Palm Beach County board endorses Minto West plan in 5-2 vote


Palm Beach County commissioners endorsed the controversial Minto West development Wednesday despite their staff’s warnings that it could lead to chronic traffic congestion in the central western communities.

The commission voted 5-2, with Commissioners Paulette Burdick and Jess Santamaria voting no, at the end of a seven-hour public hearing that included nearly 50 residents speaking against the project.

The commission voted to transmit the project to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for review. The state review would have occurred regardless of the commission’s vote because of a state law that created the so-called Agriculture Enclave where the project is being planned.

But the county commission will have the final say on the project; that vote is scheduled to for Oct. 29, after county planners review the state comments. And some commissioners who voted for Minto West on Wednesday indicated they might change their vote in October.

That didn’t satisfy many residents from The Acreage and Loxahatchee Groves who were disappointed that the commission didn’t at least send a message to Minto by rejecting the request Wednesday.

“Shame on you!’’ Leslie Mann yelled at commissioners as she left the meeting room.

A few minutes later, Mann said outside the meeting room: “It’s a real sad state of affairs when you have a majority of commissioners making the decision that affects so many people who oppose this.’’

Minto Communities is seeking land-use changes to allow 4,549 residential units and 2.1 million square feet of non-residential uses on 3,800 acres in The Acreage. Current land-use rules, approved a few years ago when the land was owned by Callery Judge Groves, allow 2,996 residential units and 235,000 square feet of non-residential uses.

Commissioner Hal Valeche told opponents of the project that their neighborhoods would change even with a project only as big as the rules now allow.

“I think the die was cast when the original 3,000 homes was approved,’’ Valeche said. “That was going to change the nature of your neighborhood as well. What I see here is a much better plan.’’

Minto West’s proposal preserves more than 2,000 acres for open space, offers partial relief to the area’s drainage problems and provides workplace and retail uses needed in the central western communities, county staff said. The development would be built out over 20 to 25 years.

But the staff also said the project could set the stage for future developments in the area, which is now rural in character with, in some places, dirt roads shared by horses and cars.

Palm Beach County Engineer George Webb offered what he called an “eye opening” scenario of projected traffic gridlock in the county’s central-western communities if Minto West and other proposed developments get their wishes to build what they want.

The county’s five-year road program calls for $30.1 million in improvements for the central western community. But over the next 20 years, $110 million in roadway improvements are needed under current land uses to accommodate 7,034 units and 235,000 square feet of non-residential uses that would generate 78,387 daily trips.

Those daily trips could climb to 103,942 if Minto West’s request is approved. And if other developments, including the proposed Avenir project in Palm Beach Gardens, are built, 225,000 new daily trips would be dumped on the area’s roads by the year 2035.

Nearby Indian Trail Groves, where GL Homes owns 5,000 acres, is among the next potential projects.

“It is a daunting picture,’’ Webb said, adding that there’s not enough road capacity to handle all of the projects. “A six-lane lane road handles about 50,000 (trips), so you are talking about five full new six-lane roads needed to handle that demand.’’

Those road improvements would cost millions of dollars and could trigger the need for flyovers in Palm Beach Gardens at Northlake Boulevard and the Beeline Highway and suburban West Palm Beach at Okeechobee Boulevard and State Road 7.

Marty Perry, an attorney for the Indian Trails Improvement District, which opposes Minto West, told county commissioners that a top official for GL Homes was sitting in the audience watching Wednesday’s public hearing.

“Frankly what you are doing today is precedent-setting because (other developers) are going to rely on that,’’ Perry said.

Jennifer Hager, who sits on the Indian Trails Improvement District board, urged the commission to hold Minto West to current land-use rules. “If this (increased) land-use request is sent off with your blessing… then you have essentially sentenced The Acreage and Loxahatchee to the death of its heart, soul and nature,’’ she said.

Minto West is 5.92 square miles in land size. Its 3,788 acres is nearly twice that of Abacoa’s 2,050 in Jupiter but it would have roughly 1,500 fewer housing units. If you picked up the proposed Minto West development and slid the site to the east, it would cover land roughly from the Intracoastal Waterway to Florida’s Turnpike.

If it were incorporated, it would become Palm Beach County’s 11th largest city in land size, ahead of Lake Worth (5.87 square miles) and behind Riviera Beach (8.45 square miles).


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