ALA Workshop Focuses On Updating Acreage Neighborhood Plan

The Acreage Neighborhood Plan, created by the Acreage Landowners’ Association and adopted by Palm Beach County in 1996, might now appear more like a history book of how the area evolved than a diagram of what The Acreage wants to become.

The ALA held a workshop on Tuesday, July 16 to study the Acreage Neighborhood Plan with the goal of reviewing the plan to determine what is obsolete and what should be written into the plan going into the future.

The workshop, led by Indian Trail Improvement District President Betty Argue, was the third of six workshops planned by ALA board members to better acquaint themselves with their responsibilities and role as a community watchdog keeping an eye on ITID and the county, and as stewards of the Acreage Neighborhood Plan.

Also attending was Bryan Davis, principal planner for the Palm Beach County Planning, Zoning & Building Department.

Argue said that the Acreage Neighborhood Plan is included in the county’s comprehensive plan for reference in considering land uses in regard to neighborhood needs. “The county can use this as a guide, but they don’t have to adhere to it,” Argue said.

The neighborhood plan has not been updated since 2008, when the ALA adopted an amendment to allow a gas station at Orange Blvd. and Seminole Pratt Whitney Road.

The vision of the neighborhood plan is to preserve the rural lifestyle of The Acreage by encouraging rural architecture and developing in 1.25-acre residential lots. Commercial use is not encouraged but allowed to a limited extent.

“One of the things that the county views in terms of our area and how it’s described in the comprehensive plan under the exurban tier is that we’re sort of an antiquated subdivision,” Argue said, explaining that today, a developer would not be allowed to build so much land on large lots the way The Acreage developed.

“However, we view that as part of our character and representative of our community,” Argue said. “We want to protect that and make sure that doesn’t change.”

Another part of the Acreage Neighborhood Plan is to explore the feasibility of incorporation.

“There was a steering committee that was made, and they did attempt to do a feasibility study, but that incorporation effort ended up being killed, and subsequently there was another effort a couple of years ago,” Argue said.

Under the plan, the county is obliged to notify the ALA and ITID of contemplated land use changes and code violations in the area. Argue noted that a county code enforcement official has been invited to one of the ALA workshops to inform members on the topic of code violations in The Acreage.

The neighborhood plan also encourages development of limited commercial centers at intersections of county arterial roads that are compatible with the design of the community.

“Since [the Acreage Neighborhood Plan] was done, we ended up with the Publix shopping center and all that other commercial that is at Orange [Blvd.] and Seminole Pratt [Whitney Road],” Argue said. “Since then, there have also been approvals for commercial along Northlake Blvd., as well as the intersection of Seminole Pratt and Southern Blvd.”

Since most homes in The Acreage get their potable water from wells, the neighborhood plan encourages protection of aquifers and surface waters by prohibiting all kinds of petroleum facilities, including gas stations, vehicle repair, junk or salvage yards, or paint shops. The plan also sets standards for septic tank construction.

“Prior to 2008, you could not put a gas station in The Acreage,” Argue said.

Under pressure from operators of the Publix plaza, the ALA agreed to an amendment allowing a limited number of gas stations with no walk-in retail capacity.

“This means that you can’t have a 7-Eleven or Wawa-type gas station,” she said, pointing out that the Mobil gas station and the recently approved 7-Eleven gas station in the City of Westlake are not in the neighborhood plan jurisdiction.

The plan also has provisions for parks, schools, road construction, and police and fire protection, although response times for public safety do not currently meet the standards set forth in the neighborhood plan, and road congestion continues to be a problem.

Argue also pointed out that there are provisions for updating the neighborhood plan.

“It’s in the plan,” she said. “A later session will go into how to go about doing that. We are starting that process in terms of reviewing the neighborhood plan, but we should have future meetings and workshops and get community input in terms of what is here, what has already been accomplished, what do we still need to accomplish… and at least document that and send it to the county, but if you actually do a formal amendment process, then you’ll have to go through the process that’s set out in the plan.”

Davis said the neighborhood plan is incorporated into the county comp plan so that when a developer wants to do a project in The Acreage, he does not have to come to the ALA or ITID initially, if the project is in a conceptual stage, but he can review the neighborhood plan to see what the community might agree to.

“We have this issue in a lot of neighborhood plans where it is a statement of local intent, but the [Palm Beach County Commission] also has competing interests, not just the local, but regional, and maybe there’s something else they need to take into consideration,” Davis said. “That’s why it’s not the final commandments. There are other balancing considerations.”

Davis added that the Acreage Neighborhood Plan is a 25-year-old document, and a lot of the provisions do not apply any more.

“Things have been done, things fell by the wayside, things just aren’t relevant anymore. There are other things that just were never addressed,” Davis said, referring to the importance of keeping neighborhood plans up to date. “The board tends to give more consideration when [the plans] are newer, they’re up to date, they’re fresh. We have a problem with a lot of plans that were done in this time frame.”

Davis said it is important to have a plan that looks forward and does not conflict with plans of nearby communities, adding that the county has a guide to neighborhood planning that can be referred to in updating the local plan.

“It’s effectively the rule book for updating or creating a neighborhood plan,” Davis said. “We’re sort of the facilitator or midwife, if you will. We’re there to guide you and help.”