The Palm Beach County Zoning Commission approved Minto West’s rezoning application last week by a 6-2 vote.
The Oct. 2 decision came after four hours of testimony by the applicant, staff and members of the public largely opposed to the controversial project.
The 3,789-acre, 5.92-square-mile project, formerly known as Callery-Judge Grove, is located along the east and west sides of Seminole Pratt Whitney Road between Okeechobee and Northlake boulevards.
Minto is seeking approval to build 4,549 homes and up to 2.1 million square feet of non-residential uses. The land is currently approved for 2,996 residential units and 235,000 square feet of non-residential use.
The Palm Beach County Commission is scheduled to consider the project again on Wednesday, Oct. 29.
“This is a very large project, larger than what we typically see,” Project Manager Bryan Davis said. “We haven’t seen anything of this size in Palm Beach County in quite some time.”
For comparison, he said the project is larger than the cities of Lake Worth and Greenacres and, if incorporated, would be the 11th-largest municipality in the county.
Davis pointed out that the site was established as a grove in 1968, before most other development took place around it. The surrounding area was primarily in agricultural use.
“The Acreage has largely built up around it,” Davis said. “Residential development started in that area in the early 1970s. This was always something that was known as a potential issue out there.”
The site was the last commercial citrus growing operation in Palm Beach County. It had to close its operations in the past few years due to citrus blight. Davis added that growth around the site was largely unplanned and development encroached on the agricultural operations.
Studies about the land’s future use have gone on for nearly 25 years in some capacity or another.
“The one that really sets the tone is the Midlands Study,” he said, referring to a long-term planning effort done in the late 1980s to set up the county’s comprehensive plan.
“It was to look at infrastructure, and it recognized not just this area, but virtually everything west of the turnpike that we now think of as a developed area,” Davis said, explaining that the study examined the infrastructure needs of the largely agricultural area because it was starting to come under development pressure.
Initially, the area was subject to concurrency regulations adopted by the county in 1990, and individual home builders were required to get concurrency approval, which slowed residential development, Davis said.
“The county commission ultimately grandfathered in The Acreage and effectively exempted it from having to go through that process,” Davis said. “So, effectively, there was a bypass through the normal steps of having to go through the growth management process.”
The Acreage Neighborhood Plan recognized the need for commercial services but wanted to put them outside the area, he said, pointing out that the Minto West project is not within The Acreage but was identified as an area appropriate for some of those uses.
That study, the Loxahatchee Groves Neighborhood Plan and other plans focused on character of neighborhood development and what residents wanted their communities to look like, he said.
As the citrus operations began to wind down, Callery-Judge prepared a major development plan. The owner at the time applied for 10,000 homes and 2.5 million square feet of non-residential use.
“It had some public benefits, but it also had, more importantly, significant road impacts,” Davis said. “I want to point out that [county] staff recommended denial of that development due to those impacts, but we saw that there was some good in it.”
While the county commission voted down that proposal in 2006, there has been a long-identified need to help balance the land uses in the area, he said.
“It was a retrofit, if you will. Staff did recognize that there was a benefit to the non-residential of 2.5 million square feet,” Davis said. “However, we did recommend a density of 1.2, rather than 2.5 units per acre, and that number is important.”
Callery-Judge Grove was successful in getting the Agricultural Enclave Act passed in the state legislature, which was tailored for the site and entitled it to similar development as the land surrounding it. The site was determined to be an ag enclave in 2008, and was given its current approvals.
County Engineer George Webb said the project has met infrastructure concurrency requirements through the recently established proportionate share process mandated by the state.
“In essence, it just requires the developer to make a dollar share contribution,” Webb said.
The development at build-out would generate 63,562 daily trips, with 4,662 morning peak hour trips and 4,032 evening trips, which is about a 20 percent reduction from the original Minto West proposal last year.
On Seminole Pratt Whitney Road, about 27 percent of traffic from the project would use the northern portion and 38 percent would use the southern portion, according to county traffic studies.
On the east side of the project, an estimated 18 percent of traffic would use 60th Street and 16.5 percent would use Persimmon Blvd. to get in and out of the area.
“Those two roads are identified on the county’s thoroughfare identification map as part of our comprehensive plan,” Webb said. “They have been on our plan since the late 1980s and have been identified as being able to move traffic through this area.”
He said the concern is that those roadway improvements will put more traffic through neighborhoods, but the traffic plan has identified those roads as where the traffic should be, and they would remain two-lane roads.
Minto West representative Donaldson Hearing said the purpose of the meeting was to request approval for the required traditional town development and preliminary master plan approval, both of which will come back before the zoning commission again, and he pointed out that county staff is recommending approval.
Hearing added that 55 percent of the development will remain open space, and the development will be able to offer significant drainage and water supply capability to the surrounding areas, as well as donating several hundred acres for public recreation and other public uses, including a sheriff’s substation and a fire station.
He added that the project will provide $50 million in proportionate share payments, $29 million in thoroughfare roadway construction for Seminole Pratt Whitney Road and Persimmon Blvd., and $7.8 million for mitigation and payments for 60th Street North and Persimmon Blvd.
Attorney Marty Perry, representing the Indian Trail Improvement District, noted that the Minto West project is nearly surrounded by The Acreage. He added that ITID built all the roads in the area except Northlake, Okeechobee, Southern and Seminole Pratt. Residents pay an annual non-ad valorem assessment for the district’s maintenance and improvement, and ITID receives no outside funding such as gas tax revenue.
Perry pointed out that the Palm Beach County Planning Commission, which voted to deny approval, cited traffic as the main concern.
“What we are doing is shoving an urban development right in the middle of a bunch of one-and-a-quarter-acre lots,” Perry said. “The density all around that plot is 0.8 units per acre. The density and intensity should be consistent with the surrounding area.”
Perry said his clients have no problem with the currently approved density, but were concerned with the requested increase.
Commissioner Sam Caliendo was concerned about the $50 million fee for infrastructure improvements, pointing out that it would not nearly cover the total cost. He also pointed out that developers take huge tax write-offs for donations of land.
“I think the plan looks great, but we need to put a lot more thought into the community around it,” he said.
Commissioner Robert Currie said the development as presented would internalize much of the traffic. He added that he thought widening 60th Street to four lanes might preclude the necessity to include Persimmon as a thoroughfare, but Webb said that there may be issues with enough right of way.
“You might have to buy more property, you might have to buy a house or two,” Webb said. “It’s not something we normally like to do. As long as this project is, there will be lots of things to think about over the next five, 10 or 20 years.”
Commission Vice Chair William Anderson said he thought the project as proposed, as compared to what is currently approved, is better as far as impact to the surrounding neighborhood because of the anticipated internal capture of traffic.
Commissioner Mark Beatty said he liked the idea of having a town center there, as opposed to having commercial sprawl such as what has occurred on Okeechobee and Northlake boulevards.
“It’s a chance where New Urbanism makes some sense to me when you’re building a new project,” Beatty said. “I would like to see this money go to 60th to get the traffic out of there, and I think that it needs to be at a minimum three lanes so that you’re not backing up traffic when you stop.”
Beatty made a motion to approve the application, which carried 6-2 with commissioners Sheri Scarborough and Amir Kanel opposed. Commissioner Joanne Davis abstained from voting.