County Sends GL Homes Project To State For Review

GL Homes’ Indian Trail Groves project took a major step forward Tuesday when the Palm Beach County Commission approved the transmittal of text amendments to the state that would allow up to 3,900 homes and 300,000 square feet of non-residential uses on the 3,592-acre tract north and west of The Acreage.

At a public hearing, residents were divided over the proposal.

The proposal asks for a density increase from one home per 10 acres to one per 0.8 acres. It also dedicates a 640-acre stormwater impoundment area to the Indian Trail Improvement District and pledges several million dollars more than its required proportional share for road improvements.

The project also sets aside land for a fire station and keeps about 1,200 acres on the west side of the property in agricultural use.

Engineer Mike Guinaugh, an Acreage resident who worked for the Indian Trail Improvement District during the Tropical Storm Isaac flooding in 2012, said the impoundment would make much-needed drainage improvements in the area.

Some residents added that commercial services are needed in the area and that they are weary of driving long distances for basic needs.

Other residents said that the GL Homes development, along with Minto West/Westlake and Avenir, would disrupt their rural lifestyle.

Residents along Hamlin Blvd. raised concerns about increased traffic that would result in bottlenecks through The Acreage.

Acreage resident Betty Argue opposed the density increase.

“There’s no doubt that GL Homes is a great developer,” Argue said. “[But] you’re putting an urban development in the middle of a rural community. We have horses, pigs, goats and gardens. We bought out there because that’s what we like.”

Loxahatchee Groves Mayor Dave Browning noted that his town has gone on record as opposing the project due to traffic increases. Speaking personally, Browning opposed turning agricultural land into residential land. “It cannot go back the other way,” he said.

Hamlin Blvd. resident Marvin Benoit was concerned about increased traffic on his road and asked that the proposed Hamlin portal be moved to the north side of the canal. “There are a lot of people living on Hamlin,” he said. “These are their forever homes.”

Commissioner Melissa McKinlay asked County Engineer George Webb to have a conversation with the developer about Hamlin traffic.

Former county planner Dan Weisberg said that there are several problems with the proposal, including the unworkable plan to widen Northlake Blvd. to eight lanes. He added that the developer is proposing to change the comprehensive plan in order to make it feasible for development.

“The sector plan was a $2 million failed plan,” Weisberg said. “Some of these amendments are for no given reason.”

Loxahatchee resident Nancy Gribble agreed that the developer was adding language to the comp plan that would make its project compatible.

“We are decimating our agricultural area and comp plan,” Gribble said. “We do not want urban services, and we do not want to pay for them.”

Attorney Lisa Interlandi, appearing on behalf of the Sierra Club, opposed the project because it takes away agricultural land.

“We believe it should remain in ag use,” Interlandi said, adding that it would create a $9 million shortfall for roads, and that Northlake Blvd. east of Ibis cannot be widened beyond six lanes.

Drew Martin, a Sierra Club member and a supervisor of the Palm Beach County Soil & Water Conservation District, also opposed the project.

“As a member of the [Soil & Water Conservation] district, I look at water issues,” Martin said. “I also observe traffic issues. What I see is a project that really doesn’t work. We really don’t have a plan. It’s not just building every time someone asks for a project.”

Commissioner Paulette Burdick agreed that GL Homes is a respected builder, pointing out that it was the first one to go back and replace contaminated Chinese drywall.

“However, when I look at this particular project, it is not compatible, with zero-lot-line homes,” Burdick said. “In the past, we have had sound justification for changes.”

Burdick was also concerned about taking land out of use for food production. “Ag land is more valuable now than it was in the past,” she said.

Commissioner Hal Valeche asked about the right of way for Northlake Blvd., and Webb said there is enough right of way for eight lanes, but no drainage, and that it could not drain directly into the Grassy Waters Preserve. He explained, however, that six lanes through that area should be adequate because there are no intersections to address.

“It’s almost equivalent to eight lanes,” Webb said. “It can carry a lot of traffic.”

Commissioner Priscilla Taylor said she had not received the hundreds of e-mails from residents that she typically does when a project is controversial.

“I received four or five from individuals who had issues with Hamlin,” Taylor said. “I understand that will be addressed.”

Palm Beach County Planning, Zoning & Building Director Rebecca Caldwell said that one of the main objectives in the rural tier is to enhance rural communities.

“It’s enhancing this area by enhancing drainage,” Caldwell said. “It took 14 days after Isaac for [The Acreage] to dry out. They’re definitely supporting the community.”

She also clarified that The Acreage is classified as exurban, not rural.

Taylor made a motion to approve transmittal, which carried 6-1 with Burdick opposed.