GL Homes wants to pay its way out of a requirement that it set aside land for purposes such as parks and fire stations in four of its housing developments in Palm Beach County’s Agricultural Reserve.
The move would bring the county $2.8 million and allow the sheriff’s office to open a long-planned substation in suburban Delray Beach.
Under an agreement set to be discussed by county commissioners March 12, GL Homes, one of the nation’s largest private homebuilders, would pay the county to cash out of a requirement that it reserve 25 acres for these civic projects in southern Palm Beach County.
GL would keep the land and incorporate it back into its residential communities, said Kevin Ratterree, vice president of the company. Those communities are Bridges and Hyder in suburban Delray Beach, and Valencia Assemblage and Valencia Reserve in suburban Boynton Beach.
Five of the seven commissioners must vote in favor to approve the deal. County officials have already signed off on a similar plan with GL Homes for land with a different project in suburban Boynton Beach.
If approved, the county would use part of the payment to open the substation in the old West Atlantic Library building at the northwest corner of West Atlantic Avenue and Cumberland Drive. Residents in suburban Delray Beach have been pushing for one in that area for years.
The county’s development rules require builders to set aside land in each new residential development for civic projects. County officials, however, often let developers pay their way out of the requirement if the county does not need the land.
Commissioner Mary Lou Berger, whose south county district includes much of the agricultural enclave, said the requirement is important – especially in areas where the county needs land for fire stations and other public purposes. In GL Homes’ case, however, Berger said, the deal would be a “win-win-win” for area residents and county taxpayers.
As a result of declining property tax revenue, the county has not had money to renovate the old library and turn it into a sheriff’s substation. The closest substation is on Congress Avenue within Delray Beach’s city limits, Berger said, about 4 miles away.
But not everyone supports the proposal. Joanne Davis of the environmental group 1000 Friends of Florida said the civic land is critical. The property, she said, can be used by residents for community gardens, playgrounds and meeting areas.
“It is just very much a community-builder,” Davis said of the designated public space.
“Money is great and all, but building a sheriff’s substation is contributing to the community in a very narrow way. It is needed, but why doesn’t it come out of the sheriff’s budget?”
Robert Schulbaum, president of the Alliance of Delray Residential Associations, which includes 87 communities in the Delray Beach area, said the group has endorsed the plan. The alliance has spent seven years pushing for the sheriff’s substation, he said.
“Our sheriff’s station is miles inside the city limits of Delray Beach,” Schulbaum said. “What kind of sheriff’s station is that? They are in the city of Delray. What good do they do us there?”
Schulbaum said there was “nothing of any quality” that could be built on the civic property in GL Homes’ four communities.
“What would they put there besides a park?” Schulbaum said. “It is not going to benefit my people. What we need is a sheriff’s station.”
Under the county’s development rules, Sunrise-based GL Homes is required to set aside about 31 acres in four of its residential communities in the agricultural reserve. It plans to give the county 6 acres near the northeast corner of Atlantic Avenue and Florida’s Turnpike. GL Homes would pay the county $110,450 to keep the remaining 25 acres, under the proposals.
Ratterree said commissioners discussed the possibility of the “cash-out” plan last year and the builder began working with county managers after that.
County officials have already signed off on a similar plan with GL Homes, which allowed the developer to move the civic-site requirement from several of its communities to assemble a 53-acre tract for a district park near the Canyon Town Center at Lyons Road and Boynton Beach Boulevard.