increased from 2,996 to the outrageous number of 4,549, and increase the commercial space from 235,000 square feet to an unbelievable 2.1 million square feet of commercial/industrial buildings!
Over and over again, speakers from The Acreage, Royal Palm Beach, Loxahatchee, Wellington and the rest of the surrounding communities came to the microphone and pleaded with the commissioners to consider the ruinous effect this enormous increase in density would have on their communities and lifestyle.
Despite the outrage of the residents from The Acreage and other surrounding communities in the audience, the county commissioners chose to approve Minto’s new plan in a 5-2 vote, with Commissioner Jess Santamaria and Vice Mayor Paulette Burdick the only dissenting board members.
Just imagine buying a home in a suburban community near a wooded parcel, expecting the property to be developed into a suburban residential community, and instead, your governmental representatives voted to put your family across from “downtown Broward County congestion.”
This former orange grove, surrounded by suburbia with an adjacent neighborhood shopping center, will now become a congested downtown urban city center.
Commissioner Santamaria was one of only two commissioners to speak on behalf of the public. In addition to the potential increase in crime, he emphasized that the increase in density will undoubtedly cause untold problems in extreme traffic congestion, air pollution, water and electric resource shortages, not to mention the increase in taxes required to pay for the widened roads, utility expansions, schools, police and fire, etc. The opposing arguments by the other five Commissioners bordered on the ridiculous:
In rebuttal, Mayor Priscilla Taylor said, “We have to expect change. Increased population in the western communities is a product of the movement of habitation farther west since the beginning of time.”
Commissioner Shelley Vana followed with, “The Seminoles weren’t happy when the first settlers in The Acreage moved in.”
The commissioners, in a vote of two to five, chose to ignore the will of the people. Just who are those other five commissioners working for?
Toby M. Siegel, Royal Palm Beach