The proposal for a 7,600-home development called Avenir with a university campus and a children’s hospital is outside the city’s urban growth boundary and “inconsistent with the rural character envisioned for the area,” city planners say in a recent memo.
The planning staff’s comments follow a scathing initial reaction to the Avenir proposal from members of the city council in July, when some council members said the proposed development, which would house nearly 21,000 people when complete, was way too large for the city’s rural western edge.
In comments prepared for a meeting of the Development Review Committee, city planners said a requested comprehensive plan amendment, if approved, would allow 9,520 homes in Avenir — nearly 2,000 more than the company has said it plans to build.
Under current development rules, the company would be allowed to build only 406 homes on the 7.4-square-mile tract.
Coral Gables-based WAL Development Group submitted plans for the canal-laced, walkable community in June after buying the former Vavrus Ranch property north of Northlake Boulevard and west of Beeline Highway.
Danny Lopez, a principal with WAL Development, said the company is reviewing the city planning staff’s initial response to the Avenir plan and will prepare responses and make changes based on the staff’s feedback.
“The comments are part of an ongoing review process for the application we submitted,” Lopez said in a prepared statement. “We believe the process shows that our vision of Avenir could connect economic opportunities, environmental, health care, educational and community improvements in one project.”
The Avenir plan includes a central road that would connect Northlake Boulevard with Beeline Highway, a series of internal canals, a 4,000-student campus for Keiser University and a pediatrics center operated by Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital.
The company has submitted five development applications to the city, including requests for amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan and land-development regulations.
The city planning staff’s comments on Avenir plan include:
- Proposed amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan and future land use map for Avenir are “inconsistent with the rural character that was envisioned for this area.”
- The company has not met criteria that would justify its plan to eliminate 1,268 acres of wetlands, or 64 percent of the wetlands on the property.
- The scale and size of the development contradicts city policies designed to discourage urban sprawl.
- The company has so far not demonstrated that adequate water, sewer, fire-rescue service and schools would be available to serve Avenir. The plan shows no police, fire or city hall substations.
- The developer has so far failed to meet city traffic standards or demonstrate a diversity of transportation options for residents as required.
- The developer so far has failed to meet city objectives for providing job opportunities within Avenir. Most of the land development plan is dedicated to homes “without a clear program to attract a balance of commercial and economic uses.”
A review of the environmental assessment for the Avenir land, which contains nearly 2,000 acres of wetlands, notes that the developer does plan to preserve wetlands containing sandhill crane nests. But the review criticizes the plan for proposing to fill more than half of the tract’s wetlands.
“This is a significant quantity of wetland acreage and habitat to be removed, including what appears to be many higher quality wetlands,” the review by city consultant CH2M Hill says.
Lisa Interlandi, an attorney with the Everglades Law Center, said the city planners’ report shows that Avenir does not belong in the city.
“It indicates that it is incompatible with virtually all the major tenets of the city’s comp plan,” Interlandi said. “It is just a bad project. It is definitely wrong for Palm Beach Gardens.”
The Palm Beach County’s Department of Airports has objected, too, because Avenir would be near the North County General Aviation Airport off Beeline Highway.
“Virtually every fixed-wing aircraft using the airport would either arrive or depart over the Avenir property,” Director of Airports Bruce Pelly said in an Aug. 21 letter to Palm Beach Gardens Planning and Zoning Director Natalie Crowley.