The City of Westlake continued its phenomenal growth in 2023, allowing Westlake City Council members to hold the line on tax rates and to cast the vision for a 50-acre regional park on the west side of Seminole Pratt Whitney Road.
When Westlake came into being in 2016, “we looked at it and thought, rationally, we could hit buildout in 20, maybe 22 years,” City Manager Kenneth Cassel said in August, predicting residential buildout could come as soon as 2026. “It has been just incredible… We tell people, you better put your sneakers on, ’cause we’re moving fast.”
However, the Seminole Improvement District, which controls the community’s infrastructure, and Minto Communities USA, the city’s largest landowner and developer, did suffer a setback in October when a judge ruled against them in a lawsuit that would have given the community access to nearby Indian Trail Improvement District roads.
The loss means that for now, there is no real east-west access for motorists wishing to enter or leave Westlake. The only major traffic route is north-south via Seminole Pratt.
“Minto remains confident in the merits of our case and will continue to pursue all options available,” Minto Senior Vice President John Carter, who is in charge of the Westlake project, said at the time.
“Westlake has stayed pretty neutral in the fight over those connections,” Mayor JohnPaul O’Connor noted at a council meeting early in the year. “But we can’t have one way in and out of the city.”
The city considered joining the lawsuit but, in the end, stayed out.
Carter, who was raised in Riviera Beach and learned construction from the tile up working with his father, said he was unfazed by the judge’s decision. In a September feature story, Carter noted that he’s not required to live in the city he is creating, but he does with his wife and two children.
And what does that say about Westlake? “That I feel that good about this community that I would raise my kids here,” Carter said. “I believe in it that much personally and professionally.”
Here’s a recap of other major events in Westlake during 2023.
The council heard that Minto and the city were working with the Palm Beach County School District to create a backdoor from the builder’s planned Pines neighborhood to adjacent Western Pines Middle School and Golden Grove Elementary School, which are located on 140th Avenue North. The lack of an east-west connecting road forces parents to drive several miles outside the community to drop off and pick up their children.
Construction officially got underway on a new retail/restaurant complex on Jan. 31 when Minto officials joined with representatives of Konover South, MEC Construction and community leaders to break ground on the Shoppes of Westlake Landings, which is composed of two multi-tenant retail shopping centers and pod of quick service restaurants totaling 23,000 square feet.
The council approved a 22-page ordinance regulating sexually oriented businesses, since federal law does not allow an outright ban. Among other restrictions, the ordinance requires that such a business be at least 1,000 feet from existing churches or places of worship, educational institutions, public parks, and existing residential areas and properties zoned for residential use. Because of Westlake’s small geographic size, the ordinance would effectively limit such businesses to a narrow corridor on either side of Seminole Pratt Whitney Road near the community’s north end.
The city’s Art in Public Places requirement got off to an impressive start with the James Business Park’s unveiling of plans to display “Orange with Three Blossoms,” an original sculpture that will stand approximately 12 feet tall at the corner of Town Center Parkway and Persimmon Blvd. The business park is expected to be completed in 2024.
In his annual report to the council, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Craig Turner described Westlake as “extremely safe.” That is at least partly due to the large number of law enforcement personnel and other first-responders who live in the community, he said. With most criminals, “if they see a lot of law enforcement vehicles parked in driveways, they find another area,” he said.
On March 29, Minto unveiled the final phase of its $22 million resort-style Westlake Adventure Park, the centerpiece for social gatherings and activities for the master-planned community. City and county officials and other invited guests joined the Minto team for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception.
The council and the Seminole Improvement District’s board met in a joint workshop to begin shaping the vision for a planned 50-acre park off Seminole Pratt Whitney Road. The vision includes a walking trail, restrooms, at least six soccer fields, numerous pickleball courts, a covered tot-lot playground, hook-ups for a portable concert stage and a number of food trucks, along with 275 parking spaces for cars and 100 for golf carts. Possible additions to the plan include tennis, basketball and beach volleyball courts, concession stands, and a two-story, 7,000-square-foot community/government center.
Minto opened sales for the Woodlands of Westlake located on Town Center Parkway north of the existing Orchards neighborhood. The new neighborhood includes 164 homesites, many with water views.
The large and long-awaited Publix supermarket, which includes a pharmacy and liquor store, opened June 8 in the Westlake Plaza on Seminole Pratt. The 48,388-square-foot supermarket features an array of amenities. Cassel said the arrival of Publix is “a key part of the puzzle” in terms of Westlake becoming a true, self-sustaining community. “It’s a job generator. It’s a tax-base generator,” he said.
During an ATV tour of the city, Cassel said that the anticipated sales rate was 227 units per year when plans were being made for Westlake in 2016. However, over the first seven years, sales have averaged 450 units per year. Some 2.2 million square feet of commercial land also is quickly being gobbled up on and near Seminole Pratt, he said. “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.”
Jamyln Supply, a national e-commerce business specializing in pet and garden/outdoor supplies, broke ground on the first warehouse/distribution development in Westlake. The business will relocate its corporate headquarters and distribution activities from West Palm Beach to the nine-acre, 145,000-square-foot facility on Persimmon Blvd., creating approximately 40 new jobs. The project is expected to be completed in 2024.
The city adopted a property tax rate of 5.0 mills for the 2024 fiscal year to fund an $8,981,500 budget. The rate represented a small decrease from the city’s 2023 tax rate of 5.1 mills. The council also voted unanimously to prohibit medical marijuana treatment centers and dispensing centers within the City of Westlake.
Circuit Judge Richard Oftedal issued a partial judgment ruling that Minto and the Seminole Improvement District have no inherent right to access ITID’s roads, and if they wish to do so, they must seek a permit from ITID and pay “a reasonable fee.” If Minto fails to create an east-west connection for the development, it could owe the county as much as $18 million under a proportionate share agreement it entered into with the county when Westlake was approved, according to ITID’s suit.
Meanwhile, the council gathered for the first time Oct. 3 in their new meeting space at the Westlake Adventure Park Lodge on Town Center Parkway North. The council had met for years in a small, Minto-owned building off Seminole Pratt Whitney Road.
Councilwomen Charlotte Price Leonard and Pilar Elena Valle Ron, who were appointed over the last two years to fill vacant seats, had to declare their election intentions for 2024 prior to the Nov. 14 deadline. Leonard said she would stand for a full, four-year term, but on Nov. 8, Valle Ron resigned her seat, saying she was moving out of Westlake to pursue a career opportunity. No one filed to oppose Leonard for Seat 3, and only newcomer Gary Werner filed for Seat 1, meaning they’re in and there will be no need for a municipal election.
Though Werner’s official term does not begin until April, he was appointed to the vacant Seat 1 until then on 4-0 vote by the remaining council members.
The council also passed ordinances to define and restrict “arcade amusement centers and electronic gaming establishments” and “massage establishments.”
The council agreed to repeal and reconstitute the ordinance governing its Educational Advisory Board, which has not met since the spring. The ordinance spells out two-year term lengths, and the requirement that the board meet at least four times a year. Vice Mayor Greg Langowski, who has been the council’s liaison to the board, said that changes make the ordinance “more robust.”