Minto’s Carter Not Surprised By Bumps In Westlake’s Road

The Westlake entrance sign.

Some see the possible expansion and extension of 60th Street North through The Acreage and into the City of Westlake as a godsend. Others claim it is a Hail Mary by Minto Communities USA, the city’s largest property owner and developer, to avoid paying millions in penalties for not establishing an east-west traffic outlet for the fast-growing community.

Even within Westlake, residents near the proposed construction route are expressing concerns about everything from light pollution to road noise to decreased property values.

None of this is a surprise, Minto Senior Vice President John Carter said during a wide-ranging discussion about the city his company created in 2016 out of a struggling orange grove.

“Every community I’ve ever worked in, the transportation system always was a concern,” said Carter, who grew up in Palm Beach County but previously handled projects in California and Texas. “There’s not enough or too much.”

It was first reported by the Town-Crier in January that Minto was in talks with Palm Beach County about constructing a 60th Street North extension from 140th Avenue North in The Acreage, two miles along Westlake’s northern edge to Seminole Pratt Whitney Road. Seminole Pratt, which runs north and south between Northlake and Southern boulevards, currently provides the only major access to Westlake.

Carter said Wednesday that talks with the county are ongoing. He characterized them as “a discussion more than a negotiation” centering around the possibility that construction costs could be deducted from some $30 million that Minto owes as part of a $52 million proportional share agreement signed with the county in 2014.

“There’s no time limit that we’re under,” he said. “The county is being mindful and thoughtful about the issue… [but Minto] may be able to deliver the infrastructure sooner, faster. We’re open to that.”

Whether the extension, if built, is two, three or five lanes and how it is landscaped is completely up to the county, Carter said. “Some people seem to be under the impression that I have some say in that, and I do not,” he said.

While conveying that he understands the concerns of homeowners on the north side of The Pines, The Woodlands, The Meadows and The Hammocks developments, Carter said that plans for a road running next to the M Canal are clearly spelled out in homeowners’ association and master plan documents.

The talks about a connection to 60th Street North at 140th Avenue North began last summer, Carter said.

In October, a judge issued a partial ruling against Minto and the Seminole improvement District, which provides most of the infrastructure for Westlake, in their effort to connect to Indian Trail Improvement District roads at 140th Avenue near Persimmon Blvd. However, 60th Street is a county road that runs next to the M Canal all the way to State Road 7, and thus is not under ITID’s control.

Another hearing was held April 1. The judge’s final ruling is expected any day. Whichever way it goes, the losing party is expected to appeal.

Minto’s discussions with the county about 60th Street and the judge’s ruling are “completely unrelated,” Carter said.

The extension and expansion of 60th Street, which is two lanes and still dirt in places, is now seen by many as the best hope for moving east-west traffic in the area. It has gained support from County Commissioner Sara Baxter, who represents the area, and from ITID officials, who strongly opposed it when the idea came before the Palm Beach County Commission in 2018.

Westlake Councilman Gary Werner said earlier this year that the 60th Street extension is “absolutely imperative.”

As for facing a possible $18 million penalty due to a separate agreement inked with the county in 2014 stating that Westlake must have two east-west road connections, Carter said that is a non-issue for now because the agreement does not kick in until the community has at least 3,000 residential units.

Westlake was approved by the county for 4,554 homes and currently has some 2,500 units, City Manager Kenneth Cassel said this week, noting that the city adds an average of 40 units per month.

At that pace, the 3,000 plateau could be reached within 13 months, but even then, there’s no deadline for connections, Carter said.

As far as the overall health of the development, Carter said Westlake continues to greatly outpace original projections of residential buildout in about 20 years.

“Westlake targets affordability… attracting families and civil servants,” he said. “Without doubt, that’s our secret sauce. But we also have some large estate homes worth over a million.”

Some residents and council members have expressed frustration with the speed and type of commercial development coming in, citing the lack of a mid-priced, sit-down restaurant.

Werner, among others, has questioned whether the right sort of commercial development is coming in to create the community they believe they were promised. Werner, a retired city planner, said in March that residents have expressed to him concerns that Westlake “is becoming a drive-through and not a destination… [with] little reason for people to visit and spend money here.”

“I understand that residents get very anxious about commercial development,” Carter said, “but it’s important to put things in perspective… Don’t lose sight of the fact that the pandemic caused an across-the-board lockdown of commercial development for almost a year, and it took every bit of another year to get momentum again for commercial projects.”

Carter pointed out that the county allotted 2.2 million square feet of commercial space to Westlake and already 650,000 square feet have been sold despite the two-year pandemic hiatus.

“That’s nothing short of remarkable and speaks for itself,” he said.

Carter pointed to success in bringing in a Publix supermarket, Starbucks, Marco’s Pizza, Taco Bell and KFC. A large self-storage facility, James Business Park, a branch of Christ Fellowship Church and a branch office of the Palm Beach County Tax Collector also are part of the Westlake landscape.

Carter, a Westlake resident, said he continues to work “all day, every day, 12 hours a day” to bring in diverse businesses that will add zest to community, but “I’d rather get it right than get it done fast.”