After a marathon 10-hour meeting Wednesday, the Palm Beach County Commission gave comprehensive plan, land use and zoning approvals to the planned Minto West development.
The approvals came on three 5-2 votes with Commissioner Jess Santamaria and Vice Mayor Paulette Burdick dissenting.
The votes cleared the way for Minto to develop up to 4,436 homes and 2.1 million square feet of non-residential use on the 3,735-acre former Callery-Judge Grove property. However, opponents of the project have vowed to take their concerns to court.
Commissioners voting in favor of the development said the increased density was a preferred alternative to charging taxpayers for infrastructure improvements that would not have been paid for under the previous application approved in 2006 for 2,996 residential units and 230,000 square feet of non-residential use.
Commissioner Steve Abrams said he supported the changes because infrastructure improvements for the previously approved development would bring the county less funding.
“We can’t get assistance because concurrency has been gutted by the state,” Abrams said. “The difference is we will get double the amount, which will preclude taxpayers from having to pay.”
But Santamaria said the development will adversely affect the surrounding community with increased crime and traffic. “It is an excessive development that should have stuck to the original plan,” he said.
Commissioner Shelley Vana voted for the changes after insisting on a number of additional conditions, including that Persimmon Blvd. would not be connected to the project until 2,700 homes were built at the development, that the developer would pay for a traffic light at Okeechobee Blvd. and D Road at a time to be determined by the county engineer, and that equestrian trails in the project would have connectivity to the surrounding communities.
Vana also had the developer agree to disclose to future home buyers that odors associated with equestrian uses might be present in the project.
County staff had recommended approval of the increased density, saying it would help alleviate infrastructure issues that had been cropping up in the area for the past 25 years.
Project Manager Bryan Davis explained that the county had been bound to give the previous approval for 2,996 units and 230,000 square feet of non-residential use under provisions of the Agricultural Enclave Act passed by the state legislature in 2006, which was tailored for the site and entitled it to similar development as the land surrounding it.
The land has been in agricultural use since 1968 as Callery-Judge Grove, but citrus canker and blight led the previous owner to sell the land to Minto last year for $51 million.
Davis said that the grove was established before significant development occurred around it, and that since that time, The Acreage has grown up around the site without sufficient infrastructure, including road improvements and commercial services, which require residents to travel long distances to shop.
“We have been trying to retroactively look at how we address this,” he said, explaining that the Callery-Judge land had been included as a commercial center in the failed Sector Plan developed 10 years ago.
Davis noted that the owners of Callery-Judge had proposed a major development of 10,000 homes and approximately 5 million square feet of non-residential use, which was rejected by the county commission in 2006. Callery-Judge came back with an application for the 2,996 homes and 230,000 square feet of non-residential use, which the county was obligated to approve under the Agricultural Enclave Act.
Davis added that the previously approved plan had only three points of access, Seminole Pratt Whitney Road north and south, and Persimmon Blvd. The plan approved Wednesday added 60th Street North and a western access point.
Davis said the county has received a tremendous amount of correspondence from the public both in support and in opposition to the density increase. He also pointed out that the originally approved project provided 40 percent open space, whereas the new project will offer 55 percent to 65 percent open space, including parks, trails and significantly larger buffers around the edge of the property.
The developer has also offered land for another elementary school, as well as additional drainage capacity for the surrounding communities.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, formerly the Department of Community Affairs, sent the amendment application back with no comment, while the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council recommended additional compactness of the developed portion to avoid impact on neighbors.
County Engineer George Webb said the development’s increased non-residential uses, including 500,000 square feet of local-serving commercial and a 1 million-square-foot employment center, will help capture traffic internally.
The project will, however, significantly increase traffic outside the project, including on Northlake and Okeechobee boulevards, which will probably require additional lanes on both roads as well as overpasses on both roads, and Minto will only have to foot part of the bill under proportionate share rules recently established by the state.
Webb added that the developer has agreed to make $12 million in improvements through the development itself, as well as more than $50 million to go for improvements elsewhere. That leaves about $236 million in additional road improvements that the county has identified as needed.
Planner Donaldson Hearing, representing Minto, pointed out that it is a 25-year project and that residential development will only occur concurrently with commercial development, which was a requirement by the county.
Attorney Marty Perry, representing the Indian Trail Improvement District, said the project is dropping a small city into the middle of a rural area.
“Indian Trail is a special taxing district with no power for land use planning,” Perry said. “We depend on the county for that.”
Planner Jim Fleischmann, also representing ITID, said the developer had gone too far out of the area to compare surrounding areas for density, using a 5-mile radius that extended into parts of Wellington and Royal Palm Beach. He asserted that the Minto West development constituted urban sprawl.
“A sense of place in Loxahatchee Groves and The Acreage would have been more appropriate,” Fleischmann said. “It put undue emphasis on developments in Wellington and Royal Palm Beach.”
Webb said the state did not provide comments to the methodology used to determine urban sprawl.