The can of worms that is the proposed 1,600-acre Indian Trails Grove/Agricultural Reserve land swap has been kicked down the road until May 2023 by the Palm Beach County Commission.
The 4-3 vote for postponement at the commissioners’ Wednesday, Aug. 31 meeting likely avoided an outright defeat for the GL Homes plan after Palm Beach County Water Resources Manager Paul Linton questioned several aspects of the proposal.
“We asked the county commissioners for a postponement to further address some new questions regarding the water project proposal that had arisen by county staff and during meetings with the community,” GL Homes Vice President Kevin Ratterree said. “We were not surprised by the decision and believe it was important that the commission and residents have all the facts and understand the benefits to make an informed decision.”
The latest version of the plan was rejected on an 8-4 vote Aug. 12 by the Palm Beach County Planning Commission in the face of opposition by several residential and environmental groups focused on the perceived negatives for the Ag Reserve along State Road 7 west of Delray Beach. The county commission can override the planning commission’s recommendation.
“I don’t believe there would be a significant impact on the Ag Reserve,” ITID Vice President Betty Argue said after the meeting.
The 4,871-acre Indian Trails Grove tract is in the northwest corner of ITID. “I still think it should move forward,” Argue said.
At a recent meeting of the ITID board, Argue called for community support for the project to balance vociferous opposition from many south county residents.
However, a petition of support set up on the Acreage Landowners’ Association web site garnered only 312 signatures. At the county meeting, there was no push to move the project forward toward a final October vote on a change to the county’s comprehensive plan.
GL Homes already has permits to build 3,897 housing units, 300,000 square feet of commercial space and 50,000 square feet of office space on the Indian Trails Grove land.
However, under the swap plan, the number of units built there would be reduced to 2,612, commercial development would be limited to 200,000 square feet and office space to 33,500 square feet. Lands dedicated for agricultural and water resources would be increased by 980 acres, and publicly dedicated land would increase from 640 acres to more than 1,600 acres. A 740-acre water storage area featuring three pump stations would be constructed by GL Homes.
In return, GL Homes would get the right to build a 1,000-unit adult community on 477 acres of the 681-acre Hyder West property in the Ag Reserve just north of the Stonebridge Country Club. At the same time, the company would build 277 workforce housing units on 104 acres of the property.
For Acreage residents, the reduction of 1,285 homes in Indian Trails Grove could mean some 13,000 fewer vehicle trips on the area’s already overstressed roads, local officials have said.
County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, an early supporter of the plan whose district includes The Acreage, said that too much has been made of the possible impact on the Ag Reserve and not enough consideration given to the environmental benefits of the water project.
Even while recommending to the commissioners that the project be denied, county staff wrote that “the proposal offers a potential to achieve a long-term outcome that could improve regional water management and the movement of water to the Lake Worth Lagoon and potentially even the Loxahatchee Slough and River system, as well as the potential to store water during periods of inundation, and address water quality.”
Still, allowing housing units “to be shifted from one geographic area of the county to another is a significant policy departure, with significant repercussions for the county’s Managed Growth Tier System,” staff wrote, citing the possibility that allowing the GL Homes move could pave the way for more such requests. “The increase of residential development and the reduction in preserve acreage would alter the fundamental policy concepts to preserve agriculture in the Ag Reserve tier.”
Linton, the water resources manager, also said that before commissioners consider approving the change, exactly who will own and maintain the water project needs to be worked out, along with various permitting issues.
“We will continue to meet with our consultants and the impacted parties to continue discussing the details of ownership and maintenance responsibilities of the water project,” Ratterree said. “As long as we follow all the rules, we have no reason to believe that we will not be able to obtain a permit.”
If the project is approved, GL Homes has said the workforce housing will be constructed simultaneously with the upscale residences on SR 7, and that no homes will be built at Indian Trails Grove until the water project is complete.
“This is a bold idea with a multitude of benefits for Palm Beach County, including 1,600 acres dedicated to the county for preservation and agricultural use, a water preservation project and the county’s largest for sale workforce housing project ever,” Ratterree said. “Our plan is focused on the future of Palm Beach County and works to bring innovative ideas to help solve our county’s housing crisis, and environmental and water issues.”