Sally Swartz: Development runs rampant without state controls

A nightmare development scenario playing out in Palm Beach County is bad news for proponents of local control statewide.

It’s almost unbelievable: new developments with thousands of homes in preserve areas that now provide drinking water for cities and water for a wild and scenic river. Ten-lane and 12-lane highways, including double-deck, high-rise roads and elevated interchanges that still can’t handle all the traffic.

And the worst blow of all: Counties have no choice. Florida lawmakers allow the new development and counties are forced to go along.

It’s happening in northwest Palm Beach County and in central Florida, growth management lawyer Lisa Interlandi told Martin County Conservation Alliance members last week.

It soon could happen anywhere in Florida, said Interlandi, a land-use and environmental lawyer with the Everglades Law Center. The nonprofit law center represents individuals, communities and neighborhood groups on Everglades or large-scale environmental issues.

Developers of the 3,800-acre Minto property, in western Palm Beach County, wanted to build on their property and got the Legislature to designate it as an agricultural enclave, Interlandi said. That gave them the right to develop at a special rate and took control away from the county.

“Palm Beach County tried to say no,” Interlandi said. Instead, Minto got additional commercial space designated. Roads aren’t adequate to handle the traffic new development will generate.

Developers have to pay a share toward improving roadways, but paying for all the pressures a development creates “is no longer a development problem,” she said.

Next, GL Homes tried to get the Legislature to OK its plans to develop 5,000 acres south and west of North Lake Boulevard. Palm Beach County fought it, and the developer didn’t win. But now the county “is supposed to negotiate,” Interlandi said. It has an incentive to not say no “because the county could get a worse project forced by the state.”

The development would generate 46,000 new trips per day on local roads. Minto would add a similar number.

Developers of another project, Avenir, 4,700 acres south of Bee Line Highway and west of Palm Beach Gardens, agreed to set aside preserve land, but the projects proposed are larger than North Palm Beach and Wellington. They still would generate almost 80,000 new trips per day.

For Palm Beach County, the projects mean 12-laning North Lake Boulevard, 10 lanes for Bee Line Highway and raised urban interchanges. Other area roads would go to six and eight lanes.

“That’s nuts,” said Laurie Odlum, summing up the sentiments of about 25 people at the Conservation Alliance meeting.

“It’s too much growth in an area that never was intended for growth,” Interlandi said. “Even with these improvements the roads would be the worst functioning in the county.”

Building 12-lane roads or elevated highways through natural areas – including the Grassy Waters area that provides drinking water for West Palm Beach and Palm Beach – creates problems over rights-of-way and pollution from spills on roads. The projects could pollute the federally designated wild and scenic Loxahatchee River, which extends into Martin County.

“Depending on what happens in Palm Beach County,” Interlandi said, Martin and other Florida counties could face similar problems. “Losing local control is a big issue.”

Even Martin County, with its strong and protective growth plan, isn’t immune from developers using the state to override county control. Under Gov. Rick Scott, almost all state controls on growth are history.

“We’re going to have to build a wall,” joked Martin activist Jackie Trancynger.

Interlandi wished Conservation Alliance members good luck.

“I don’t think anything could stop it from happening here,” she said.

Or anywhere else in Florida.

Sally Swartz is a former member of The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board. Her e-mail address is [email protected]. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Sally Swartz


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