Westlake City Council And Developer Butt Heads Over More Fast-Food Locations

The Westlake entrance sign.

The City of Westlake temporarily turned aside plans for more fast-food restaurants along Seminole Pratt Whitney Road despite dire warnings from the area’s largest developer, Minto Communities USA, and legal saber-rattling from its attorney.

With Councilwoman Charlotte Leonard not in attendance, the council split 2-2, on a request by Minto and Konover South to amend the master site plan for a portion of the Westlake Landings plaza. The proposal was to change an area set aside for a 2,572-square-foot bank with a drive-through to a fast-food restaurant with a drive-through.

The council later voted 4-0 to table the request until its April meeting.

Minto attorney Kathryn Rossmell asked council members to reconsider.

“We would prefer a denial to a table because that at least gives us an avenue to go forward with a lawsuit,” Rossmell said.

Donaldson Hearing, a landscape architect who frequently represents Minto before the council, said there’s “no basis” for denying a request that is permitted by the city’s master plan.

But Councilman Gary Werner and Councilman Julian Martinez stood their ground during the Tuesday, March 5 meeting before a packed room at the Westlake Adventure Park lodge.

“The master plan says the city is looking for a balance of commercial uses,” said Werner, a retired city planner. “I don’t consider four drive-throughs within 500 feet of frontage to be a balance.”

Tenants should be at the discretion of property owners responding to market forces, Hearing responded.

Werner said residents bought homes in Westlake, at least in part, based on the sorts of business they were told would be coming to the community but have not appeared.

Werner added that he hears comments daily from residents who say they are “very disappointed and concerned about what’s happening with Westlake… [That] the community is becoming a drive-through and not a destiation… [with] little reason for people to visit and spend money here.”

John Carter, Minto’s senior vice president in charge of the Westlake project, said that the council’s refusal to allow the change to move forward immediately could have a chilling effect on other businesses he is attempting to bring to the community — especially two he currently is trying to secure for a major project. “This is going to make it exponentially more complicated as I engage with those developers,” Carter said. “It will put a wet blanket on the development community’s interest to come to this community and invest the magnitude of dollars that are in play when they don’t have the assurances, the confidence, the predictability that what is allowed by code can, in fact, be built.”

Although Westlake remains one of the fastest-growing municipalities in Florida, Mayor JohnPaul O’Connor said he shares Carter’s concerns.

“What I am terrified to do right now is have Westlake painted as a place that is not developer friendly,” he said. “I don’t think we can afford to do that during this massive growth phase.”

O’Connor added, “If we stall that, limit that now, word is going to get around quick that Westlake government is not easy to work with.”

In the end, Konover South withdrew two other fast-food-related change requests for Wellington Landings, asking that they all be considered together in April.

Meanwhile, Werner asked city staff to arrange a workshop meeting with Minto and other Westlake developers so that council members can get a better understanding of what is in the business pipeline.

“I think this is the first time we’ve had any [major] disagreement on the council,” Martinez said. “But it goes to show that we’re here to stand up for what we want. We have our own views, and that’s why we’re here.”

In other business:

  • The council appointed Colleen Forlizzi and Keith Miller Sr. to Westlake’s newly reconfigured Education Advisory Board. Harris Gropper was appointed as an alternate.
  • The community’s first ever 5K Run/Walk will be held Saturday, March 16 from 6 to 9 a.m. For more information, visit www.westlakegov.com/calendar or call (561) 530-5880.