It took five people. Five votes. And now, Palm Beach County has a 39th city — Westlake.
The new city was officially christened Monday night, when a canvassing board of the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections certified votes in favor of a plan to convert the Seminole Improvement District into a new city called Westlake.
A public relations firm working for Minto Communities announced the news, which was greeted by county commissioners Tuesday with as much enthusiasm as one has for a root canal.
Two years ago, commissioners underwent a painful, protracted debate to set limits on Minto’s development in the area that is now to be called Westlake. After the county gave its approval to Minto’s project, the developer — using a law passed by the state Legislature — moved to support incorporation of the area.
The move means Minto’s project can have more than the 4,500 homes it told the county it plans to build. Minto could go beyond the massive 2.2 million square feet of non-residential development it had planned for the 3,800-acre tract located west of The Acreage.
“They will be their own government,” County Administrator Verdenia Baker told commissioners.
It is not clear if the move will be a financial boon or burr for the county. Incorporation could mean juicy contracts to provide police and fire-rescue service. But it could also mean the loss of licensing and development fees. Commissioner Steven Abrams, a member of the canvassing board, directed Baker to review the financial implications for the county.
A furious Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, whose district includes Westlake, blasted Minto at Tuesday’s commission meeting, calling the company “greedy” and its move to back incorporation “a dishonest business practice.”
Minto Vice President John Carter has said his company supports incorporation in part because of difficulty in working with the county on such things as permits.
In a statement released Monday night, Carter pledged to work with the new city administration.
“We will also continue to work with Palm Beach County on a previously agreed transportation plan as well as land for parks, fire station, sheriff substation, and solutions to drainage issues that will benefit the City of Westlake and central Palm Beach County,” Carter said.
Efforts to reach Carter Tuesday for a response to McKinlay’s criticisms were unsuccessful.
That approval from so few voters was required to create an entity as important as a city has surprised some, but a state law giving improvement districts a quick path to incorporation was always a sharp arrow in Minto’s quiver.
Commissioners, who endured intense public criticism during debates over the Minto project, knew the developer could throw its weight behind a petition for incorporation and do as it pleased. What some environmentalists and preservationists saw as capitulation to development was, commissioners have argued, an uphill climb to keep the project from being even more massive.
“We at least did try,” Commissioner Shelley Vana said.
Minto’s fingerprints are all over the incorporation plan. The five voters who backed the conversion plan are all registered at a single address on Seminole Pratt Whitney Road, according to Supervisor of Election Susan Bucher. County records show the property is owned by Minto.
Minto is the primary landowner in the Seminole Improvement District, whose boundaries will now roughly equate those of Westlake.
Betty Argue, a member of a Loxahatchee group that has filed legal challenges in an effort to stop the Minto project, was disappointed by the move to incorporate. She said the rural character of the area will change.
“Because five people live on this property, they get to decide the fate of the whole area,” Argue said. “The whole system, the whole ability to do this, is wrong.”
Westlake only has a handful of residents, but it has a 249-page conversion plan, which includes a charter for Westlake.
The charter spells out that Westlake is to have a council-manager form of government, meaning council members will appoint a city manager who oversees the day-to-day operation of the city.
Council members will serve four-year terms, with only two being up for re-election at a time.
The charter identifies those who will serve on what it describes as Westlake’s “transitional” council: Roger Manning will serve as mayor while John Stanovich, Kara Crump, Philip Everett and Anthony Fritz will hold council seats.
At $3,400 per month, the salary for transitional council members is unusually high for elected municipal officials in Palm Beach County. A new mayor or council member elected after elections are held in 2020 and 2022 would earn $1,000 per month.
Transition council members do not have to live in the city. The charter requires only two transition council members to be residents of Palm Beach County.
Only Crump, 28, and Fritz, 27, were among the five voters whose support of the conversion plan led to the creation of the city.