Avenir, mixed-use project in Palm Beach Gardens, nears approval

Critics cite potential traffic congestion and effects on the environment

Feb.February 12, 2016 04:30 PM

The Avenir development plan for the western end of Palm Beach Gardens has been submitted for review to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. And Landstar Development of Coral Gables, the project’s developer, hopes for site approval by the city in about two months.

Avenir, which will be located on 4,763 acres north of Northlake Boulevard and south of Beeline Highway, is slated to have:

  • 3,250 homes, including 250 designated for affordable/workforce housing
  • 2 million square feet of office space, including 200,000 square feet of medical office space
  • 400,000 square feet of retail space
  • 300 hotel rooms
  • 20 acres for community agriculture
  • 15 acres for an elementary school
  • 55 acres for a city park
  • 15 acres for a police/fire/city annex
  • 60 acres for civic recreation use

Avenir would give away 2,407 acres for restoration to the public, creating a conservation area and nature preserve, according to the developer. It also would donate 50 acres to Palm Beach Gardens for economic development to accommodate up to 500,000 square feet of commercial space, allowing the city to recruit corporations to establish headquarters there. And the project would include a six-mile connector road, linking Northlake Boulevard and Beeline Highway.

“We see this as an opportunity to do something very special because of the size. It’s a huge canvas,” Daniel Lopez, a principal at Landstar, told The Real Deal. “We felt there’s definitely demand for housing in that area. And it’s already underserved in retail, medical and office for the 40,000 people living in the area now.”

Some residents in the area have criticized the project for the additional traffic it will create. And some environmentalists have criticized it because they say it may negatively affect the nearby Grassy Waters Preserve, which provides water to West Palm Beach and Palm Beach, and the Loxahatchee Slough.

Avenir has pledged to widen Northlake Boulevard from four lanes to six along the property. But Dan Weisberg, retired director of the county traffic division said Northlake would have to be widened to eight lanes from Military Trail to the Beeline Highway to accommodate the extra traffic. And that can’t happen without condemnation, “so you will get traffic congestion, not roads,” he told TRD.

However, NAI Merin Hunter Codman Chairman Neil Merin, who has lived in the area for 25 years, says local residents are protesting too much over the traffic. “Traffic goes hand in hand with a more complete lifestyle area,” he told TRD. “There’s no way around it in the U.S. We’re car dependent.”  

There’s a certain selfishness in those complaining about the traffic, Merin said. “The idea is I got here first, let me close the door before someone else puts their car in front of mine at a red light.”

Merin said he is impressed with the Avenir plan. “It’s very thoughtfully crafted with input from the public and the city,” he said. “It provides a good stock of housing for the north end of the county. It’s a great workplace environment. This is an inevitable part of the county’s buildout.”

And the environment doesn’t appear to be an issue, Merin says. “They’re every sensitive about the ecological impact, about restoring property to the water flow.”

He and others say it may take some time to fill the commercial space. “The commercial plan is ambitious, but you certainly need more commercial space, especially to create more employment centers in the north end,” Merin said.

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