Sal Faso technically lives in West Palm Beach, but as a resident of Ibis on Northlake Boulevard, he realizes his community is influenced by decisions made in Palm Beach Gardens to the north and in unincorporated neighborhoods west of Ibis.
The idea that shaping the future of northern Palm Beach County requires a regional approach led the former IBM executive to begin the North County Neighborhood Coalition in November 2010, a nonprofit, nonpartisan association of 14 communities that is getting the attention of elected officials.
Its goal “is to educate the residents so they can make informed decisions when it comes time to vote,” said Faso, the group’s president.
The NCNC, whose member communities include PGA National, BallenIsles Country Club, Evergrene and The Isles, does not endorse candidates. But it does host candidate forums. Faso said the organization’s member communities represent about 20,000 registered voters.
Faso said the idea for the NCNC came from another regional alliance — the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations.
The NCNC board, which has two representatives from each member community, is creating a vision for northern Palm Beach County’s growth from Northlake Boulevard north to the Martin County line.
Faso said the group’s vision includes “a rural, suburban touch and feel” with communities that are safe, secure and beautiful, built with proper setbacks and with plenty of green space, including places for wildlife and storage for clean drinking water.
“We do not want to become Broward County,” Faso told members of the Palm Beach Gardens City Council recently. “We do not want Okeechobee Boulevard resurrected on Northlake Boulevard. I really want to plan for our future. I don’t want it to just happen.”
Specifically, the NCNC opposed doubling the length of the runway at the North County General Aviation Airport.
The group also opposes both the proposed 7,600-home Avenir development that could bring about 20,000 residents to the former Vavrus Ranch tract in western Palm Beach Gardens and the proposal by Minto Communities to build Minto West, which would include 6,500 homes on the former Callery-Judge citrus grove off Seminole Pratt Whitney Road.
Those two projects combined would bring about 40,000 residents over time, the equivalent of “putting another city out here,” Faso said.
The NCNC also opposes a plan to extend State Road 7 north to Northlake Boulevard. Faso says the extension would jeopardize the drinking water held in West Palm Beach’s Water Catchment Area.
That said, Faso said the NCNC is not against all development. The group welcomed the Scripps Research Institute and has no position on the proposed spring training baseball stadium in Palm Beach Gardens.
Faso said the group helps elected officials by giving them feedback about what residents want. Some elected officials agree.
“It’s a great idea,” Palm Beach Gardens Councilman David Levy said. “One of the most difficult things about being an elected official is you don’t hear the sentiments of the general public.”
Palm Beach Gardens Mayor Bert Premuroso said the NCNC has been well informed on issues that affect growth, traffic, safety and the quality of life.
“I look forward to hearing their comments as new development opportunities are presented,” Premuroso said.
“I think the politicians will listen to us, and it will be a good counterbalance to the pressures developers can put on them,” said Meg Shannon, an NCNC board member and president of the homeowners’ association at The Isles, a community of 379 homes at Hood Road and Military Trail.
“It’s not political,” said board member Hal Hodgson, president of the PGA National Property Owners Association. “We just want transparency. Before a developer puts a shovel in the ground, we want to know what’s going on.”