Agricultural Reserve project rejected by Palm Beach County Planning Commission goes back to drawing board.
By Mike Diamond
Special to The Palm Beach Post
Overwhelming opposition has forced a builder to withdraw plans for Boynton Technology Park, a controversial development in the Agricultural Reserve west of Boynton Beach that called for a 140-unit hotel, 420 housing units and an industrial park.
The applicant, Bradley Morton of Morton Group Realty in Delray Beach, was just one week away from the county commissioners acting on the plans when its agent submitted a letter Tuesday to Planning Director Patricia Behn announcing the withdrawal. Behn told The Post that she expects plans to be resubmitted later this year with “some modifications” but does not know what they might be. Efforts to obtain comment from the agent, Lauren McClellan of the Morton Planning Group, were unsuccessful.
Last week, the county Planning Commission rejected the development plans by a vote of 12-2. The 140-acre park would have been just west of the Turnpike and east of Acme Dairy Road. It would have been on both the north and south sides of the Turnpike.
Boynton Technology Park was one of three projects that the Planning Commission voted against on June 12, concluding that approval would have gutted rules to limit development in south county’s sprawling Agricultural Reserve. The planning commissioners accepted the findings of county planners who warned that approval of the three so-called text amendments would set a dangerous precedent and undo much of the work of the past 20 years to preserve agriculture in the face of onrushing development. There are roughly 14,000 homes in the Ag Reserve housing close to 25,000 people.
The Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations (COBWRA) and the Alliance of Delray Residential Associations are opposed to the projects. COBWRA presented more than 2,000 opposing emails to the planning commission.
The builders were seeking text amendments or changes to the county’s growth plan that would have overhauled the Ag Reserve controls by allowing for increased density and significantly more commercial square footage. All three builders argued that the need for more diverse housing and commercial development to service a growing population justified the changes. They also noted that the one-house-per-one-acre limit in the Ag Reserve has resulted in expensive single-family homes that are out of the reach of most Palm Beach County residents, resulting in no affordable housing in the region. The average cost for a home in the Ag Reserve is more than $600,000.
The Boynton Technology Park builder wanted to create an “economic development center,” a new category that would be exempt from the commercial cap of 1.1 million square feet, which has already been reached. The residential density limits would be relaxed as well.
County staff said it was wrong to consider such major changes on a piecemeal approach through “text amendments “and suggested that if changes are going to be made, they be done in a comprehensive manner with a look toward the entire Ag Reserve.
County commissioners are scheduled to act on the planning commission recommendations for the other two projects at a meeting on June 29.
Palm Beach County voters recognized the need to limit density in the region in 1999 with a $100 million bond issue to preserve farmland in the 22,000-acre zone that stretches from Clint Moore to Lantana roads.
“We would like to express gratitude in response to the developer’s withdrawal of the proposed text amendment,” said Beth Rappaport, president of COBWRA. “We are optimistic that through careful and thoughtful collaboration, a reasonable solution can be crafted to meet the needs of all stakeholders including but not limited to our COBWRA constituents, area residents and County leadership.”
E-mail Mike Diamond at firstname.lastname@example.org