Local officials, as well as the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council and Palm Beach County leaders, are not happy with a proposed comprehensive plan submitted by Minto’s Westlake development.
Experts say the comp plan could allow as many as 46,000 homes and as much as 11 million square feet of non-residential uses in the 4,000-acre newly incorporated municipality.
Currently, the approved Westlake plan calls for 4,500 homes, which has already caused discomfort among leaders in the western communities.
The fledgling municipal government submitted its comp plan to the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council on Jan. 19. It received negative comments from staff and was rejected by the board unanimously.
“The non-residential numbers were very clear for the board to review,” Palm Beach County Principal Planner Bryan Davis told the Town-Crier on Tuesday, explaining that the developer had come up with the 11 million square feet based on the average county need per capita. “The county has its own issues with the numbers. They came up with that number. My understanding was that the 44,000 to 46,000 units was a Treasure Coast number that we probably could have come up with, but that wasn’t within our scope. The numbers that they gave data for were 6,500 units, but Treasure Coast’s [interpretation] was equally valid.”
Davis said an applicant is supposed to write data analysis in the comp plan on the basis of whatever it projects.
“What they gave us was 6,500 [residential units], but what Treasure Coast did was they have all these theoretical maximums with workforce housing, density bonuses and transfers of development rights — all these things that they didn’t explain, that if you took the acreage times those theoretical maximums, that’s how you get up to that [46,000] number.”
He added that the county had not replicated that process because the developer was already above its technically approved number.
“We’re saying there’s problems here and we want to work with you,” Davis said of the county’s discussions with Westlake officials. “But Treasure Coast went to a whole new level with it.”
Davis characterized Treasure Coast’s interpretation as a “worst-case scenario.”
Palm Beach County Mayor Melissa McKinlay, who is a member of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council along with Commissioner Mack Bernard and Commissioner Hal Valeche, said the board voted unanimously to send comments to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity that there were certain areas that they were not in agreement with.
“Overall, we asked the state to reject the entire plan,” said McKinlay, whose district includes Westlake.
Davis explained that the new municipality, which is still controlled by developer Minto, has a statutory obligation to adopt a comprehensive plan.
“What they do is keep the county’s comp plan and regulations, but they have an obligation to then step out and live on their own,” Davis said. “This is their stepping out and fulfilling their statutory obligation to create their own comprehensive plan.”
Westlake’s comp plan is not subject to further review or approval by Palm Beach County because the new municipality has its own police power and control of local planning and zoning, although it still has to comply with county traffic standards, Davis said.
McKinlay said that was why the county did everything it could to negotiate a good deal when it did have jurisdiction over the project, so Westlake could not do what they are attempting now.
Incorporation of the City of Westlake was approved in 2016 by a vote of five “residents,” although the site did not have permanent residential units at the time.
McKinlay noted that she had asked the governor and the inspector general to look into Westlake’s incorporation process.
“I don’t think we heard back from the governor’s office, but the inspector general’s office said there were no grounds by which to investigate it since they said they had complied with state law,” McKinlay said, adding that legislation has been introduced in Tallahassee that would include population requirements for incorporation.
She explained that the legislation allowing the Seminole Improvement District to incorporate as Westlake was narrowly written, so it does not apply to other developments such as GL Homes, which is required to have 90 percent of its units built before applying for incorporation.
“They cannot do the same thing the Seminole Improvement District did to create Westlake,” McKinlay said.
The lack of a clause regarding annexation was among comments noted by Treasure Coast, which is in the county charter and comp plan to protect unincorporated areas, Davis said.
“It’s called an unincorporated protection area, and it requires a supermajority of the county commission and the electors, and The Acreage is part of that unincorporated protection area, as are those smaller neighborhoods that are around or adjacent, like Deer Run and White Fences,” he said. “There is an additional layer of protection for them.”
He added that the county still has control over traffic standards around Westlake. “From a staff perspective, that’s our main concern, because the one thing that we do have control of is the road network,” Davis said. “The road network is the part that we cannot assess the impact on, because we don’t know if we are looking at 45,000 units with 13.2 million square feet [non-residential] at buildout, or 6,500 units with 2.2 million. There was no data analysis presented. They never contemplated any impact anywhere outside of the city, which is completely unrealistic.”
McKinlay added that the Florida Department of Transportation has its own concerns.
“Those were one of the five objections that came from the Department of Economic Opportunity because of the impact on the network of roads,” she said.
The proposed Westlake comp plan does not take into account other developments going in, such as Avenir or GL Homes because they were “first in line,” Davis said.
“They didn’t look at anything else other than their municipal boundary,” he said. “They should be considering all of those other impacts because those things were approved before they made this increment — whether it’s a small increment or a huge increment — of impact on the [road] network out there.”
At the last Indian Trail Improvement District meeting, President Betty Argue said there will be opportunities for comment by surrounding neighborhoods and encouraged the board to be active in voicing its concerns.
“We cannot sit back and not do anything,” Argue said, adding that the district had been informed by McKinlay, not Westlake, about the Treasure Coast meeting, and she and other local representatives had to rush to get to the meeting to make comment. “It needs to be clear the impact on us. We’ve got to have a say.”
ITID Attorney Frank Palin said there would be opportunities for litigation, and he suggested that the district work with Palm Beach County and McKinlay, as well as the municipalities of Wellington, Royal Palm Beach and Loxahatchee Groves, to present a united front. He pointed out that there is a 180-day window to submit comp plan comments to the state.