- Joe Capozzi Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Palm Beach County commissioners Wednesday night have their blessing to Minto West, approving key land-use and zoning changes for the massive development in The Acreage that could change the rural character of the county’s central-western communities.
Commissioners voted 5-2 in three separate votes to approve the project at 8:30 p.m., ending an emotional 10-hour meeting that featured comments from more than 60 residents, including two who sang songs protesting the project.
But it will be a while before developers put a shovel in the ground. Opponents, including the Indian Trail Improvement District, are vowing to file lawsuits challenging the proposal.
Commissioners Paulette Burdick and Jess Santamaria voted against the project.
Voting on three technical changes to the county’s comprehensive plan, land-development code and zoning rules, commissioners essentially gave their blessing for Minto’s plan to build 4,500 homes, 2.1 million square feet of offices and retail space, a college and a hotel.
Developers still have to get county approval for individual portions of the project in the coming years, but they would not have been able to proceed without the approvals for the comp plan, land-use and zoning requests.
Commissioner Steven Abrams said a big reason he supported the project is because the commercial and residential portions are linked. “If the buyers don’t come, the commercial won’t be built,’’ he said.
Santamaria said he was disappointed that five commissioners “completely ignored” the requests of thousands of residents who told the commission that Minto West is not compatible with the area.
One man walked out and yelled to commissioners, “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
The project would be built on 3,800 acres on both sides of Seminole Pratt Whitney Road just north of Okeechobee Boulevard – an area 6 square miles in size, roughly comparable in area to the size of Lake Worth and Riviera Beach.
“This is kind of like dropping Manhattan into the middle of this area,’’ said attorney Marty Perry, representing the Indian Trail Improvement District, which oversees canal and road maintenance in The Acreage and opposes Minto West.
County Engineer George Webb warned commissioners that about $250 million in road and intersection improvements will be needed over the next 25 years to accommodate traffic from Minto West and other development projects in the pipeline.
Some of those improvements include controversial urban interchanges – also called “flyovers” – at Northlake Boulevard and Beeline Highway (a project opposed by PGA National residents) and Okeechobee Boulevard at State Road 7.
But Webb also pointed out that about $210 million in traffic improvements would be needed anyway without Minto West’s latest plan. Minto will pay about $50 million in improvements.
“This project as proposed is really a small town,’’ said Webb.
Minto officials say their project will be designed to blend in with the area. Its boundaries will feature green and natural-looking buffers at least 400 feet wide, essentially hiding the interior of the development.
The project also calls for 200 acres of parks and 15 miles of trails for horses, bikes and walkers. Land will be set aside for a school and fire station.
Minto West architects will design homes and neighborhoods to resemble “Old Florida.” “We are not trying to do Boca Raton. We are not trying to do Key West,’’ planner Don Hearing said.
But opponents said Minto West will lead to other development projects, which will add more traffic that will spill onto rural dirt roads, many of which are shared by horses.
“The Acreage is called The Acreage for a reason. The Acreage is acre lots and not quarter-acre lots. It’s not called the ‘Quarter-Acreage’,’’ Ralf Brookes, an attorney representing opponents of Minto West, told county commissioners.
Current land-use rules for the site, a former citrus grove, allow Minto Communities to build 2,996 homes and 235,000 square feet of office and retail space — far less than what Minto Communities wants to build, especially in office and commercial space.
“This is just the beginning of turning over everything that we have moved out there for. It is a Trojan horse for everything else that’s going to come out there,’’ said Acreage resident Nina Corning.
County planning staff recommended approval of the project because, among other reasons, it will provide office and industrial uses currently lacking in the area.
“What we think we are bringing you and what Minto is proposing is a much better project” than previous development proposals on the land over the years, said county planner Bryan Davis.
More than 100 residents packed the commission chambers when the meeting started, and nearly half stuck around for the final votes. Unlike previous Minto West meetings, Wednesday’s hearing featured as many supporters as opponents.
“Please do not let them fool you into thinking that all of The Acreage is against this,’’ said resident Trish Watkins, who supports the project.
“The reason you don’t hear from them is they don’t have an objection, they don’t have a gripe. They are OK with it.’’
But some Minto opponents, who have been showing up in large numbers at meetings all year, said they suspected the developer paid the supporters to attend the meeting. Minto officials denied the accusation.
“I have to pray that the marijuana law passes because you’ve got to be stoned out of your mind to say that this is not going to affect us,’’ Acreage resident Alex Larsen said.
Christine Schwartz sang a Minto protest song to the melody of “The Beverly Hillbillies” TV theme song. A man sang a similar song to the melody of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.’’
Betty Argue, an Acreage resident, played a 20-minute homemade video of rural scenes in her neighborhood to the John Denver song “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.’’
Jean Edwards, who helped organize an 8 a.m. street rally, reminded commissioners that more than 5,000 residents have signed petitions opposing Minto West.
“You have overwhelming opposition to this proposed project,’’ Edwards said. “Here’s a change I propose for the (county commission): Change your pro-development stance.’’
More than eight hours into the hearing, Abrams snapped at a resident who implied in a public hearing that commissioners were taking bribes from Minto West officials.
“You put it out there on the record and the implication is repugnant,’’ Abrams said, his voice rising.