Westlake Homebuyer Assistance Boost A ‘HAPPY’ Bonus For Vets

The Westlake entrance sign.

U.S. military veterans now can count themselves included in the City of Westlake’s effort to create affordability for qualified homebuyers in the red-hot Palm Beach County real estate market, according to Mayor JohnPaul O’Connor. 

At the Tuesday, June 7 meeting of the Westlake City Council, O’Connor saw the final touches applied to the community’s Housing Assistance Purchase Program Yearly (HAPPY) that will allow veterans to qualify for an additional three percent of the cost of their home above the $20,000 in homebuying assistance already offered in the program.

The assistance comes on top of builder discounts and the Florida Hometown Heroes Program, which focuses on first responders, educators, healthcare workers, active-duty military personnel and veterans.  

“Those are the occupations that are the backbone of any community… the backbone of society, really,” City Manager Ken Cassel said. 

Building in the extra three percent for qualified veterans has been an objective “very dear to my heart,” O’Connor said. “This will bridge the [down-payment] gap for many of them.” 

The programs are mainly geared toward first-time homebuyers, but others may qualify. 

On a 5-0 vote, the council also tied HAPPY to the Veterans Administration and Federal Housing Administration eligibility index, so that Westlake standards automatically will reflect those of the VA and FHA. 

“That’s important because every time the [national] standards changed, it had come back to the council for a vote to implement the new standards,” explained O’Connor, noting that local changes often took up to two months. “Some people were getting left out because they couldn’t get approved fast enough for HAPPY money.” 

While Westlake welcomes people from all walks of life, O’Connor said he hopes Westlake will be seen as an affordable alternative for front-line workers, members of the military and veterans. “These are people who make wonderful neighbors,” he said. 

In other business:

• The council heard the first reading of a proposed ordinance establishing provisions for special events, including definitions, requirements, permitting, regulations relative to signage, the sale or service of alcoholic beverages, when security and insurance are required, and providing for batch applications. As part of the process, a detailed statement of use would be required, including a wide array of information about the planned event.

The proposed ordinance, which passed 5-0, also would set out permitting requirements for garage sales.

The ordinance, modified to allow businesses or individuals to come before council for a waiver of some portions of rules, is schedule for a second reading and final vote at the July 5 meeting.

“This will allow us to understand what events are going on during any weekend… [and] all police, fire and traffic control to plan for them,” Cassel said. “Depending on the size of the event, it will help us determine whether [they] will have to provide security.”

• The council unanimously approved the second and final reading of an ordinance establishing provisions for mobile food trucks, including definitions, requirements, vending locations, parking and storage of inactive food trucks, waste disposal, locations by zoning district and penalties for violations. Canteen trucks are restricted to areas of ongoing construction.

• The council moved forward with a proposed changed to the city’s golf cart ordinance that provides that the registration sticker can be located on the left side of the windshield or the left front quarter panel.

That seemingly small decision sparked a discussion with Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Craig Turner regarding the PBSO’s role in enforcing golf cart ordinances. Westlake contracts with the PBSO for law enforcement services.

“I would not want the PBSO to be hassling golf cart owners over stickers,” O’Connor said. “We want to be very golf cart friendly, but we have to be able to keep people safe.”

The PBSO “sees this sticker stuff as a code enforcement issue,” Turner said. “Obviously, if there is a life safety issue, we’ll get involved.”

O’Connor has been focused on making Westlake a community that encourages golf cart use for chores and outings on the city’s miles of multi-modal paths to the extent that each business must have a specific number of parking spots reserved for golf carts.

O’Connor noted that golf carts are energy-efficient and cut down on road traffic. “I think it’s really forward thinking,” he said. “It’s truly the future of the city — our golf cart way of life.”

• The council added Swelenn Gomez and Brandi Duggar to the FourthFest Committee, joining Megan Hemp and Elizabeth Thompson. FourthFest is the first major event hosted by the City of Westlake. The event gets underway at 3 p.m. on Monday, July 4.

“Make sure to come out early and enjoy the kid zone, food trucks, bands and other entertainment before the almost 30-minute fireworks show begins,” said O’Connor, noting that there is parking for 3,000 cars and, of course, 1,000 golf carts.

People from neighboring communities are welcome, he said. “Westlake is not an island,” he said. “We’re hoping this can be a bridge to some of our neighboring communities.”

• Finally, the council approved a proclamation of appreciation for former Westlake Mayor Roger Manning, who served in that role from the council’s inception in 2016 until O’Connor took over the role in March.