Traffic A Concern As Royal Palm Beach Board OKs Acme Ranches Changes

“Traffic” seemed to be the word on everyone’s mind at the Tuesday, Aug. 14 meeting of the Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission. Sitting as the Local Planning Agency, the board approved a number of land use changes for the former Acme Ranches land.

The primary topic was traffic at the nearby intersection of State Road 7 and Southern Blvd., among the busiest intersections in Palm Beach County. Changes in the land use plan might make it subject to more cars but less traffic.

Whether one chooses to believe the rosy-sounding plans of the developer and his team about a bypass of the busy intersection, or the warnings of three residents who spoke against the proposed changes, because of drainage, property access and parking, everyone agreed the traffic is terrible and shouldn’t be made any worse.

Stressing that the evening’s agenda covered only land use approvals, Royal Palm Beach Development Review Coordinator Kevin Erwin put forth seven applications for comprehensive plan changes for approval.

Five were submitted by Urban Design Kilday Studios in order to move forward on plans for a mixed-use commercial and residential development located on the south side of Southern Blvd, approximately a quarter mile from the intersection of SR 7 and Southern Blvd. One was to allow the school to be planned, and one was a housekeeping measure.

The primary topic was the enclave once known as Acme Ranches. Annexed into Royal Palm Beach three years ago, developer Brian Tuttle has big plans for the area, now referred to as Southern Boulevard Properties.

There are many hoops to jump through in building a development in Royal Palm Beach, and the purpose of the meeting was only to determine which set of hoops each parcel of property would be using in its development plans.

Erwin explained that the changes to the land use designations only allow the applicant to move forward with planning. Later meetings will review the zoning, drainage, parking, access, traffic and more.

The approvals only mean that a mixed-use commercial complex is planned for a property that was once targeted for 10 parcels of single-family residential, that open space and low residential land will now be designated as commercial, moving each to another pod, that low residential will become single family, and another parcel of low residential will be designated for use of a school. It might be noted, as it was by members of the board, that each of these uses involve traffic.

First up on the agenda was some 11 acres with the village’s single family residential and open space land use designations, and Palm Beach County’s low residential land use designations, that were proposed to change to the village’s commercial use land designation. Over an hour of instructions and background documentation and reports from agencies giving their own approval, staff recommendations, questions from the commissioners and statements from the public were all required before the commissioners could vote on this land use change.

All five of the pods of land totaling just over 112 acres in the enclave of undeveloped land surrounded by developed land, plus a roadway leading into the Lowe’s Home Improvement shopping center, received equally meticulous review with presentations by the applicant showing traffic concurrency approvals, as well as water and sewer and utility approvals. The questions all involved traffic.

All of the measures passed with only two nay votes all evening, each offered by Commissioner Ray Nazareth, who said, “There are a lot of loose ends to tie up.”

One is a planned roadway that will run from Southern Blvd. to SR 7, bypassing the intersection. It is a crucial part without which the plan cannot work. This roadway requires an easement from Lowe’s, which would not approve the legal agreement without first seeing some interest from the village and some governmental buy-in on the concept. Erwin said that he was confident that the developers would get the easement.

This bypass could take a little, some or a huge amount of traffic off of the intersection. The plan includes a left-turn lane off of SR 7 into the Lowe’s Center and four to seven lanes moving traffic past the busy intersection.

Tuttle, the applicant, and owner of TLH Development, described the mixed-use commercial space as being a great place to enjoy dining, entertainment and an evening out with friends and family.

Tuttle pointed out that his firm has spent $2 million to fix the Lowe’s/Home Depot intersection on SR 7, stating that Home Depot does not own it, El Dorado Furniture does, and that he has built a bridge that will allow traffic to flow through his development and avoid the intersection of SR 7 and Southern Blvd.

Erwin said there would now be a left turn into the Lowe’s area so everyone going north to that store didn’t have to make a U-turn at Southern Blvd. “This should take the pressure off those left turning lanes, making them available for left turns to head west,” he said.

Tuttle agreed. “We believe we are going to create relief,” he said. “I hope residents of the western communities clog my roads as they go into the development.”

Erwin and Village Attorney Jennifer Ashton reminded commissioners that representations of final plans by the applicant or anyone else could not legally be considered when deciding whether or not to approve the land use changes.

Erwin pointed out that preserving access and drainage and even the much-discussed traffic will be covered in later meetings, and planning and zoning will have to approve actual plans when they are presented.

“Planning and zoning is next,” he said. “These have to come before that to determine implementation and protections.”

That includes the plans for the school, which will create morning drive-time traffic.

“At some point you are really going to have to address the traffic better than we have seen,” Commissioner David Leland said.

Commission Chair June Perrin seemed to speak about traffic for the group as she said, pleasantly, “We tried to be nice to you tonight. Wait ’til later.”