The City of Westlake is considering going to court after the Westlake City Council heard at their Tuesday, Jan. 3 meeting that Indian Trail Improvement District officials planned to push a measure at this week’s gathering of the Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation that would give ITID greater control over disputed roads in the district.
The Seminole Improvement District (SID) and Minto — Westlake’s largest landowner and developer — already are in litigation against ITID over access to ITID’s roads, which it has refused to grant since the city was created in 2016 by a handful of area residents. Today, Westlake is one of Florida’s fastest growing communities, but the city’s only ingress and egress is via Seminole Pratt Whitney Road.
“Westlake has stayed pretty neutral in the fight over those connections, but it is getting to the point where it is directly, adversely affecting this city,” Mayor JohnPaul O’Connor said. “If it came to it, the city would be willing to join that fight… We can’t have one way in and out of the city.”
ITID has resisted the push by SID and Minto to connect Westlake’s Persimmon Blvd. to ITID’s road network at 140th Avenue North near 60th Street North — pointing out that ITID’s roads are paid for entirely by residents of those units. ITID officials have said that the additional wear and tear created by Westlake residents and business/construction traffic, and the inevitable repairs, would create an unfair burden on Indian Trail taxpayers.
Minto and SID contend that because many of those roads were financed by publicly sold bonds, they are public roads, Minto attorney Tara Duhy told the council.
“I’m not suggesting we should drive all over [ITID’s] local streets. We wouldn’t want that [in Westlake],” O’Connor said. “That’s not what’s being proposed. But the connectivity to Persimmon and 60th is critical.”
ITID is fighting “tooth and nail” to prevent Westlake from making that connection or connecting to other primary roads already designated by Palm Beach County as “thoroughfare roads,” Duhy said.
The Safe Streets/Safe Neighborhoods Bill to be proposed to local legislators at the Thursday, Jan. 12 meeting in Jupiter would simply give residents of specific neighborhoods greater control over access to their streets, ITID Executive Director Burgess Hanson said Wednesday.
Duhy urged council members to oppose the proposed legislation, saying that ITID’s bill “goes far, far beyond the powers in the statute” and would allow the district to “privatize” roads without approval from the county.
“We’re open to working with our neighbors,” Hanson said, “but we’re going to continue to do what is in the best interest of our 45,000 to 50,000 residents.”
Westlake City Attorney Donald Doody said that he would look into what it would take for Westlake to join the suit, scheduled for trial in April, but added that doing so might be counterproductive at this point because it could slow down the litigation.
The lack of connectivity to a wider road grid “is affecting us now,” O’Connor said. “Think about five years from now when we’ve got double the population.”
Councilwoman Pilar Valle Ron agreed. “When all the neighborhoods are built and everyone is living here with their kids, this is going to be impossible,” she said.
In other business:
• The council heard a presentation about the Complete Streets and Vision Zero programs from Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency Deputy Director Brian Ruscher.
The programs encourage the implementation of wider sidewalks, medians with trees, raised crosswalks, designated bicycle lanes and tree-lined streets with the goal of zero traffic fatalities within the city and the greatest possible use of non-automotive transportation.
“Your shared use path system is impressive. Your dedication to building separated facilities off the street will pay off,” said Ruscher, suggesting that at some point Westlake might be able to create a Multimodal Micro Investment District.
“As we are literally birthing this city from the ground up, we should be on the forefront of this sort of technology,” O’Connor said. “We have a rare opportunity… to think in terms of safety now rather than retroactively fix something.”
The other council members agreed and voted 5-0 to adopt both programs, which will allow Westlake to apply for funding from county, state and federal agencies to improve major throughfares such as Seminole Pratt Whitney Road and create adjacent multimodal access.
• The council heard from City Manager Kenneth Cassel that planning continues for a community park south of Seminole Ridge High School and west of Seminole Pratt Whitney Road.
The park will be built on Seminole Improvement District land with the idea of having space that will accommodate “a lot of uses without a lot of structures,” said Cassel, who also manages SID.
Among the likely features that will be phased in over time are a multimodal path, hook-ups for a portable stage and food trucks, accessible bathrooms, pickleball and tennis courts and perhaps even a community center, Cassel said.
A long, linear lake beside busy Seminole Pratt Whitney Road will serve as a noise and security buffer.
“None of this is set in stone,” O’Connor said. “As the city grows, as will the park grow.”
Cassel said he expects the fill and sod to be in place by January 2024.