Royal Palm Beach Village Council members last week expressed continuing concerns over western development and its impact on the village, primarily on Okeechobee Blvd., deciding that the best strategy would be to support routing traffic to the north, rather than east through the village.
At the Feb. 18 meeting, Councilman Jeff Hmara said that he and Village Manager Ray Liggins had spoken at the Palm Beach County Planning Commission meeting Friday, Feb. 12 and presented a resolution approved earlier by the council opposing GL Homes’ request for the density increases necessary for its planned development of approximately 3,900 homes on about 4,900 acres north and west of The Acreage.
“In my comments, I included a portion of the council’s resolution that states our opposition to the GL Homes application, and I also provided the alternative density increase from our resolution that would have lessened the traffic impact,” Hmara said.
The resolution asked for a density increase from the current 0.1 units per acre to 0.2 units per acre, as opposed to the 0.8 being requested by GL Homes, which Hmara said would have major impacts on Royal Palm Beach and the surrounding communities.
At the planning commission meeting, County Engineer George Webb outlined the anticipated traffic impacts on communities surrounding the proposed development, but the panel ultimately recommended approval of GL Homes’ requested density increase on an 8-3 vote.
One major issue is how to fund the necessary roadway improvements.
“There’s still a question of where the money will come from, and I think, for the most part, we know it’s the taxpayers,” Hmara said. “Having said that, we’re talking about a lot of money, and they described a rather extensive amount of right of way purchasing that would have to take place.”
He added that there would be a significant environmental impact.
“We finally got around to the real question: will there be enough political will to deal with these issues, to find the money, and deal with the environmental issues and other politically sensitive aspects?” Hmara said. “Not too surprisingly, no one offered a response.”
The Palm Beach County Commission is scheduled to hear the item in April.
“Once again, under the guidance of the council, we will be planning to present our resolution again,” Hmara said, asking council members to speak to individual county commissioners before the meeting.
Councilman Fred Pinto said it appeared to be a foregone conclusion where the county commission would go with the decision.
“I would ask if we should continue to spend our capital and put ourselves in a position where we’re the lone wolf out there, and we’re kind of fighting against the wind,” he said. “What’s to be accomplished other than diminishing our standing?”
Pinto said he would prefer to put together a strategy that would protect the village and neighboring communities, with a concept of what roads really need to be improved, and not let Okeechobee Blvd. be on the list.
“I think this continued going before the county commission when it appears it’s a clear decision that has been made in where they’re going only diminishes our standing,” he said.
Vice Mayor David Swift agreed with Pinto. “That’s kind of what my position really was on the Minto West issue,” he said. “I clearly saw that the will to build was there. There wasn’t much we could do about it. Looking at the roads that would most affect us, and working with them on it, is probably a better way to go.”
Swift said he shared concerns about paying for the development’s traffic impact.
“I never saw where single-family homes really brought in a lot of money,” he said. “How are they going to pay for the roads? I know what the answer is: you and I are going to pay for the roads. I think Fred’s correct, we need to work with them and take a look at what roads will be best to focus on. Obviously, Okeechobee Blvd. is a major one that we can take a look at.”
Swift also pointed out that the Town of Loxahatchee Groves has similar concerns about Okeechobee Blvd.
Hmara said that offering alternative road networks made sense to him.
“I think I know what Councilman Pinto is talking about, and I think that’s a great strategy,” he said. “That was pretty much what we were looking for when we sat down during the strategic planning session — moving forward, dealing with what seemed to be the inevitable.”
Pinto suggested engaging in a dialogue with the county engineer with a strategy to leave Okeechobee Blvd. alone and focus on roads to the north.
In other business, the council heard its annual Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue report from Battalion Chief Mike Arena, who noted that calls are up, probably due to population and traffic increases. He added that response time is down slightly, due to better dispatch procedures and reduced time getting on the road.