Callery-Judge Groves sells to home builder

Callery-Judge Grove has a new owner who aims to build thousands of homes and perhaps 2 million square feet of commercial space on the citrus farm long envisioned as the site of a new mini-city in western Palm Beach County,

Homebuilder Minto Communities on Thursday paid $51 million for the 3,800-acre property along Seminole Pratt Whitney Road, according to a deed filed with the county.

Minto officials confirmed the deal but declined to discuss their plans. Minto Florida President Mike Belmont said the company will divulge details next week.

As they negotiated the purchase of Callery-Judge, Minto executives met in recent months with community representatives to discuss building up to 5,000 homes and about 2 million square feet of stores and offices.

To smooth the way, Minto will mail postcards to 15,000 people in The Acreage and Loxahatchee Groves to let them know of their proposal for a denser development than the 3,000 homes now allowed on the property.

“The development, currently referred to as Minto West, will be seeking a comprehensive land plan change to increase the overall residential density to 1.7 units per acre and an intensification of the commercial, retail and work center non-residential uses to create a vibrant and sustainable community that integrates with the rural character of the western communities,” the postcard reads.

Callery-Judge long has been a subject of debate in western neighborhoods. A decade ago, Callery-Judge proposed building 10,000 homes and 3.8 million square feet of commercial space on the property, but county commissioners rejected that project amid complaints from nearby residents who worried the development wouldn’t fit with their rural community.

Minto seems to be taking pains to appease neighbors, said Joanne Davis of 1000 Friends of Florida, a growth-management advocacy group. Davis said she met with a Minto vice president and was impressed with a plan that called for stores and denser housing development in some areas and large-lot homes on other parts of the property.

“It all looked really good to me,” Davis said. “I didn’t have any immediate objection to it, even if they do increase density.”

By dropping big money on a property and then asking for a higher density, Minto is illustrating that Palm Beach County’s housing market is improving, said Jack McCabe, a housing analyst in Deerfield Beach.

“It’s like building a new city,” McCabe said. “They’re going to have to jump through a lot of regulatory and environmental hurdles. Their $51 million investment is going to mushroom into something considerably more.”

Callery-Judge Grove began farming citrus in 1964. Seeking to take advantage of the real estate boom, the farm sought to develop its land. After that strategy was rejected, Callery-Judge took a hit from the spread of citrus greening, said General Manager Nat Roberts.

“Citrus operations have really been hurt by the disease,” Roberts said.

In 2011, the property’s lender filed a foreclosure suit. Roberts said Friday that the grove continues to operate as usual while Minto prepares for development.

Minto, the farm’s new owner, has built such projects as Olympia in Wellington and Portosol in Royal Palm Beach.

Callery-Judge had a colorful history in its 49 years of operation. The citrus grower in 2006 spent $500,000 for a private investigation of former County Commission Chairman Tony Masilotti, who later served a prison sentence on a corruption charge.

“Our intent was to identify and expose possible corruption by a public official, and we did what we thought was right,” Callery-Judge said at the time.

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