Billed with all the urgency of an “emergency special meeting,” the Tuesday, Oct. 10 session of the Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors moved at the slow, insistent pace of rising canal water and dealt with much of the same.
ITID Vice President Betty Argue pressed for the session at the board’s Sept. 20 regular meeting ostensibly to decide whether to send to the Palm Beach County Commission a letter of support or non-support for the GL Homes’ rights swap plan that is scheduled for a final vote Tuesday, Oct. 24.
ITID supervisors were solidly supportive of the swap until construction of an ATV park and campground on 200 acres of GL’s 4,872-acre Indian Trails Grove property was added to the deal at the last minute at the request of District 6 County Commissioner Sara Baxter.
“I still support GL’s proposal,” Argue said. “I just don’t support the ATV park… It will have a dire impact on the residents who surround it… It is undermining the reason the district always supported your transfer of development rights.”
The reason, often cited by Argue and others, is that the swap would cut by 13,000 to 16,000 the number of daily vehicle trips on area roads once GL completes its development at Indian Trails Grove northwest of The Acreage. GL already holds county permits to build 3,897 housing units, 300,000 square feet of commercial space and 50,000 square feet of office space there.
The deal would reduce that development by approximately one-third and increase lands dedicated for agricultural and water resources to 980 acres, and publicly dedicated land to 1,600 acres. It also would provide ITID with a 640-acre water impoundment area that could be used for everything from flood control in the wet season to fighting wildfires in the dry season, officials have said.
In return, the developer 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 off State Road 7 west of Boca Raton and Delray Beach. The company also would build 277 workforce housing units on 104 acres of the property.
GL Homes Vice President Larry Portnoy, who represented the developer at the meeting, said that while Baxter’s idea for an ATV park was sprung on his company last April only weeks ahead of a key May 3 county commission vote, the company is now committed to it.
ITID Supervisor Elizabeth Accomando said board members need to not be distracted by the ATV park issue and stay focused on the increased flood protection that the deal would provide.
“This ATV park is the least of our problems,” said Accomando, whose Santa Rosa Groves neighborhood would be adjacent to the park, but is also prone to flooding. “We will continue to flood if this doesn’t happen. The entire community needs this water storage and protection.”
In the end, Argue made a motion that a letter be sent to the county commissioners supporting the GL swap but without the ATV park. The motion died for lack of a second, leaving unchanged ITID’s longstanding endorsement of the swap.
In related issues, GL Homes told supervisors that it absolutely would not bear the $20 to $50 million cost of building out the 640-acre impoundment area for ITID as part of the deal.
GL agreed to turn over to ITID the 640 acres for the impoundment that it has been holding in escrow. Much of that acreage is under contract for farming at approximately $200,000 a year. It was agreed that GL would continue to get the lease revenue until ITID is ready to build the impoundment, which will be soon, according to ITID Executive Director Burgess Hanson.
“We’ve already budgeted money in this fiscal year to do geotechnical and other environmental analyses [of the site],” he said. “This is something we’re getting ready to move on quickly.”
Hanson said a combination of federal and state funds, plus grants and a bond issue, are expected to supply the money for the project.
The board agreed to negotiate the fee that GL will pay either as an up-front lump sum or annually to the district for moving water out of its impoundments and into ITID canals. GL suggested $50,000 up front; ITID suggested $880,000.
GL officials also said they were unaware of plans allegedly made in 2016 to add equestrian, biking and walking trails to the water and outdoor resources promised in the planned development.
“This is something that was very important to the district when the development order was negotiated,” Argue said. “The idea behind the trail system is to bolster what has essentially been destroyed by development.”
“Our agreement was to get you flood protection,” Portnoy replied. “It had nothing to do with trails.”