Minto executive says massive Westlake will have $1 billion impact

Minto Communities Vice President John F. Carter said his firm’s massive development project along Seminole Pratt Whitney Road in the Acreage will bring thousands of jobs to Palm Beach County over the next two decades and have an economic impact of $1 billion.

Carter touted the project as “the new downtown of central Palm Beach County” Thursday during an Economic Forum luncheon at the Kravis Center, which was attended by 150 people.

The gigantic project — 4,546 homes, 2.1 million square feet of commercial development, a 3,000-student university and a 150-unit hotel to be built on 3,800 acres north of Okeechobee Boulevard — has been the subject of heated debate before and since County Commissioners approved it in October 2014.

Supporters say it is orderly, planned growth that will provide a needed economic jolt to the area. Opponents have described it as a traffic-choking, environment-threatening invitation to sprawl that will kill the pastoral lifestyle of those who live in the area.

The project — formerly known as Minto West and now to be called Westlake — remains for these opponents the embodiment of what they describe as the county’s ongoing capitulation to development.

“People moved to this area to enjoy a rural lifestyle, but with this and other proposed projects they will be surrounded by some of the busiest and most overcrowded roads in the county,” said Lisa Interlandi, senior attorney for the Everglades Law Center.

Carter acknowledged the bruising debate that Westlake and other large-scale projects have generated in recent years.

“Yes, there is a lot of public debate on these large projects,” he said. “Each has to stand on its own feet.”

Besides the debate before the County Commission, Westlake has survived a pair of legal challenges and is moving forward.

Groundbreaking could take place in as soon as 90 days, Carter said. Residential sales are expected to begin in early 2017.

Two miles of Seminole Pratt Whitney Road will be widened to accommodate Westlake, and Carter said the plans for that work are “97 percent” complete.

Minto is spending $12 million on the widening, which Carter described as an 18-month project.

“We’re pretty excited,” he said. “We’re seeing tremendous momentum.”

As county government officials and local business leaders looked on, Carter gave some sense of the massive scale of the project.

If it were a city, Westlake’s footprint of six square miles would make it the 11th largest in the county, he said. It will be slightly larger than the city of Lake Worth.

The project’s homes will eventually generate an estimated $34 million per year in property tax revenue, he said.

Of those homes, as many as 800 could be townhomes.

“We envision this being a family-oriented community,” Carter said.

Building those homes will create 840 temporary and 2,409 permanent jobs, Carter said, adding that commercial development will generate another 5,155 jobs.

Beyond those jobs, the county will benefit from the project in other ways, Carter said.

Westlake will generate $58.7 million in impact fee revenue for the county, he said. Nearly $42 million of that will be for roads, and $7.5 million will be for schools.

“The idea that this is being foisted upon the community and is not paying for itself is not true,” Carter said.

Interlandi challenged that assertion, saying large projects cost communities more in a variety of ways that often aren’t addressed by developers.

“Studies have repeatedly shown that new development, particularly in remote areas, does not pay for itself,” she said. “When you consider the costs of building and maintaining new roads, schools, parks, fire and police stations and all the other services required, time after time it’s existing taxpayers who subsidize the cost.”

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