The Palm Beach County Commission decided last week not to take immediate action on the City of Westlake’s recently approved comprehensive plan, but wait and see if there are opportunities to object.
Westlake recently approved a comp plan that included 6,500 residential units, 1,954 more than originally approved by Palm Beach County before the Minto development incorporated.
At a county commission zoning meeting Thursday, March 22, Senior Planner Bryan Davis gave an update on the status of Westlake’s comp plan.
“They are required as a new municipality to go through a state-coordinated review process to adopt a comprehensive plan,” he said. “They have done that. They transmitted back in November of last year. They’ve gone through state agency comments.”
Davis added that the Westlake City Council recently adopted its revised comp plan to comply with state comments, and the county received the revised copy and support documents the day before the meeting.
“We also have the objections, recommendations and comments, a 30-some-odd-page document where they respond to all of the agency comments, so we can see exactly how they have responded and addressed all of those items,” Davis said.
County staff has met with Westlake’s transportation planning experts, consultants and staff for clarity on some of the issues.
“If you recall, we had certain ambiguities,” Davis said. “We couldn’t tell in the transmittal package exactly what kind of impacts they were talking about and exactly when those impacts would be. We have effectively understood what the incremental impacts are.”
He explained that the Westlake development approval by the county years ago was incomplete.
“The Minto West development order that the county gave had holes in it, if you will,” Davis said, showing a map of the Westlake planned development. “It was like Swiss cheese, so all of the white spots that are on there — the high school, the elementary and middle schools, the area of the southeast called Silver Lake and the existing Grove Marketplace — they were not under the same ownership at the time that we gave the approval.”
He said that when the Seminole Improvement District went through the municipal incorporation process, it used the legal description of the Seminole Improvement District, which created a more contiguous community.
Davis said Westlake is in the process of executing its Minto West planned development approval of 4,000 to 6,500 residential units and 2.2 million square feet of non-residential uses, including a 150-room hotel and 3,000-student college.
“However, they have also had to do other planning requirements, and they have effectively asked for more dwelling units because of population projections, which is a statutory requirement, and they are now saying there will be 6,500 units,” he said. “We’re not suggesting to look the other way to the 6,500 units; it’s simply a demanding exercise that they have done.”
He also pointed out a potential 45,000 dwelling units and up to 11 million square feet of non-residential uses as suggested in an analysis by the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council during its review in January is possible, but not realistic.
“You can do the mathematical exercise, but I want to be very clear on this, they are limited by other constraints, [with] their planned infrastructure being the key one,” he said. “Most all of their documents talk about their water supply plan and the actual transportation network. They are limited by constraints of their infrastructure.”
Davis said Westlake could accommodate more regional non-residential needs, but it does not plan to, even though it could demonstrate a need.
“The key point of this is, as far as planning, we’re looking at the addition of 1,954 units,” he said. “I’m not saying to take it lightly, but as we understand it, they still have to live with the [proportional] share that they have, which is a zoning level approval for the number of units they have.”
He outlined four options that the county could exercise at this point: take no action, file an administrative challenge, wait to intervene in the event that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity issues a “not in compliance,” or, if the FDEO issues an “in compliance,” challenge the finding.
Davis recommended taking no further action at present.
“The Florida Statutes are very clearly intended for a local government to develop a comprehensive plan regardless,” he said. “You’re not supposed to stop them or prevent them from having one. All you can effectively say is, ‘You didn’t follow the process.’”
Davis pointed out that the state objects only when there are gross or egregious procedural errors in the planning process.
“All they want you to do is go back and do it right, so we understand that the likelihood that they would actually file a challenge or find somebody not in compliance is very slim,” he said, explaining that the only challenge to Westlake’s comp plan was from the City of West Palm Beach over the M Canal, which supplies the city’s water. “Whether we like it or not, it meets the statutory requirements.”
Palm Beach County Mayor Melissa McKinlay, who represents the Westlake area in District 6, said she did not like the development’s process of approval — which was approved originally by a special Agricultural Enclave Act of the legislature — but saw no other option than to wait and see what it does in the future.
“Thank you, Tallahassee, for completely screwing us on this one,” McKinlay said. “It would be my opinion, and I hear you on the ‘no further action,’ but I just can’t sit by and accept that. As a middle ground, we would wait and see, if they have a finding of ‘not in compliance’ that we intervene. I know what it says in their comp plan, but based on their historic behavior, I just don’t have a lot of faith going forward. That is not a reflection on their elected officials, who have been appointed. That is a reflection on the developer that is still basically running that city.”
The commissioners agreed by consensus with McKinlay’s recommendation.