New neighborhoods and acres of shopping centers, offices and other attractions can rise from Loxahatchee area farmland set to become the Minto West mega development, Palm Beach County commissioners decided Wednesday.
In a move that could open the door to a renewed western development land rush along with worsening traffic headaches, the commission gave the initial go-ahead to Minto West’s 4,500-home proposal.
Minto plans also call for about 2 million square feet of space for new businesses intended to create a new shopping destination and employment center.
Commissioners in a 5-2 vote approved moving ahead with Minto West, despite the nearby towns of Loxahatchee Groves and Royal Palm Beach joining a chorus of worried residents in opposing the development and the traffic increase expected to follow.
“Change is going to happen and it’s not comfy for anybody,” County Commissioner Shelley Vana said. “Something was going to come there no matter what.”
The Minto West proposal dwarfs the development limits once set for the old Callery-Judge Grove property, which includes nearly 4,000 acres of old citrus groves split by Seminole Pratt Whitney Road, north of Okeechobee Boulevard.
Commissioners Vana, Hal Valeche, Priscilla Taylor, Steven Abrams and Mary Lou Berger voted in favor of the Minto West proposal. Commissioners Jess Santamaria and Paulette Burdick voted against it.
The Minto West proposal now undergoes a limited state review and then comes back before the County Commission for a final decision in October.
Traffic will become “a nightmare” and roads will be more dangerous if the county keeps allowing developers to build beyond current limits, Commissioner Jess Santamaria said.
“Right now these roads are over capacity already,” said Santamaria, a developer turned politician who represents the area that includes Minto West. “Paradise will soon be lost.”
Minto supporters say that planned road improvements will ease the traffic strain and that the new neighborhoods and shopping centers can be built to fit into an area where dirt roads, horseback riders and backyard farms are the norm.
“We are looking for an opportunity to provide jobs and employment,” said Donaldson Hearing, a development consultant representing Minto West. “Provide a huge benefit.”
Minto West plans call for building about 4,500 houses, town homes and condominiums along with 2 million square feet of shopping centers, offices and other business space on the former citrus groves.
The proposal also includes building a 150-room hotel and a 3,000-student college campus. In addition, plans call for 200 acres of parks and 15 miles of equestrian and biking trails. About 2,000 acres of the property would be open spaces and landscaped buffer areas.
Minto’s suburban-style neighborhoods would spring up in the middle of a still-rural area where homes are built on 1.25 acres or more, with room for pastures, backyard farms and other agricultural pursuits. Many nearby roads remain unpaved, dead-ending at canals and limiting the commuting route alternatives.
Developers once proposed building as many as 10,000 homes at Callery-Judge, which the county rejected after public backlash and traffic concerns.
But county commissioners in 2008 approved building nearly 3,000 potential homes and 235,000 square feet of commercial development on the property. That county approval came only after the former Callery-Judge Grove owners convinced the Florida Legislature to change state law and help boost the property’s development rights.
Minto West developers say they want to exceed the current building limits on the land in order to deliver “regional benefits” that they say their proposal would generate. They say that the public would benefit from the proposed new parks, planned drainage improvements in the flood-prone area and the new job-producing businesses that could move into the new community.
Traffic projections for the Minto West development estimate that it could add about 63,500 additional daily car trips a day in the area. That could mean a 30 percent increase in eastbound morning peak traffic, according to the projections.
Minto West developers have proposed paying about $60 million for road improvements to help accommodate the increase in traffic. The county projects about $110 million in road improvement needs to accommodate what’s already allowed near Minto West.