NEW: Despite rain, hundreds pack Westlake for first look at new city

Julian Martinez sat excitedly tapping his foot in a sales center west of Royal Palm Beach on Saturday afternoon waiting to sign the paperwork to buy his first home. With a nervous smile, and joined by his two aunts, he gazed at a TV screen that showed the floorplan he selected.

“It’s all happened so fast,” the 29-year-old firefighter said.

In writing the check for the down payment, Martinez became a pioneer of sorts: He has the distinction of being one of the first residents of the new city of Westlake, Palm Beach County’s youngest municipality that is budding out of the ground on 3,800 acres off Seminole Pratt Whitney Road north of Okeechobee Boulevard.

PHOTO GALLERY: Grand opening for new city of Westlake

Developer Minto Communities had its grand opening for Westlake on Saturday, at which hundreds of people packed the sales center and viewed the six model homes in Westlake’s first neighborhood, The Hammocks. Minto Communities USA President Mike Belmont said he thought Saturday’s rainy weather would dampen the turnout — but that was not the case. And while some were there to see what Westlake had to offer, others were intent on purchasing a home.

Editorial: Builders must continue to step forward

“The price this community has to offer is what is attracting all the attention,” Belmont said. Prices for homes in Westlake start at $276,990 for the Sage model, the floorplan purchased by firefighter Martinez. It has about 1,500 air-conditioned square feet. With the lot, Martinez said he paid about $301,000.

“I thought about the price of a new house here versus what I would pay for a used home,” he said. His aunts, who joined him in Westlake Saturday, bought homes in Weston in Broward County before that area was fully developed. “Now you go there and you have everything you need,” he said. “That’s what’s going to happen here.”

READ: Westlake developer stresses affordable housing, down payment help

Emma Jean-Philippe said she drove from West Palm Beach to see if Minto would live up to her expectations for Westlake. “We’ve seen the ads, read the articles,” she said. “They really have done a beautiful job. It looks like it would be a good place to live.”

While Jean-Philippe was considering the Kingfisher Grand model — a house with just over 3,000 square feet of air-conditioned space, Acreage resident Barbara Jones was more curious about the new city being built next to her neighborhood — a new city she opposes.

Jones, who lives off Persimmon Boulevard, said she is concerned Westlake will change the character of the area, and that it will bring more traffic down her quiet, rural road.

“That’s kind of why we moved out here, was for the country feel. And these houses don’t look very country,” Jones said, shaking her head. “They look more Wellington. But that’s progress.”

RELATED: Minto executive says Westlake will have $1 billion impact

Westlake Vice Mayor Katrina Long-Robinson, who joined the city council in July 2016 after the city’s founding, said it was “extremely exciting” to see so many people interested in moving west.

“It’s a huge diverse group,” Long-Robinson said of the turnout, nodding to a young family walking past. “We wanted to make sure we were able to offer affordable housing, and I think that shows with this crowd.”

The curriculum resource specialist with Charter Schools USA now lives in West Palm Beach, but said she hopes to build a home in Westlake soon.

Belmont said about 20 homes were sold Saturday, with more people reserving lots for future home-building. Eventually, 2.2 million square feet of non-residential space — including restaurants, retail, schools and a university — will join the houses now popping up just off the city’s freshly paved roads and new sod.

“That’s what really makes it a community,” he said.

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