Fast-Growing Westlake Sprinting Toward Potential 2026-27 Residential Buildout

Homes under construction in the City of Westlake, as shown in an aerial image from January 2023.

Climb into a big green ATV and head out in any direction from Seminole Pratt Whitney Road, which bisects the 4,192-acre City of Westlake, and you’ll find yourself bumping and rocking over land cleared for houses, businesses and a big park. Land for development.

Often, the turned rock or sand is bone white and stretches out for hundreds of yards under this summer’s blowtorch of a sun, while fine granules carried on a hot wind peck at the lens of your sunglasses.

Some might call it a hellscape of mangled earth. But for Westlake City Manager Kenneth Cassel, it’s a dreamscape that no one envisioned when a small cadre of people in the nearly uninhabited Seminole Improvement District got together in 2016 to create the municipality, and Minto Communities USA moved in to develop most of the 4,554 homes approved by Palm Beach County.

The anticipated sales rate was 227 units per year. However, over the first seven years, sales have averaged 450 units per year. If that pace continues, Westlake could reach residential buildout in 2026 or early 2027.

“We looked at it and thought, rationally, we could hit buildout in 20, maybe 22 years,” said Cassel, who is employed by Inframark, the firm contracted to run the city. “But wow! It has been just incredible… We tell people, you better put your sneakers on, ’cause we’re moving fast.”

And not just in residential sales. Some 2.2 million square feet of commercial land is quickly being gobbled up on and near Seminole Pratt, with the recently opened Publix at Westlake Plaza shopping center being the community’s most notable new corporate resident.

Despite devastating hurricanes slamming Florida every couple of years, sky-high insurances rates, rising property taxes, the highest mortgage rates in a generation and home prices that are out of reach for many, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida had the highest growth rate of any state in 2021-22. The last time that happened was 1957. Palm Beach County was listed among the top-five fastest growing in the state.

Cassel, a Miami native and U.S. Air Force veteran with a master’s degree in public administration from Florida International University, said this week he sees no sign of a slowdown in Westlake or Florida. He cited the natural progression of millions of the state’s young people coming of age and needing housing, plus migration from inside and outside the U.S., driven partly by Florida’s lack of an income tax.

“Last week, Minto released 10 or 15 lots in Westlake, and they sold in two hours,” Cassel said. “In comparison to a lot of places, [Florida] looks pretty darn good.”

Minto, Westlake’s primary developer and landowner, certainly is not slowing down.

The final nail and doorjamb recently went into place in the 424 homes of The Groves, just south of Persimmon Blvd.; 60 percent of the 599 homes in The Orchards, south of Town Center Parkway, are completed; and as soon as that project is done, crews will start shaping ground and laying foundations for 350 houses in The Pines.

That development, featuring a long, linear lake with surrounding multimodal golf cart, bike and fitness trails, will back up to Golden Grove Elementary School and Western Pines Middle School, providing easy access for students and parents.

“You talk to developers, and many will tell you that a lot of municipalities make getting from point A to point B almost impossible,” Cassel said. “The overarching vision from the beginning with the city’s comprehensive plan… was to make it so that development could take place smoothly.”

The key to all of it is sticking to the plan.

“We’ve set up parameters that give predictability for the developers,” he said. “As long as developers stay within those boxes, the process is pretty straightforward.”

Other major developers in Westlake include Kolter Homes, which created the 55-plus community of Cresswind, and Label & Co., developer of Sky Cove.

Since its inception, Westlake has tried to position itself as a relatively affordable alternative to exploding housing prices near the coast and in areas like Wellington. Westlake has so far held to that model, with only a handful of homes in The Estates valued at more than a $1 million. Keeping homes low enough on the six-figure scale to make them appealing to sought-after young families and mid-level professionals is a constant balancing act, Cassel said.

In planning construction, developers “watch the market very closely,” he said. “If homes with 65 feet of frontage aren’t selling, then maybe they do 55 feet in the next development. It’s all market driven… [But] we’re always asking ourselves, how do we fit into the sweet spot in the middle in terms of housing costs, taxes and utilities, while still providing a real quality of life.”

In the exploding South Florida real estate market, it’s not easy.

Through Minto’s “Welcome Heroes” program and the city’s Housing Assistance Purchase Program Yearly (HAPPY) trust fund, discounts or tax breaks are offered to help teachers, medical professionals, government workers, first responders, members of the military and veterans — especially first-time homebuyers. But the continued surge in salaries, home prices and the cost of mortgages has forced Westlake to leave some $2.5 million in homebuyer assistance sitting on the table.

Cassel said this week that he is working on ways to revamp the program to qualify more homebuyers.

Meanwhile, Westlake continues to build a web of partnerships with various developers, the Seminole Improvement District, Florida Power & Light and Palm Beach County, among others, that Cassel said will pay dividends for years to come.

The biggest current joint venture is a 50-acre park south of Seminole Ridge High School. Part of the land next to the M-2 Canal also is being used by Seminole for 2.5-million-gallon irrigation water retention tank that already is under construction next to an existing 500,000-gallon tank.

Plans for the park are not complete but likely will include a walking trail, restrooms, soccer fields, pickleball courts, a “tot-lot” playground, hook-ups for a portable concert stage and a number of food trucks, along with parking for 275 cars and 100 golf carts. Also under discussion are tennis, basketball and beach volleyball courts, and a concession stand.

Eventually, a community center/town hall with council chambers is expected to be part of the project, which will be phased in over three to five years.

“The vision for whatever we build there will be as a multipurpose facility, not something that only gets used once a month,” Cassel said. “We don’t want something that will be underutilized. We always want to be smart with the taxpayers’ money.”