Florida Appeals Court rejects objections to Westlake in PBC

Rendering of Westlake
Rendering of Westlake

Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeals has jettisoned objections to the 3,800-acre Westlake development that Minto Communities Florida plans for the area north and west of West Palm Beach.

The unanimous ruling came without explanation March 16 and affirmed the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s own affirmation of a decision by an administrative law judge approving the project.

Two area residents had filed the suit, alleging that the plan for 4,500 homes, 500,000 square feet of retail space, 1.5 million square feet of employment-center space and 200,000 square feet of civic space would illegally create urban sprawl.

“The preponderance of the evidence shows the proposed amendments [to the county’s Comprehensive Plan] discourage the proliferation of urban sprawl,” the administrative law judge wrote in an opinion delivered April 17, 2015. And now that opinion has been upheld.

“The regulatory and court challenges to the Comprehensive Plan Amendment are over,” John Carter, vice president of Minto Communities, said in a statement.

“The appeals court decision makes it clear that the land use approval by the Board of County Commissioners [in 2014] met the stringent criteria to amend the county’s Comprehensive Plan, and we look forward to breaking ground on this visionary project.”

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A Minto spokesperson told The Real Deal that the company expects to break ground on the project within 90 days.

“The courts and a state agency have affirmed three times that the approval process was proper and consistent with law as well as sound planning principals,” Carter said. “Unfortunately, a lot of time and taxpayer money was wasted hearing unfounded objections. It’s time to move forward.”

Minto sees the Westlake project in grand terms. “This will be the new downtown of central Palm Beach County,” Carter told TRD last month.

Minto bought the land in September 2013 for $51 million. The civic space in the project is slated to include a fire station, a sheriff’s station and a school. Minto can also add a 3,000-student college and a 150-room hotel on the property.

Plans were revised for the project, formerly to be called Minto West, in mid-2014. About 2,000 homes and a spring training baseball stadium were cut from the original proposal and commercial uses were added the master plan.

The developer began marketing the retail and commercial space this year and already has received a strong level of interest, Carter said. He declined to specify names. The retail space is enough for two to three power centers, Carter said.  “We aren’t looking to build a major mall.” The area is so light on retail space now that “within a 15-minute drive, there’s $600 million a year of retail leakage to the east,” Carter said. “This is an unheard of opportunity. The metrics are just incredible.”

The employment-center space can include traditional office space, light/clean manufacturing and medical office space, he said. “At this point, the entire population of [this area of] central Palm Beach County goes elsewhere to work,” Carter said. “There’s a built-in, high-skilled labor force just waiting for opportunities to have workplaces nearby.”