The Palm Beach County Zoning Commission on Thursday, April 7 voted unanimously not to approve an application that would replace the Palm Beach International Raceway with 2.1 million square feet of warehouse space.
Joni Brinkman with Urban Design Studio, representing Portman Industrial, said the applicant has purchased about 174 acres of the 186-acre site formerly known as the Moroso Motorsports Park on the north side of the Beeline Highway west of Jupiter Farms and north of The Acreage.
Brinkman said that the area is near other areas with industrial uses, including the Park of Commerce, which she said is rapidly running out of developable space. Also nearby is the North County Airport. She pointed out that the land under discussion is already zoned for industrial development.
“There is a critical lack of industrial distribution space within Palm Beach County,” Brinkman said. “As a result of COVID-19, people’s buying habits are changing.”
The application includes a development order amendment to reconfigure the site plan to allow four warehouse buildings totaling 2.1 million square feet.
She said the economic impact would create 1,491 new jobs with an average salary of $54,000 annually, generate more than $4 million in impact and permit fees, and annual tax revenue of $3.7 million.
Timothy Haynes with the county’s zoning division said the property is almost completely surrounded by a natural area. He said that county staff recommends approval of the application and the necessary variances.
The commissioners heard nearly two hours of public comment on the issue. Many of the speakers were opposed to losing the racetrack, which provides a service not available anywhere else in the county.
Bob Ricker with the Florida region of the Sports Car Club of America said he has been going to Palm Beach International Raceway since it was built in 1964.
“We support the area by running events that fill hotel rooms and other areas of commerce in the county,” Ricker said. “If we eliminate the racetrack, we will have no place for people to go for drag racing or road racing legally. It will be done on the public streets, like it was done when I was a kid.”
Ricker pointed out that other than the Palm Beach International Raceway, the next closest tracks are in Homestead and Fort Myers.
Kevin Coyle of Loxahatchee, another regular at the raceway, said losing the track would compromise public safety.
“Street racing is rampant across the nation,” Coyle said. “We’ve watched our tracks disappear one at a time to corporate America. The proposal says it will create 1,500 jobs. That pales in comparison to what we’ll lose in small businesses, everything from mechanics and businesses that sell parts. That wasn’t taken into consideration in the proposal.”
He disputed the applicant’s assertion that the warehouses would create 1,500 jobs, claiming that it would be mostly automated.
Coyle said he also supports Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, who has said that he opposes losing the racetrack.
Thomas Brown of Loxahatchee said he moved to the area to be near the track.
“If this racetrack leaves, I’ll probably leave, too,” Brown said, adding that his 17-year-old daughter just started driving his cars at the track, and his 9-year-old son will be driving a junior dragster there.
Commissioner Mark Beatty cited traffic safety concerns about fully loaded semis turning out onto the Beeline Highway and trying to get up to speed.
Beatty added that he shared advocates of the racetrack’s concerns about small businesses and street racing.
“We have two young men in Jupiter who came through that track, and they are now professional IndyCar drivers,” he said.
Beatty made a motion to deny approval because the application did not meet the requirements of the variance requests, which carried unanimously. He next made a motion to deny modifications of the subject property, which also carried unanimously.
“You’re not done yet,” Beatty told the attendees. “You’re going to the Board of County Commissioners next, so you need to show up there. If you love this thing and want to keep it, they have the final say on it.”
The Palm Beach County Commission was slated to discuss the topic on Thursday, April 28, but that hearing is expected to be postponed.