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Ex-commish Masilotti, jailed on land deals, speaks on GL Homes plan


Former Palm Beach County Commissioner Tony Masilotti, who served 37 months in federal prison for his role in improper land deals, ripped county staff Wednesday night in answering questions about a development switch proposed by GL Homes.

Masilotti urged Indian Trail Improvement District board members not to add any conditions to a letter they plan to draft in support of GL Homes’ proposal to forego building a recently approved development of 3,900 homes on its 4,900-acre Indian Trails Grove tract near the Acreage if the county would instead allow the developer to build in the county’s Agricultural Reserve west of Delray Beach and Boynton Beach.

Under the proposal, GL Homes would offer some of its property, which sits near the improvement district, as preservation parcels to meet the county’s rules for building in the Ag Reserve. The preservation parcels would be offered one by one as portions of its land in the Ag Reserve is developed.

RELATED: Details of GL Homes’ proposal

“I would suggest you don’t complicate it too much because the county staff will find ways of nixing it on you if you involve too many idiosyncrasies that they don’t like,” said Masilotti, who has kept a low profile since his release from prison in 2011.

On the same topic, Masilotti, a former mayor of Royal Palm Beach and a county commissioner who represented the western area including Indian Trail for nine years, had earlier said: “It’s all about control with government agencies. It always has been.”

Masilotti spoke after GL Homes presented its development swap proposal to the Indian Trail Improvement District Board.

The proposal, which would need the County Commission’s approval, would involve changing Agricultural Reserve rules requiring 60 Ag Reserve acres to be placed in preservation for every 40 acres developed in the 22,000-acre reserve established for farming and conservation. Land outside of the reserve can’t be used to meet preservation requirements for projects in the reserve under the current rules.

GL argues that its plan would put more land in preservation in the county, allow farming operations to move to an area where it would not have to co-exist with residential development and put less strain on road and water systems near the district’s service area.

Environmentalists and preservationists, however, say the Ag Reserve is already under too much development pressure and that there are no assurances that the preservation parcels offered by GL Homes will, in fact, remain in preservation.

“Would not the entire purpose be to ensure the land be preserved forever, or is it just one gigantic development scheme?” asked Lisa Interlandi, senior attorney for the Everglades Law Center. “This is the biggest bait and switch in the history of the county.”

Board members of the Indian Trail Improvement District also expressed preservation concerns and wondered aloud whether they should condition their support for GL’s plan on getting some say on whether those preservation parcels are developed.

Masilotti, who said he came to the meeting to address the district’s budget, was asked for his opinion. He urged the district not to tie its support for the plan to having a say on the preservation parcels.

“If you complicate it to the point where you say, ‘We’re not going to endorse it unless Indian Trail has a protection on it, I don’t think county staff will support it, to be real frank with you.’”

District board members took Masilotti’s suggestion not to include any conditions in its letter of support for GL’s plan.

County Administrator Verdenia Baker later rejected Masilotti’s characterization of her staff as control-hungry. She told The Palm Beach Post Thursday that staff members make recommendations on proposals based on their best judgment and that commissioners have the final say.

“It is not about control,” Baker said. “It is about an orderly process. Staff makes recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners, which sets policy. That’s not our role.”

Masilotti’s opposition to the improvement district requiring a say on the preservation parcels in exchange for its support matched a recommendation by GL Vice President Kevin Ratterree, who told district board members the district and county should keep their options open to future projects that could prove beneficial.

Ratterree’s GL colleague, Larry Portnoy, told The Post Thursday that the developer had no idea Masilotti planned to attend the Indian Trail Improvement District meeting. Portnoy said the former commissioner is not a consultant and is not involved in any way with GL’s plan.

Attempts to reach Masilotti Thursday were unsuccessful.

In 2008, GL pursued a plan to swap some of its land for county-owned parcels in the Ag Reserve. That plan was shot down, but Portnoy said GL did not give up on the idea of continuing to build in the reserve, where it has constructed high-end developments like Valencia Cover and Seven Bridges.

Portnoy denied that GL is planning to build in the Ag Reserve, then seek to remove preservation restrictions so it could also build on parcels near the Indian Trail Improvement District.

“We have no plans or thoughts in the back of our mind to come back and develop on that land at some point in the future,” he said.

GL’s proposal piqued the interest of one key player Thursday, Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, whose represents the district that Masilotti once did.

McKinlay said she likes the idea of GL developing less in that area while focusing on land it owns in the Ag Reserve. GL’s old plan to acquire and build on county-owned land in the Ag Reserve was and remains a non-starter, she said.

“That is not something I would ever support,” she said.



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