The Palm Beach County Planning Commission on Friday, Dec. 13 approved the initiation of a land use change that would allow a real estate office on the west side of Seminole Pratt Whitney Road south of Orange Blvd. designed to resemble a home.
The text amendment, submitted by Chad Hanna of the Reach Estate Team, would change the county comprehensive plan to allow an exception to the commercial location criteria in the exurban tier for properties adjacent to an existing commercial designation, subject to specific criteria.
The proposed office, which would be on 1.67 acres, would have rural characteristics consistent with the Acreage Neighborhood Plan. It has letters of approval from the Acreage Landowners’ Association and the Indian Trail Improvement District.
From the county standpoint, the proposed amendment would introduce a new style of commercial office development in the exurban tier that blends into the area as a “residential office” type of development, according to the county staff report.
Sites that may apply for a commercial office under this policy must be located adjacent to sites that are approved for commercial low future land use, preserve vegetation and be very low intensity. The intent of the amendment is to allow additional office uses in a manner that is compatible with the character of the rural area and offer a transition from the existing commercial development on Seminole Pratt Whitney Road and Orange Blvd.
“We made presentations at the Acreage Landowners’ Association and the Indian Trail Improvement District, getting letters of approval,” Hanna said. “Because the Acreage/Loxahatchee area has a prerequisite of 10 acres being a minimum for [commercial] development, it would only allow plazas to come in.”
Hanna, whose office is currently in the nearby Publix plaza, said he approached ITID and ALA before making his application to the county.
“We didn’t want to do anything without the input of the community’s governing bodies,” he said. “I’ve been very mindful of keeping everyone apprised to the best of my ability.”
He said the ALA and ITID are looking at his development as a possible solution to some potentially troublesome zoning issues, notably how smaller commercial projects should look as transitional development to residences in The Acreage.
“Twenty-five percent of the land has to be preserved for green space with native trees,” Hanna said. “You have to have less than a 0.05 floor area ratio, and it has to look residential. Essentially, it is going to be commercial low occupancy, and the intention is for it to be our real estate office. We are really wanting to front-line the message of agricultural, rural equestrian, green space appreciation and the nature tone of the community, because there is so much new construction coming in.”
He pointed out that the City of Westlake will have two million square feet of commercial space.
“With all that, the whole character of this community can either change drastically, or it can preserve an identity,” Hanna said. “We are looking to be the voice from a real estate standpoint of preserving the identity of the community.”
County staff recommended approval of the request for initiation. Initiation allows Hanna to submit a site-specific future land use amendment and continue the review of the request.
Hanna said the architectural firm Cotleur & Hearing is representing him in the approval process, and partner Donaldson Hearing brought him in initially to meet with planners, who were leery of his idea at first.
“When we sat with them, they tried to tell me how this was something that was not going to be possible,” Hanna recalled. “When I spoke of the vision and spoke of what we were trying to be a message for, they changed their thoughts.”
He added that the letters of approval from the ALA and ITID were a big help in persuading county planners to consider a change to the comprehensive plan that would allow small businesses on otherwise undesirable residential tracts near commercial areas.
Palm Beach County Senior Planner Lisa Amara told the Planning Commission that the item before them was a privately initiated text amendment, which must be reviewed by the Palm Beach County Commission prior to approving the site-specific amendment.
“You will see this again in maybe April or May when it comes forward with a site-specific amendment,” Amara said. “Initiation doesn’t mean approval. Initiation doesn’t mean that the board will support it or that the commission will support it. It just allows us to continue working with the applicant, accept the application and do additional review.”
Amara noted that county staff recently turned down a request for a gas station in the area. “This is something proposed that is completely different,” she said. “They are requesting this new type of residential office that currently doesn’t exist. Maybe this is something that fits for the community. It’s definitely an interesting concept.”