County wants GL Homes’ vow not to incorporate as Minto, Westlake did



The surprise incorporation of the city of Westlake three months ago has colored Palm Beach County’s recent consideration of GL Homes’ massive Indian Trails Grove proposal west of The Acreage.

Caught off guard and angered by Minto’s support for municipal incorporation in the area where it is building a 4,500-home development, county staff members are trying to make sure GL Homes doesn’t go the same route with Indian Trails Grove. Staff members are insisting on a covenant barring GL Homes or subsequent landowners from annexing or seeking to incorporate until 90 percent of GL Homes’ project is developed.

That covenant is sure to be a topic of discussion Thursday when commissioners hold a public hearing on GL Homes’ request for comprehensive plan changes.

The county’s condition puts it at odds with some in The Acreage, who fear it would limit their incorporation options. And the county’s stance puts it odds with GL Homes.

“We don’t want to be caught in the middle of two dogs fighting over the issue,” GL Homes Vice President Kevin Ratterree said during a recent meeting of the Indian Trail Improvement District’s board of supervisors.

The Indian Trail Improvement District is a special government entity that provides water and road services in much of the Acreage area, including the property where GL Homes’ project is to be built. Its board of supervisors recently voted to send county commissioners a letter of support for the project, subject to its own conditions.

Westlake’s incorporation could cost the county as much as $16 million in lost building permit fees, though County Administrator Verdenia Baker said the county might not lose money overall because it won’t be providing some services and will get paid by Westlake for providing others.

Beyond the financial implications, however, county officials have been angered by the Westlake incorporation because it limits the county’s role in overarching planning it believes it is best positioned to provide.

Westlake’s incorporation puts into question many of the conditions of approval Minto had agreed to when commissioners backed its project two years ago. Those conditions deal with such issues as land set-asides for parks, recreation and drainage, areas over which the new city now has authority.

Commissioner Hal Valeche said the county was “snookered” by Minto. Other commissioners complained that the company did not negotiate with the county in good faith.

In dealing with GL Homes, county staffers are looking to make sure that whatever the developer agrees to won’t later be subject to question.

“The reason we’ve got the condition in there is we want to see the project through,” said Patrick Rutter, executive director of the county’s Planning, Zoning and Building Division. “We want to see all of it through.”

Westlake was able to incorporate because of a 2012 law passed to give leverage to the area’s previous landowner in its development negotiations with the county.

The Seminole Improvement District, a special government district that provides water and road services in the area of Minto’s project, was allowed to bypass the state’s normal process for incorporation and become a new city with the backing of only five residents.

But the 2012 law can’t be applied to the Indian Trail Improvement District, said an attorney for the district, Frank Palen.

Under certain conditions, the law allows special improvement districts to bypass the state’s normal process for incorporation only if no part of the district’s service area is within the limits of another municipality. Some of the Indian Trail Improvement District’s service area is in the Village of Royal Palm Beach.

As for residents of The Acreage, they can move to incorporate. But as a community rather than a special improvement district, they aren’t covered by the 2012 law, either. They would have to incorporate through the traditional process, which is more extensive.

For their part part, GL Homes executives said they have tried to assuage the county’s concerns.

“We volunteered to the county that we would not annex,” GL Homes Vice President Larry Portnoy told Indian Trail Improvement District supervisors. “We would not incorporate.”

GL, however, does have a problem with the county’s proposed condition of approval regarding incorporation.

“It is not our intention to shut the door on The Acreage or (the Indian Trail Improvement District),” Portnoy said. “It’s not our druthers to shut anybody out.”

Betty Argue, a candidate trying to unseat Indian Trail Improvement District Supervisor Michelle Damone in the Nov. 8 election, said she’s concerned the county’s condition of approval regarding GL Homes could keep The Acreage from including the developer’s project if area residents decide to incorporate.

“I think that’s something that needs to be addressed,” she said. “Considering the direction the community is going, we would want GL to be part of it.”


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