The Indian Trial Improvement District Board of Supervisors will decide officially Nov. 10 on whether to go to court to fight a county decision last week granting Minto West a density increase, but the count at a workshop on Monday showed that board members are divided, opposing more litigation by a 3-2 vote.
Attorney Marty Perry, representing ITID on the Minto West project, said the Palm Beach County Commission basically approved everything Minto asked for.
“There are, in my mind, some issues with regard to some conditions that were discussed, including the protection of Persimmon Blvd.,” Perry said, explaining that conditions made at the end of the meeting not to connect or improve Persimmon Blvd. until the development has 3,000 residential units, and to install traffic control devices, did not get into the final approval.
Perry plans to ask the county commission for a motion to reconsider those. “We’re not going to let that lie,” Perry said. “As far as I’m concerned, we don’t have final resolution to the zoning.”
He said that litigation, if the board decided to go that route, would be against the county, not Minto. “The action, if anything, would be to challenge the comp plan amendment,” Perry said, estimating that the cost would be between $250,000 and $500,000.
Perry also pointed out that the county action is not effective until 30 days after the state reviews it, which will leave the board about 60 days to decide what action to take, if any.
“The opportunity always presents itself for negotiation,” Perry said. “Minto has taken a hard line.”
Supervisor Michelle Damone asked whether the difference of opinion at the end of the hearing could be sorted out by the ITID board’s next regular meeting on Nov. 10, and Perry said he knew there was support by other county commissioners for the condition made by Commissioner Shelley Vana to protect Persimmon Blvd., at least in the development’s early stages, which he estimated to be six to eight years.
About an hour of public comment limited to two minutes per speaker was divided between those who did and did not want to pursue litigation.
Resident Diana Demarest said she did not want to pay for more litigation, referring to a push by a group called ALERTS (Acreage/Loxahatchee Engaged Residents Taking a Stand) for ITID to take legal action.
“I keep hearing $500,000 as the cost of suing,” she said. “Their dream at ALERTS is for Indian Trail to pick up the tab. If you sue, you are only delaying the inevitable.”
Demarest added that she also did not favor blocking roads or delaying the development of connecting roads.
Resident John Meredith said Seminole Ridge High School students spend 45 minutes on Orange Grove Blvd. and Seminole Pratt Whitney Road commuting to and from school. Meredith added that he did not want more litigation. “Drainage, roads and parks is what we should be doing,” he said.
Marissa Hopkins echoed that sentiment. “Please do not spend tax dollars on frivolous lawsuits,” Hopkins said. “Development is inevitable.”
Rick Diaz also opposed ITID pursuing a legal battle. “You’re not our city council; you’re our public works,” he said, adding that residents don’t pay the board to fight political battles. “This is not an endorsement of Minto, but I feel such expenditure will be fruitless.”
Diaz presented a petition with 154 signatures opposing further litigation.
But resident Patricia Curry, a central figure in the ALERTS group, said that ITID has a fiduciary responsibility to protect assets of the district and should continue discussion of not only Persimmon Blvd. and 60th Street, both slated to be connected to the development, but also many other Acreage roads that will be affected.
“Our own consultants report said there will be bleed-off traffic,” Curry said. “Minto sent a letter to the district saying they want to widen Coconut to four lanes. You will not be able to negotiate anything with Minto if you don’t have a seat at the table. Fight it.”
Al Summer thought there would be no negotiating with Minto and asserted that residents own the property under the roads. “The county cannot take 60th Street unless you give it to them,” he said. “We can stop Minto and GL Homes by maintaining the deeds to our roads.”
Resident Gina Parrish took a more conciliatory view, saying it was time to negotiate, not litigate.
“If we work with Minto, they will be our neighbors,” she said. “I want no more tax dollars spent on this waste, but let’s get what we can.”
Lillian Hall also opposed further litigation. “My concern is collateral damage to the community,” she said. “We have wonderful people who worked together who won’t speak to each other now.”
Hall pointed out that Minto West is going to come one way or another. “Let’s learn how to deal with this, not pull each other apart,” she said, adding that she would support a private lawsuit, but not a publically initiated one.
