Land des­ig­nated for preser­va­tion may shrink

Ho­tel, re­tail, apart­ments could be built on land

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Skyler Swisher Staff writer

On Fri­day, the Palm Beach County Plan­ning Com­mis­sion en­dorsed an $84 mil­lion de­vel­op­ment that could place a ho­tel, as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­ity, restau­rants and price-capped apart­ments in the 21,000-acre Agri­cul­tural Re­serve, whose mis­sion is to pre­serve farm­ing in South Florida.

A ho­tel, as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­ity, restau­rants and price-capped apart­ments could be built in a farm­ing re­gion west of Del­ray Beach.

The Palm Beach County Plan­ning Com­mis­sion en­dorsed the $84 mil­lion project in a 5-4 vote Fri­day, de­spite con­cerns from county plan­ners that it could un­der­mine the 21,000-acre Agri­cul­tural Re­serve’s mis­sion to pre­serve farm­ing in South Florida.

County com­mis­sion­ers on July 26 are ex­pected to con­sider whether to waive some rules on build­ing in the re­gion, al­low­ing de­vel­op­ers to pre­serve less land in ex­change for the con­struc­tion of price­capped apart­ments geared to­ward teach­ers, po­lice of­fi­cers and other mod­er­atein­come work­ers.

The de­vel­op­ment would be on 51 acres on the north­east cor­ner of At­lantic Av­enue and Starkey Road, west of Florida’s Turn­pike.

De­vel­op­ers are propos­ing a 130-room ho­tel, a 115-bed as­sisted-liv­ing cen­ter, 75,000 square feet of re­tail space and a 360-unit apart­ment build­ing, in­clud­ing 144 price-capped units. They are pledg­ing to pre­serve 15 acres in the Ag Re­serve, which is less than the 30 acres that would tra­di­tion­ally need to be pre­served for such a project.

The project ad­dresses press­ing needs for ad­di­tional as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­i­ties and af­ford­able hous­ing, said Neil Schiller, an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing Morn­ing­side Part­ners

VI, an af­fil­i­ate of the de­vel­oper Mil­lenia Part­ners.

“This is a so­lu­tion to help ad­dress the work­force hous­ing cri­sis in Palm Beach County,” he said.

The county through the years has used a mix of tax­payer money and tougher build­ing rules to bal­ance farm­ing with de­vel­op­ment in the Ag Re­serve, which is nes­tled be­tween Lox­a­hatchee Na­tional Wildlife Refuge and Florida’s Turn­pike, west of Boyn­ton Beach and Del­ray Beach.

Vot­ers in 1999 ap­proved $100 mil­lion for land buy­ing, which the county used to pre­serve about 2,400 acres of the re­gion for farm­ing.

Also, tougher build­ing rules in the Agri­cul­tural Re­serve re­quire de­vel­op­ers to set aside pri­vately owned land to be pre­served for agri­cul­tural use to go along with the new con­struc­tion. That has set aside an­other 7,000 acres of pri­vately owned parcels for agri­cul­ture. About 7,000 homes have been built in the re­gion, and 3,000 more are ap­proved.

As more homes have been built, de­mand has in­creased for more restau­rants and shop­ping, Schiller said. The near­est ho­tel is a 15-minute drive for many peo­ple liv­ing in the Ag Re­serve, he said.

But some neigh­bors fear the project will fur­ther erode agri­cul­ture in the area.

“The con­ges­tion … in­ter­act­ing with large farm equip­ment will choke off agri­cul­ture ac­tiv­ity,” said Joseph O’Don­nell, who owns a 60-acre horse farm near the site.

GL Homes, a Sun­rise­based de­vel­oper, is propos­ing to build more than 2,000 homes in the Ag Re­serve in ex­change for pre­serv­ing land far­ther north in the county in ru­ral Lox­a­hatchee. The Plan­ning Com­mis­sion will re­view that pro­posal in De­cem­ber.

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