ITID Wins Court Battle With Minto; An Appeal Is Likely

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Richard L. Oftedal issued a final ruling Tuesday, May 14 in favor of the Indian Trail Improvement District in its multi-year legal battle with Minto, the largest landowner and developer in the City of Westlake.

The questions have been: Are ITID’s roads public? And if so, should Minto and the Seminole Improvement District (SID), which provides most of Westlake’s infrastructure, be able to freely connect to those roads?

Oftedal ruled “no” on both questions.

“Of course, we’re very happy with the outcome,” ITID President Elizabeth Accomando said Wednesday. “We appreciate the judge taking his time and giving careful thought and consideration to the issues involved.”

ITID Supervisor Betty Argue, who has been an aggressive advocate for the district in its case against Minto, called Oftedal’s decision “a vindication.”

“All I ever did was fight for the rights of the community,” said Argue, who was ITID president when the decision was made to take on Minto and SID.

“We see it as a victory for all forty-some-odd thousand residents in ITID’s jurisdiction,” said West Palm Beach attorney Bernard Lebedeker, who was among the attorneys who handled the case for ITID.

Minto PBLH LLC and SID sued ITID in 2020 for the right to connect to 140th Avenue North via what is presently a dirt lane across a narrow canal south of Western Pines Middle School.

Were the connection to be allowed, it would create east-west access for Westlake’s 5,500 residents, and growing, along two-lane Persimmon Blvd., all the way to State Road 7.

ITID countersued, pointing out that construction and maintenance of its roads is exclusively paid for by ITID residents — receiving no federal, state or county funds for district roadways.

ITID’s countersuit further claimed that the use of its roads by thousands of Westlake residents and many construction vehicles would put excessive stress on those roads, forcing ITID residents to bear an unfair burden in maintaining and/or expanding the roads, especially Persimmon.

“The idea that this little dirt path across the canal should be converted into a divided four-lane road, funneling traffic across it onto ITID’s roads, was ludicrous to begin with,” Lebedeker said.

Oftedal issued a preliminary opinion in October that also sided with ITID. A final hearing was held April 1.

Minto Senior Vice President John Carter, who is in charge of the Westlake project, said Wednesday, “We are completely unsurprised by this ruling, and now have greater confidence regarding the next steps that we will be pursuing. This lawsuit is far from being over or settled.”

Kenneth Cassel, manager of both SID and the City of Westlake, said, “We’ll have to read the final ruling, then decide next steps. Interconnectivity is still an issue for everyone.”

Westlake, which was incorporated in 2016, has been one of the fastest-growing communities in Florida and the nation over the last few years. However, the only major access to the community is north-south via Seminole Pratt Whitney Road between Southern and Northlake boulevards. During the permitting process with the county, Minto promised two east-west access points. So far, none exist.

Cassel said, “We’ll see,” when asked whether SID will remain a party to the suit if Minto launches an expected appeal.

If the Seminole Improvement District were to drop out, Lebedeker said, “It’s hard to see how the suit could move forward.”

Lebedeker said that Palm Beach County never should have approved plans for Westlake based on the assumption that east-west traffic could be channeled onto ITID roads.

“Routing all that traffic through rural neighborhoods is crazy,” he said. “A little common sense 10 years ago would have saved all this litigation.”