For supporters of an incorporation referendum in The Acreage, the year began with hope that quickly faded to disappointment, while the year ended with a changing of the leadership guard among the Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors.
Along the way, a judge’s decision vindicated ITID’s legal efforts to ward off what supervisors saw as encroachment on district roads by nearby Westlake’s developer, a major renovation to Acreage Community Park was completed and big facelift for Nicole Hornstein Equestrian Park was approved.
Here is a look at major Acreage/Indian Trail happenings in 2023:
A bill calling for an incorporation referendum for the area’s 43,000 residents was approved unanimously by Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation members. Rep. Rick Roth took it before a committee of the legislature in Tallahassee. Roth put the chances of the bill’s passage at “a little better than 50 percent.”
The Palm Beach County Commission approved $3 million for the construction of an artificial turf, regulation-size football field and other improvements at Acreage Community Park. Other improvements planned for Phase 2 of the park’s south expansion project included new bathrooms, equestrian parking for the equestrian trail, new lighting, and the relocation and construction of a new skate park.
Meanwhile, supervisors learned that $7.7 million had been authorized by the state to complete the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area levee. In 2012, when Tropical Storm Isaac dumped 19 inches of rain over The Acreage, water held in Corbett partially broke through the existing levee and added to the area’s flooding problems.
The Acreage incorporation referendum bill was not reported favorably out of the Florida House’s Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee.
“After almost three years of hard work, hundreds of hours away from our families, we are disappointed that once again, our request to have a referendum on determining our own future has been denied by our own state government,” wrote Bob Morgan, one of the leaders of the VoteLox citizens group behind the bill.
Then-ITID President Michael Johnson and Acreage Athletic League Acting President Wendy Tirado were among those on hand March 16 for the grand re-opening of Acreage Community Park’s north football fields, which had undergone a 10-month, $580,000 renovation. ITID employees, who handled the entire project except for the resodding, worked through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s to make sure they would be ready for the AAL’s spring sports, ITID Executive Director Burgess Hanson said.
A schism broke open between members of the AAL, which has run youth sports in the area for three decades, and the upstart Breakthru Athletic League, which in 2022 took its flags and footballs and some 330 players and moved on. The acrimony generated by the split spilled onto the ITID dais when Supervisor Patricia Farrell suggested there was a “vendetta” against the founders of Breakthru and their supporters.
“We’re doing our best,” Tirado told the board. “There are ups and downs… [but] there’s an opportunity for the league to continue growing. That’s our goal.”
Approximately 600 young athletes participate in AAL programs overall, she said.
Also in April, ITID supervisors voted to create a 12-member Equestrian Trails Committee and to create an ITID Adopt-a-Street Program to help clear roadside trash.
ITID staff proposed a $24 million budget for the 2024 fiscal year. If accepted, the budget would mean a $7.9 million increase over the 2023 fiscal year budget and would result in an average $366 per acre increase in assessments for district residents. However, significant cuts were expected.
Parks & Recreation Director Kenny Lawrence proposed an $858,121 maintenance budget for fiscal year 2024 that would shift maintenance of all of the district’s parks to a private company. The 2023 maintenance budget was $284,000. Lawrence said that more staffing — either in-house or outsourced — was needed to properly maintain and oversee the parks, especially Acreage Community Park. Using an outside company would allow ITID to avoid hiring at least eight more full-time workers, he said.
In a related matter, Hanson said he met with county officials about moving the proposed artificial turf football field from Acreage Community Park south to north, to take advantage of lighting that already is installed on the north side. Hanson said that county officials seemed supportive.
Supervisors approved a $134 per acre assessment increase for the upcoming fiscal year. That meant the average ITID property owner would pay $922 per acre to cover a $19,505,334 district budget. During the 2023 fiscal year, the average property owner paid $787 per acre to fund a $16,463,896 budget. “We’re all feeling the impact [of assessment increases],” Supervisor Elizabeth Accomando said. “But we’re a special district, and that’s the way we have to operate.”
Supervisors voted to revamp the district’s millings policy. Under the new policy, residents of a dirt road with a 50-percent-plus-one petition asking for millings will no longer have to wait in line — often overnight or even for several days — to be one of the first five petitioners at the ITID offices on the first business day of the fiscal year. Instead, residents will have five business days to present their petition at ITID’s offices.
Supervisors voted 5-0 to approve a three-year contract valued at $2.7 million with Juniper Landscaping of Florida for maintenance of the district’s 12 parks.
Supervisors also voted to contract with Hartley Construction for improvements to the Nicole Hornstein Equestrian Park. The Hartley contract was for $476,850 and was coupled with a $400,000 federal Land and Water Conservation Fund grant.
Also in September, Supervisor Betty Argue worried that The Acreage could become a haven for long-haul truckers and others pulling heavy loads under a plan proposed by District 6 County Commissioner Sara Baxter. However, Argue said that grandfathering in pre-2019 heavy-haulers and capping the number of vehicles allowed per residence at two may be a “reasonable solution.” However, expanding the exemption to include incoming residents with big rigs is a different matter, Argue said.
Circuit Judge Richard Oftedal issued a partial judgment in favor of ITID, ruling that Minto Communities USA and the Seminole Improvement District, which provides infrastructure to the City of Westlake, have no inherent right to access ITID’s roads. If they wish to do so, they must seek a permit from ITID and pay “a reasonable fee,” the judge wrote.
Supervisors again debated the proposed GL Homes’ rights swap plan involving the 4,872-acre Indian Trails Grove property in the district’s northwest corner that was scheduled for a final county commission vote Oct. 24.
ITID supervisors were solidly supportive of the swap and attendant water-retention features until construction of a 200-acre off-highway vehicle (OHV) park and campground was added to the deal at the last minute at Baxter’s request. 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. In the end, the GL rights swap plan was voted down by the county commission.
The board agreed to pay Rosso Site Development Inc. $275,000 to settle the long-running legal dispute stemming from construction of the Acreage Community Park expansion project. Rosso signed on as the district’s major contractor for the project in 2015. ITID later terminated the contract, which brought on the lawsuit.
On Nov. 29, the Palm Beach County Commission voted 4-3 to move forward with a proposal that would allow up to two tractor-trailer rigs to be parked on properties in The Acreage. The plan that now moves forward to a Jan. 25 meeting.
The ITID board chose their two newest members to lead them in 2024. Accomando was chosen as president and Farrell was picked as vice president. Both were elected in November 2022. Argue, a longtime member of the board, shifted from vice president to secretary. Johnson, who served as president for the past two years, took over as assistant secretary. Supervisor Keith Jordano was named treasurer.
Acreage resident Natalia Melian, a leader in the Save Our Truckers movement, and Baxter spoke during public comment, asking supervisors to withdraw a May letter opposing the plan to allow 18-wheeler parking in the district. The supervisors took no action on the request. ITID gets no county, state or federal funds for its roads. All road construction, improvements and maintenance costs are paid for by direct assessments on Acreage property owners.