Attorney calls GL Homes’ plan for Agriculture Reserve a ‘pivotal moment’

A land use attorney hired by an influential group of suburban Boynton Beach residents encouraged those members Wednesday to continue their fight against a developer’s proposal to build 3,900 homes in the Agricultural Reserve and to tell the county’s commissioners why this is such a “pivotal moment” in the area’s history and future.

The Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations (COBWRA), a group of more than 100 residential communities, hired Richard Grosso to help them stop GL Homes’ plan to change the rules of the 22,000-acre farming and conservation zone located west of Delray Beach and Boynton. COBWRA and other opponents of the plan argue that such a change would dismantle the Ag Reserve.

COBWRA has started a Preserve The Reserve Legal Fund and is accepting contributions to pay for Grosso’s work.

GL Homes wants the county to change the limited-growth rules of the Ag Reserve so it can build more homes there. In exchange, GL promises to preserve 4,900 acres in The Acreage/Loxahatchee area that it has already won county approval to develop as its Indian Trails Grove project. Current rules require a builder to set aside 60 acres in the reserve for every 40 it plans to develop there. Land outside of the reserve cannot be preserved to facilitate development within the reserve.

Grosso, while speaking to the COBWRA members at the Villaggio residential community west of Boynton Beach, questioned who is guiding the development in Palm Beach County.

“The county is to be guiding where and when and how development occurs,” he said. “It shouldn’t be something where the tail wags the dog.”

He said GL’s project change is concerning and that new circumstances have not risen to justify it.

“It’s the kind of thing as a student of, a fan of, a practitioner of planning causes great concern on my part about the reliability and integrity of the planning process when last year’s great project is this year’s threat self-created to be fixed by now taking that threat and giving it to you in your communities and your neighborhood,” he said.

Larry Portnoy, vice president of GL Homes, issued a statement on Wednesday: “It is a shame that the leader of COBWRA continues to put out misinformation about our Agricultural Preservation Plan, even after our numerous attempts to come to the table and work with her organization. Our plan will preserve nearly 5,000 acres of contiguous farmland, assist in building much-needed schools, widen roads, and build homes in an area that already has the existing infrastructure and services.”

The developer is expected to present its plan to the Palm Beach County Planning Commission in December and follow up with a presentation to county commissioners in early 2018.

One commissioner — David Kerner — attended the COBWRA meeting. He said he is “inspired” by COBWRA’s hiring of Grosso and said it is the essence of democracy and advocating for the community.

“I think they continue to make a strong case,” he said, adding he has become more confused about GL Homes’ need to transfer the density. He said, ultimately, he’ll represent the interest of his constituents.

Staff writer Wayne Washington contributed to this story.

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