Palm Beach County won a big battle in the fight to extend State Road 7 Friday when Administrative Law Judge Bram Carter found that the county had followed all applicable permitting criteria and is entitled to an environmental resource permit.
The county has pushed to extend State Road 7 north to Northlake Boulevard, but the city of West Palm Beach has pushed back, arguing that the extension threatens the Grassy Waters Preserve, a 24-square mile marsh that is the source of its drinking water.
Carter’s recommended order is a major victory for the county.
“The project would not adversely impact public health, safety, and welfare associated with the city’s public water supply in the water catchment area because the project would have no effect on the city’s water supply operations,” the judge wrote. “In addition, there are reasonable protective measures to prevent a spill from entering the city’s public water supply.”
All parties now have 15 days to petition the South Florida Water Management District with errors they believe Carter committed in the order.
If SFWMD agrees that an error has been made, the erroneous portion of Carter’s order will not be followed.
But in an email to county officials, Assistant County Attorney Kim Phan pointed out that un-ringing the bell Carter just struck is no small task.
“An agency’s ability to reject any portion of a recommended order is very limited to conclusions of law and interpretation of administrative rules,” Phan wrote. “Also, the agency may not reject or modify the findings of fact unless it was not based on competent substantial evidence on the proceedings (or) did not comply with essential requirements of law.”
Construction in Palm Beach County’s newest city, Westlake, will add more cars in the coming years to already over-burdened Seminole Pratt Whitney Road.
That’s why the Seminole Improvement District, which oversees road and sewer services in Westlake, wants to widen the road.
But the city of West Palm Beach, mindful of not running afoul of state law giving it control of a part of the M-Canal and a nearby water catchment area, has not issued a license so the bridge over the canal can be widened.
The county has already signed off on the widening project, and Minto Communities, the developer building Westlake, has already agreed to help pay for it.
The dispute with West Palm Beach, however, has slowed work on the project, increasing fears of the type of traffic snarls preservationists warned against when they opposed large-scale development in the area.
A city official says she’s confident the dispute can be worked out. Th Seminole Improvement District has triggered a state-mandated mediation process, which must be pursued before the parties can file suit against one another.
What does a new city look like when it’s under construction?
A lot like this:
Minto Communities, the developer building Palm Beach County’s newest city, Westlake, has started construction in the first 500 acres of what is expected to be a city of 4,500 homes and 2.2 million square feet of non-residential development along both sides of Seminole Pratt Whitney Road.
Minto Vice President John Carter said the builder has also started work on a town center and the first 300-home subdivision.
Westlake used to be known as Minto West. Minto changed the development’s name not long before backing an effort to incorporate the area, a move that surprised and angered Palm Beach County commissioners who had approved the project over the objections of environmentalists and preservationists.
Up Interstate 95, in Daytona Beach, Minto is partnering with Margaritavile Holdings to build what it describes as an “active adult community” called Latitude Margaritaville.
“With Minto’s expertise in creating master planned developments and Margaritaville’s inherent ability to deliver fun and escapism, Latitude Margaritaville has the exact coordinates for those looking to live the Margaritaville lifestyle as they grow older, but not up,” said John Cohlan, chief executive officer of Margaritaville Holdings.
Minto Communities is touting its work to expand Seminole Pratt Whitney Road in the new city of Westlake.
The builder’s plans call for the construction of 4,500 homes and 2.2 million square feet of non-residential development on 3,800 acres along both sides of Seminole Pratt Whitney Road. In getting its project approved by Palm Beach County, Minto agreed to expand Seminole Pratt Whitney Road.
County commissioners, displeased by Westlake’s incorporation in June, have wondered aloud whether Minto plans to honor commitments it made to set aside land for parks, recreation and drainage, areas over which the new city now has control.
In a press statement, Minto made clear its intention to follow through with the widening of Seminole Pratt Whitney.
“As part of our development order with Palm Beach County, we agreed to step up and commence construction on this substantial improvement to Seminole Pratt Whitney before putting a shovel in the ground for our new community,” Minto Vice President John Carter said. “We are pleased to see this major transportation improvement project starting.”
The project is estimated to cost $19 million and will take one and a half years, Carter said.
Seminole Pratt Whitney is to be expanded from two lanes to four with a landscaped median. The road will be widened from the northern end of Seminole Ridge High School to just past 60th Street North.
Two Loxahatchee area residents and a preservation group, 1000 Friends of Florida, sued Minto and county, arguing that the development orders the county issued violated its comprehensive plan.
Minto and the county won the case, which was appealed.
Now, the county – citing the Minto development area’s incorporation on June 20 as the new city of Westlake – wants out of the case.
“Thus, as of June 20, 2016, the County no longer possessed the authority to administer the development orders it originally issued, rather, the City of Westlake possesses exclusive authority to administer those orders,” the county wrote in a motion filed Tuesday with the 4th District Court of Appeal.
The county’s motion notes that lawyers for those who sued the county and Minto do not object to its request to withdraw from the case.
The attorney representing Minto will handle the appeal, “and the City of Westlake should be substituted for the County,” the county’s lawyers wrote.
Two Loxahatchee area residents and a pair of preservation groups were ordered to pay attorneys fees after their effort to block changes to Palm Beach County’s comprehensive plan failed.
In a ruling issued earlier this week, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Donald Hafele said Robert Schutzer, Karen Schutzer, 1000 Friends of Florida and ALERTS of Palm Beach County “knew or should have known” that the changes – approved by the county so the giant Minto West development project could move forward – were permissible.
The Schutzers and the two groups had sued Minto and the county to block the changes. They and others opposed the development project, arguing that it would generate sprawl, gobble up open space and increase traffic.
Minto and the county have won a string of rulings in the case, and the development project – now known as Westlake – is moving forward.
Ryan Smart, president of 1000 Friends of Florida, said his organization has appealed the ruling that cleared the comprehensive plan changes. He said the organization is also seeking a re-hearing on Hafele’s order regarding attorneys fees.
“We strongly disagree with the judge’s ruling, and we will be filing a motion for a re-hearing,” Smart said.
Westlake’s interim city manager, Ken Cassel, told council members on Monday that Minto Communities will cover any budget shortfall for the next five years.
Minto is the largest landowner in Westlake, and, as such, represents nearly all of the new city’s tax base. The developer plans to build at least 4,500 homes in the area.
McKinlay, whose district represents Westlake, has asked Gov. Rick Scott to investigate the circumstances of the city’s incorporation, which some view as a Minto-inspired move that will allow the builder to go beyond the development limits it had agreed to two years ago with the county.
McKinlay wrote Inspector General John Carey on Wednesday, inquiring about “the legality of a landowner funding the same council that will ultimately decide the landowner’s permits, land use and quasi-judicial zoning issues.”
Scott Massey was re-elected president of the Seminole Improvement District on Monday.
Five residents of the area served by the district recently voted to incorporate the area into Palm Beach County’s newest city, Westlake. But the district continues to provide water and road maintenance services.
Massey was re-elected with the only vote that counted — that of John Carter, vice president of Minto Communities, the largest landowner in the district.
District rules allow Carter to cast proxy votes based on majority landownership, and he cast those votes for Massey.