By an unexpected 4-3 vote, the Palm Beach County Commission rejected a proposed GL Homes land rights swap on Tuesday, Oct. 24 that would have cut by approximately one-third the developer’s plans for construction west of The Acreage.
The plan passed the county board 5-2 during a preliminary hearing in May. GL had been lobbying for the swap for several years, which would have given up some of the homes slated for GL’s Indian Trails Grove land, and instead built more homes on land off State Road 7 west of Delray Beach.
Proponents of the plan within the Indian Trail Improvement District said the reduction would eliminate between 13,000 to 16,000 daily trips on the area’s overstressed roads once the Indian Trails Grove project is built out. More than 20 roads in the area already are considered substandard, even for current traffic loads.
“I’m disappointed,” ITID Supervisor Elizabeth Accomando said. “Reducing the number of homes and the amount of commercial space was really important.”
“I was surprised,” ITID Vice President Betty Argue said. “But there were not a lot of details about the project when it was [preliminarily approved], and I don’t think they were there when it came back.”
The plan included 1,600 acres dedicated to the county for preservation and agricultural use, and a water retention project that GL claimed would have positive benefits from the Lake Worth Lagoon to the Loxahatchee River.
“I think there were concerns about whether the benefits were actually there,” Argue said of GL’s proposed water projects.
Indeed, Palm Beach County Mayor Gregg Weiss, who chairs the local Water Resources Task Force, listed uncertainty about the water project as one of his reasons for changing his vote.
Commissioner Sara Baxter, whose district includes ITID, said that she was comfortable with allowing GL to move forward and create the water impoundment area.
“GL is not in the business of doing water projects,” Baxter said later. “But they certainly are capable of bringing in experts to design such a project.”
In the aftermath, ITID Executive Director Burgess Hanson said that the county vote returns everything to status quo, with GL holding 640 acres in escrow for ITID that are slated for construction of a reservoir/impoundment area for use in everything from flood control to fighting wildfires. GL currently is leasing the land for farming.
Before GL will release the land to ITID, the district must have the permits and financing in place to build the levees and other structures needed for what essentially would be a shallow lake.
Cost estimates range from $20 to $24 million for the basic project.
Hanson has said state and federal money and grants would be sought, perhaps coupled with a bond issue. He said preliminary studies are already underway for the project.
“This is important to the district,” Accomando said. “We need it.”
“We have to move forward with it,” Argue agreed.
GL already has county permits to build 3,897 homes, 300,000 square feet of commercial space and 50,000 square feet of office space on the 4,871 acres it owns in the northwest section of ITID. Under the failed proposal, residential construction would have been cut to 2,612 units, commercial space to 200,000 square feet and office space to 33,500 square feet.
In exchange, GL would have been allowed to build 1,000 luxury residences in the county’s Agricultural Reserve on the 681 acres it owns there, known as the Hyder West property, off SR 7 west of Delray Beach. The developer also promised to construct 272 workforce housing units along with other amenities.
County staff continued to oppose the plan as they had done in May.
“The preservation parcels are God’s land, not GL’s,” Commissioner Mack Bernard said during the 11-hour marathon meeting Oct. 24. “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”
Weiss and Bernard flipped their votes in front of an overflow crowd in the Robert Weisman Governmental Center in downtown West Palm Beach.
Commissioners Marci Woodward and Maria Sachs also voted against the plan, as they did previously.
Baxter supported the plan, as did commissioners Michael Barnett and Maria Marino.
Many in the audience and even outside the building watching a live video feed wore T-shirts bearing the words “Preserve the Reserve” or “Approve the Swap.”
Had the proposal gone through, it would have been the first time the county had allowed a developer to swap land outside of the 22,150-acre Agricultural Reserve for the right to build inside it.
Baxter opposed the GL swap during her run for the commission in 2022 but later became its strongest supporter.
“I remain firm in my stance,” Baxter said afterward in a prepared release. “This proposal not only addressed several community needs, but also presented a sustainable growth strategy for the region.”
In April, Baxter pressed GL to include construction of a 200-acre ATV park and RV campground on the southwest corner of the Indian Trails Grove property. The project became controversial with many residents of the nearby Santa Rosa Groves neighborhood, who expressed concerns about noise, traffic and rogue ATV riders using the area’s many dirt roads instead of paying to use the park.
Argue, a longtime supporter of the swap, became a vocal opponent of the ATV component. She said the park would add even more stress to district roads.
“It goes against the reasons we supported the swap,” she said.
Baxter said concerns about the ATV park had been blown out of proportion and that it had widespread support in the area.
“I don’t believe it played into the [commissioners’] decision at all,” Baxter said. “It was icing on the cake that would have provided a lot of community benefits.”
Baxter proposed the ATV park for the Indian Trails Grove property to, among other things, free up county land off State Road 80 at 20-Mile Bend for a proposed racetrack for dragsters and other types of motorsports.
The request for information (RFI) posted by the county regarding the racetrack project has received “a lot of feedback,” she said, adding that she expected the county to seek proposals for construction and management of the site.
In the meantime, Baxter has proposed allowing part-time racing on one of the runways at the Glades Airport in Pahokee. County Airports Director Laura Beebe is expected to report back to the commissioners on that idea later this month.
As for the future, GL Homes President Misha Ezratti said Wednesday that plans for the Indian Trails Grove property, “are in the very initial stages. Our team is regrouping and will begin working on next steps when appropriate.”