Litigation supporter Anne Kuhl said her bigger concern is other large developers that have been waiting for the Minto West decision as a precedent.
“If we don’t fight this, we will have all this traffic,” Kuhl said. “It’s unconscionable to me to think of laying down and letting them walk all over us.”
She said it was wrong for Minto to use a 5-mile radius as a measurement for comparable growth around the site. “People in the immediate area are rural,” she said. “We have 17,000 residents who need to be protected.”
Former ITID Supervisor Carlos Enriquez said he did not favor further legal challenges, but thought that ITID should get it in writing that the county would be responsible for maintaining the roads that would be improved as a result of Minto West.
“You need to get it in writing from the county to maintain the roads, but that does not require a lawsuit of any kind,” Enriquez said.
Christine Schwarz was among those favoring litigation. “We need to defend ourselves. If you think you’re going to bargain with Minto, you’re living in a fantasy world,” she said.
The three unsuccessful candidates for seats on the ITID board in Tuesday’s election were on hand to weigh in.
Candidate Mike Erickson, also a former ITID supervisor, said he shared Perry’s concern that the Persimmon Blvd. conditions did not get into the final approval.
“I will be calling the county commission, too,” Erickson said. “Those conditions are crucial. Litigation is a lose-lose except for lawyers. They are the ones who win in the end. We need to be at the table with Minto.”
Candidate Betty Argue presented a petition with 315 signatures calling for the board to protect the district’s roads and canals and objecting to their use by Minto. “The estimated cost of litigation could be $250,000 to $500,000, but that is a small percentage of the total assets in the district,” she said.
And candidate Alan Ballweg said that ITID has a fiduciary duty to protect taxpayer assets, which he estimated to be about $320 million worth of roads and canals. “Litigation to protect our assets is essential,” he said, pointing out that the Scripps/Mecca Farms lawsuit was successful.
William Miller was for litigation. “I attended the commission meeting and saw a total disregard for people,” he said. “It was arrogant of five of them. I would not count on Minto’s good nature or kindness toward us. If we sit here and roll over, these guys are going to say it was easy picking.”
Supervisor Michelle Damone said the comments of Lillian Hall stuck in her mind.
“When we moved out here, we impacted people,” she said, pointing out that the early Acreage did not have its own recreational amenities at first and had to use Royal Palm Beach services. Royal Palm Beach Blvd. was heavily traveled by Acreage commuters before the State Road 7 extension opened.
“I think it’s irresponsible to litigate without mitigation,” Damone said. “I used to love driving through [Callery-Judge Grove] and smelling the orange blossoms. That’s gone now, and they have a right to develop. Nobody told me I cannot build on my property.”
She also heard comments about blocking off roads, which she said would be unacceptable for emergency services.
“If you ever have to make a 911 call, you would not want that,” Damone said, explaining that she had ridden on rescue vehicles with Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue staff. “They would be devastated if certain roads were closed here.”
Damone said she was against litigation, but preferred to wait on a final decision until the board’s meeting on Nov. 10, after Perry has gotten a final determination on the Persimmon Blvd. conditions.
“I will say, for the record, that I do not support litigation,” she said.
Supervisors Ralph Bair and Carol Jacobs also did not support litigation funded by the district.
Supervisor Gary Dunkley agreed that ITID’s responsibility is roads, drainage and parks, but thought those would be affected by the Minto West project, as well as other large ones lined up behind it.
“I was not against Minto but the density,” Dunkley said. “What I am blaming is the county in that they did not take a regional approach. The county left us out of the process completely. Sometimes you have to spend a little bit now or be strapped with this for eternity.”
Supervisor Jennifer Hager said the Minto West decision set a dangerous precedent.
“Minto was approved for 4,396 homes and 2.1 million square feet of [non-residential use],” Hager said. “GL Homes will get their 12,000 plus and will go down 60th Street. I know a few of those people are expecting development, but there are more who are not. Our job is to protect roads, but also all who will be driving on them. That’s why I support litigation.”