By Chris Felker
Two big decisions made by the Royal Palm Beach Village Council in 2014 set the stage for major progress in Royal Palm Beach during the coming year, Village Manager Ray Liggins told the Town-Crier this week.
Specifically, he cited council votes to establish a plan for the disposition of the old wastewater treatment plant land at the village’s north end and to try to attract a developer for construction of a senior-living complex on a 10-acre tract at Royal Palm Beach Commons Park. “I think the decision on the land use for the Crestwood property — our old wastewater treatment plant — as single-family residential, approving a site plan on that property and agreeing to market it were milestone decisions for us,” Liggins said. “Obviously, they were all done in 2014, and we’ll see the effect in 2015. Hopefully, we’ll get the property sold, and we’ll get another single-family development out there.”
He also believes that there will be movement on the senior housing front. “Royal Palm Beach is moving forward with our senior living complex at Commons Park, taking that 10-acre piece of property there and putting it on the market for a senior living complex that we don’t have in our village,” Liggins said.
And as in every year, the village will conduct an election on March 10, if there are challengers to the incumbents in the two seats up for grabs: Vice Mayor David Swift’s Seat 2 and Councilman Fred Pinto’s Seat 4.
Both incumbents told the Town-Crier this week that they would be seeking re-election.
“Yes, I’m going to run for my seat,” Swift said, adding that his top priorities match up with those cited by Liggins. “The issues for 2015 that I see are: one, completing the sale of the tract where the old wastewater treatment plant is; and two, I’m very interested in moving forward with the tract of land at Commons Park.”
Pinto, who will also seek re-election in March, deemed 2014 a good year.
“We executed several items that were on our strategic plan,” he said. “We went and bought new equipment to work on the canals, and put more money into that project as well, to improve the situation with excess vegetation, and we were finally able to turn the corner on that this year and get it under control.”
He agreed that the move to sell the Crestwood property will have an impact. “That’s something that I would see as the major thing that we’re going to get done in the coming year,” Pinto said. “We expect in the early part of the year we’ll be looking at proposals from people inquiring about that.”
Liggins confirmed that planned time line. “Hopefully we’ll take our proposals on that early in the year and be done with that in the first half of the year,” he said.
The village manager was also effusive about the success of Commons Park after its first full year of operation.
“I think Commons Park was a pretty big highlight for us,” Liggins said, citing the success of the Fourth of July and spring, fall and winter festivals staged at Royal Palm Beach’s equivalent of a village square. “I think the staff has fine-tuned that delivery, and it has been very well-received by the public.”
Sometimes the crowds at major events surprise even Liggins.
“The good news is that I think what we envisioned happening out at Commons Park is happening, and the people are enjoying it,” he said. “We’re going to keep getting better than that going forward.”
Not only that, but the bottom line is evening out, too.
“When we program our park, we can’t program short, so the dollars look high, but when we’re estimating our revenues on something like the use of these facilities, they’re low,” Liggins said. “I think what we’re finding is sponsorship is going strong at the park, stronger than we expected, so our net costs of running these events is balancing a little bit better than we thought.”
Both Liggins and Pinto are looking forward to the new dog park at Commons Park.
“We were able to get some funding from the county for that,” Pinto said, “which helped us with the budget.”
Liggins added that another choice the council made in 2014 will come to fruition in the new year.
“We did get our grants for pathways and things like that, and our dog park is going to be open in 2015 there,” he said. “So Commons Park is still fresh and alive on our minds. Every time we go, we just see more and more people enjoying that park, and that’s exactly what we want.”
Liggins noted that development potential also will be high on village officials’ minds in 2015, regarding a key area inside Royal Palm Beach and one just outside it.
“That 200 acres, west of Lowe’s and south of State Road 80, people have been buying and looking to annex into the village,” he said. “Some of that annexation, about half of it, happened this past year. I think we’ll see more annexation than that in 2015, and different development than what’s there now.”
But the elephant in the room for everyone in the western communities will be Minto West.
“Having Minto West approved with the site plan that was approved, that’s going to bring some significant changes,” Liggins predicted. “There is going to be another kind of town center existing in the western communities that didn’t exist before. I think it has the potential of making a significant difference out here, when that starts coming out of the ground.”
However, Liggins said the true impact of Minto West is likely a decade or more away.
Pinto has one fond hope for the new year.
“I’m hoping in 2015, when we do our next budget, we’ll be able to reduce the millage rate, if the economy continues to move in the direction it has been,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to get back to the position where we’re able to reduce the millage rate every year. Even though we haven’t increased it, we’ve stayed flat the last three or four years.”