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.”
The Indian Trail Improvement District has joined a call by Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay to have Gov. Rick Scott investigate the incorporation of Westlake.
“As the Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors, elected to serve the residents with regards to drainage, parks and roadways of central Palm Beach County commonly known as The Acreage, we are extremely concerned about the circumstances surrounding the recent conversion of the Seminole Improvement District to Palm Beach County’s 39th municipality called Westlake,” board members wrote to Scott on Friday.
Board members raised many of the same concerns highlighted by McKinlay, who reached out to Scott on Thursday.
Westlake incorporated on Monday when the five votes in favor of conversion were certified by an elections canvassing board.
Minto Communities, the largest landowner in the Seminole Improvement District, backed incorporation, with its vice president, John Carter, saying the developer was having a hard time working with the county as it moved forward with plans to build 4,500 homes in the area.
McKinlay and the Indian Trail Improvement District have raised questions about the legality of the five votes in favor of the conversion plan.
“We respectfully ask that you investigate this issue to ensure the voting process was lawful and free of fraud and that it coincides with the intent of the governing special district conversion legislation,” Indian Trail board members wrote.
McKinlay raised questions about the new city’s charter, which only requires that two of the five transitional council members reside in Palm Beach County. McKinlay, whose district includes Westlake, also noted that each of the five people who voted in favor of incorporation are listed in elections records as sharing the same address.
Property records show that address is for a set of offices owned by Minto Communities, the builder that plans to construct 4,500 homes and develop 2.2 million square feet of commercial space in Westlake.
Minto Vice President John Carter has said his firm backs incorporation in part because of difficulty in working with the county on such things as permitting.
In an interview with The Palm Beach Post on Thursday, Roger Manning, a printing business owner who lives in unincorporated Lake Worth, said he agreed to be Westlake’s mayor at the request of Carter. Both Carter and Manning are board members of the Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce.
McKinlay has questioned Minto’s role in the conversion of the Seminole Improvement District to the city of Westlake and points out what she sees unusual aspects of the new city’s charter.
“I understand that no law requires municipal officials to reside in the city they serve, but allowing a majority of the Transitional Council to live not only outside Westlake, but also outside of Palm Beach County, strains acceptable principles of representative government,” McKinlay wrote. “On behalf of the 40,000 residents of the Acreage and surrounding communities, I respectfully ask that you investigate the issue to ensure the voting process was lawful and coincides with the intent of the governing special district conversion legislation.”