Palm Beach County commissioners moving GL Homes’ Indian Trails Grove project closer to reality Thursday, approving its proposed changes to the county’s comprehensive plan.
The 6-1 vote was another in a long line of wins in recent years for developers, whose projects will transform northwest-central portions of the county from open space and grove lands to bustling residential communities.
Environmentalists and preservationists have long since become dispirited in their fight against projects like Indian Trails Grove, where nearly 3,900 homes would be built on 4,900 acres GL Homes owns west of The Acreage.
Patricia Curry, who lives in The Acreage, sent commissioners a letter rather than attend Thursday’s meeting.
“How many more meetings should I attend, when it is clear the public’s concern is of no real concern to the BCC?” she wrote.
Commissioners argue that the public welfare is precisely what they are looking to protect in approving changes that facilitate projects like Indian Trails Grove.
“This is sustainable growth,” Commissioner Shelley Vana said. “This what we’re looking for. You have to have stuff that will draw people to a community, that will keep them there.”
Commissioners voted 6-1 in favor of the comprehensive plan changes, which allows GL Homes to build 3,897 housing units instead of the 359 units current rules allow on the property. As is often the case in such discussions, Commissioner Paulette Burdick cast the lone vote against the changes, decrying the big increase in houses that the changes allow.
“That’s too much,” she said. “It is still designated as a rural tier. I just can’t support that intensity right now.”
While Thursday’s vote moves Indian Trails Grove down the track toward final approval, it has not crossed the finish line. That could take place early next year, when commissioners are expected to take up zoning changes GL Homes has requested.
However, in approving the comprehensive plan changes, commissioners did accept the staff’s recommendation that GL Homes be required to swear off any attempt to have its property annexed or incorporated as a new city until 90 percent of its project is developed.
The stipulation is a direct result of the incorporation of the new city of Westlake, which was supported by Minto Communities, the largest landowner in the area. That incorporation has thrown into question conditions Minto agreed to when its Minto West project won county approval two years ago.
Those conditions deal with land set-asides for parks, recreation and drainage, areas over which the new city has authority.
Westlake’s incorporation surprised and angered commissioners, some of whom feel Minto negotiated in bad faith.
“I wonder if we’re not overreacting to that,” Commissioner Steven Abrams said of the no-incorporation requirement for GL Homes. “Are we going too far? I just wouldn’t be as restrictive.”
But Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, whose district includes Westlake, had no problem being that restrictive.
“This provides us some protection that, in the immediate future, they won’t annex into Westlake,” she said. “I just want some level of protection that what is moved forward on today is what happens.”
As Minto did, GL Homes has agreed to several conditions requiring open space, drainage and construction of affordable housing.
One key condition included by the county is GL Homes’ agreement to turn over 640 acres to the Indian Trail Improvement District, a special government entity that provides water, drainage and road services in some parts of The Acreage.T he 640-acre tract is to serve as a type of reservoir to help alleviate drainage problems in The Acreage.
Some Indian Trail Improvement District supervisors had pushed for another 1,068-acre chunk from GL Homes, which, when combined with the 640-acre piece, would require less digging and thus dramatically reduce the improvement district’s costs of building the reservoir.
Estimates for a reservoir on 640 acres approach $50 million, according to information provided to district supervisors. That price tag would shrink to around $11 million if GL Homes were to give the district the additional 1,068 acres.
GL Homes, however, drew the line at that request. One of its vice presidents, Larry Portnoy, told supervisors at a recent meeting that the additional acreage “is not on the table.”
That has left some wondering if the 640-acre handover is really the “public benefit” county staff members have described.
“The 640 acres GL is willing to give, that only will help part of the problem,” district Supervisor Gary Dunkley told commissioners. “That’s like giving a $100 bond to a homeless person.”
Despite Dunkley’s argument, commissioners seemed pleased with the details of its deal with GL Homes. Everybody involved gave up something to get to this point, McKinlay said.
“Nobody walks away from this with a win,” she said.