Palm Beach County board OKs rules changes for Indian Trails Grove

Indian Trails Grove, a development proposed west of The Acreage that has drawn opposition from environmentalists and preservationists, gained initial approval from the Palm Beach County Commission Tuesday.

Commissioners voted 6-1 in favor of county comprehensive plan changes that would make the massive project possible. The changes would allow commercial development in the area and the construction of eight times as many housing units as are allowed under current rules.

The proposed rule changes will next be reviewed by several state agencies. If they are approved, the project — which calls for nearly 3,900 homes and 350,000 square feet of commercial space on a 4,872-acre tract west of 180th Avenue North and south of Hamlin Boulevard — will face a pair of public hearings in this county this summer before going before the County Commission for a final vote.

As she has on many occasions when the county commission considers a large-scale development project, Commissioner Paulette Burdick cast the lone vote against Indian Trails Grove. Like environmentalists and preservationists, Burdick said the project is incompatible with the surrounding area and will threaten the environment and cause a loss of farm land during a time when rising populations and climate change have threatened the global supply of food. She also argued that taxpayers will ultimately pay more if the project is approved.

“Everybody should be concerned,” Burdick said. “Growth doesn’t pay for itself.”

Tuesday’s vote in favor of Indian Trails Grove is another in a string of setbacks for environmentalists and preservationists, who have grown dispirited over what they see as a commission that will change county rules in favor of development no matter what they are told by opponents of those changes.

Lisa Interlandi, senior attorney for the Everglades Law Center, said she was disappointed that more opponents of Indian Trails Grove did not attend Tuesday’s hearing.

“I feel like they have a learned apathy because of what happened with Minto,” Interlandi told commissioners.

Commissioners approved the 4,500-home Minto West development in October 2014 after vocal opposition from many of the same people and groups that are now fighting Indian Trails Grove.

About 70 people attended Tuesday’s hearing. Many spoke against the project, saying it will invite sprawl, disturb the rural character of the area and ultimately cost taxpayers millions of dollars for new roads, schools and public safety services.

But Dart Drew, vice president of operations for Allterra Engineering and Testing, praised the project developer, GL Homes, and said the project will help the county manage growth.

“Expansion is coming,” Drew said. “There’s not much we can do about it.”

Allterra’s website lists GL Homes as a client. While not all who spoke up for Indian Trails Grove had worked as subcontractors on GL Homes projects, those who had prompted the derision of opponents.

“Kudos to the musketeers who took a day to pimp out GL Homes,” said Nancy Gribble, who said the developer’s promises amount to “fairy dust.”

Urging commissioners not to transmit the comprehensive plan changes to Tallahassee for review, Gribble borrowed a rhetorical flourish from the late Johnnie Cochran, the lawyer who famously told jurors in football star O.J. Simpson’s murder trial that if a bloody glove did not fit him, they must vote to acquit.

“What about our lifestyle, our quality of life?” Gribble asked commissioners. “If it doesn’t fit, you must not transmit.”

GL Homes’ request, however, had elements commissioners found irresistible.

The Indian Trails Grove project would set aside two-thirds of the tract for preservation with development on the remaining third.

GL Homes agreed to pay $45 million to cover the cost of road upgrades that would be needed because of Indian Trails Grove. That’s $5 million more than the developer is required to pay by state law.

County Engineer George Webb said the $45 million would cover the cost of road upgrades necessitated by Indian Trails Grove. Webb did note, however, that other approved projects in the area — Avenir and Minto West — will leave county taxpayers on the hook for about $90 million in road upgrades in the coming years.

In addition to the extra $5 million for road upgrades, commissioners were pleased with GL Homes’ plan to set aside about 1,100 acres for agricultural production. And they liked the inclusion of a 640-acre reservoir that would be built to help alleviate flooding problems in The Acreage.

“That will go a long way to helping us with the draining issues,” said Mike Guinaugh, president of an engineering firm in Loxahatchee.

While details of the plan pleased most commissioners, three cities — West Palm Beach, Loxahatchee Groves and Royal Palm Beach — have all passed resolutions opposing Indian Trails Grove. Officials for those cities said the project would clog area roads.

West Palm Beach City Attorney Kimberly Rothenburg attended the hearing and urged county commissioners to reject GL Homes’ request.

That plea annoyed Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who noted that West Palm Beach has approved developments in its western areas while opposing road expansions that could help county residents not far away.

“I find your remarks to be a little bit disingenuous,” McKinlay told Rothenburg.

County Commissioner Shelley Vana said the Indian Trails Grove project will benefit the county.

“It gives us some sustainable growth,” she said. “There’s going to be growth. Short of not letting people come to Palm Beach County, we need to look at these plans.”

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