The Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors agreed last week to send a letter objecting to the City of Westlake’s comprehensive plan, which will be up for review at a Westlake City Council meeting on Monday, March 12.
On Thursday, Feb. 22 the Palm Beach County Commission decided to wait and see what Westlake adopts before attempting to intervene after county staff cited numerous ambiguities in the plan as submitted to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council.
At the ITID meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 21, ITID Attorney Frank Palin explained that Westlake, which has received comments from the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council about the plan allowing much more development than the community was approved for by the county, has received only one objection from the state — from the Florida Department of Transportation about potential traffic problems.
ITID President Betty Argue urged residents to attend the Westlake meeting on March 12 and voice their opinion on the fledgling municipality’s comp plan, which Treasure Coast speculated could allow as many as 44,000 homes and a potential 11.5 million square feet of non-residential uses, although those are not the figures specified in the comp plan.
“We also need to direct staff to represent the district there,” Argue said.
Palin explained that the City of Westlake is required by state law to adopt its initial comprehensive plan.
“It’s a two-step process,” he said. “They’ve gotten through the first step, which is to adopt the initial plan, and they have to transmit it to the state for initial review by the state agencies to receive their comments. Now, Westlake has 180 days to actually adopt the comprehensive plan. At that point, the state will make another determination, a final determination, about whether… the city adequately addressed the state’s comments.”
Palin explained that the state statute has been significantly revised in the last decade to favor rapid approval of development projects.
“They so narrowed the standards for review that virtually nobody can qualify to object. However, there is an opportunity for affected persons to intervene in the state decision-making process,” he said. “And Indian Trail, in my opinion, is an affected party… We are neither a county nor a municipality, but Indian Trail owns adjacent property physically abutting the City of Westlake.”
Palin said it would be necessary to submit something in writing at the adoption hearing on March 12.
“They are moving rather rapidly to adopt their plan and transmit it,” he said. “At that point, there should be some sort of written response to the state comments. There were other written comments received. That includes Treasure Coast’s comments and various state agencies. However, at the moment, the only state agency that raised any substantive comment was the Department of Transportation. If anything happens, it will be transportation issues raised by FDOT.”
Palin added that state rules have been so narrowed that transportation objections are limited to state roads themselves.
“There is an opportunity on the district’s part to at least provide some more information to the agencies that will be reviewing,” he said, adding that review of Westlake’s comp plan showed that its analysis was deficient. “We don’t have a response yet, but we’re going to develop a response to focus on transportation issues.”
Palin also suggested that ITID contact the county and surrounding municipalities about the upcoming Westlake hearing.
“The county has the most immediate interest because they are the ones that approved Minto West,” he said, referring to Westlake by its previous name. “I have not seen a groundswell of interest by surrounding municipalities to intervene in some way.”
Argue pointed out that residents with property physically abutting Westlake would have standing at the Westlake meeting.
Palin noted that standing as an intervenor has been diminished over the past decade along with the other rule changes.
“In the end, Westlake will ultimately get what it wants, although we can throw bumps in the road,” Palin said. “We can ask the state to look closely at what they’re proposing to do. It’s a municipality. They’ve got a right to design their community the way they want.”
Argue felt it was important for board members and staff to reach out to as many people as possible to voice an opinion on the Westlake comp plan.
Supervisor Jennifer Hager made a motion to file an objection and send letters to the county and surrounding municipalities urging them to voice opinions on the Westlake project. It carried 4-0 with Supervisor Gary Dunkley absent.