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NEW: Officials balk, say Westlake’s plan creates opening for more homes

A glimpse at the potential of massive growth for the fledgling city of Westlake didn’t look good to a regional planning council Friday.

“They’re trying to build Fort Lauderdale in The Acreage, and we absolutely cannot sustain that under any scenario,” said Palm Beach County Mayor Melissa McKinlay, who is a member of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council.

Westlake, represented by city attorney Pam Booker, pitched a proposed future density plan that could increase the current 4,500-residence community to about 44,000 to 46,000 and nearly 11 million square feet of commercial space during the next 20 years, according to a calculation done by the planning council’s staff at McKinlay’s request.

But that draft comprehensive plan is not consistent with the prevailing regional policy plan and it fails to adequately address a number of issues, the council said during its meeting at Indian River State College’s Chastain Campus.

McKinlay is one of about two dozen officials from Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties who sit on the planning council. That includes two western communities officials, Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig and Royal Palm Beach Councilman Jeff Hmara. Other Palm Beach County officials on the council include Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Mack Bernard and County Commissioner Hal Valeche. The planning council’s role in reviewing Westlake’s draft plan is largely advisory.

Westlake began as a project from developer Minto known as Minto West. Its controversial incorporation in 2016 on five votes has spurred concerns from neighbors that Minto could increase the number of homes and amount of commercial space planned for the city.

Under the plans approved by the county, Westlake can build up to about 4,500 residences. The county’s comprehensive plan and land-use regulations will remain in place until Westlake approves its own comprehensive plan.

Thomas Lanahan, planning council deputy executive director, said the draft plan does not adequately address the “potentially significant impact” Westlake will have on regional resources, including roads and drainage.

The meeting drew residents of The Acreage who agreed with that determination, and called for the council’s comments to be as critical of the plan as possible.

“There is a developed community with a lifestyle and quality of life that’s going to be affected by this development,” said Frank Palin, general counsel for the Indian Trail Improvement District, which is responsible for roads and drainage in the area surrounding Westlake.

Palin said the new city’s residents will have to travel on roads paid for and maintained by Indian Trail residents.

“We’ve had no communication with the developer that I’m aware of since the development was approved by Palm Beach County,” he added.

“This is a hole in a doughnut,” Indian Trail board of supervisors president Betty Argue said, referring to Westlake’s position in the center of an area serviced by the improvement district. “We surround it.”

Traffic from Westlake also is a concern for Wellington, Gerwig said, calling for “stronger language” in asking the state to object to the draft plan.

Booker said there have been the required notifications as the city has held workshops to discuss the plan. Speaking after the meeting, Booker said she is tired of hearing about the past.

“I would like for them to deal with us as the city that we are,” she said.

Not submitting any comments to the state would weaken the council’s position on the draft comprehensive plan, McKinlay said. Booker said the comments the city receives on the plan will be addressed and responses will be returned . She also said the plan will be modified based on those comments, though all might not be acted on.

McKinlay provided the council with a brief history of Westlake, from its time as an orange grove, to developer Minto’s wrangling with the county for approval of more homes, to Minto’s move to incorporate “in the middle of the night.”

“On a vote of 5-0, five people living in a trailer, they were able to incorporate and become the city of Westlake,” McKinlay said. At the time, McKinlay called for Gov. Rick Scott’s office to investigate the incorporation.

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