Large mixed-use developments are taking over rural land in the central part of Palm Beach County on the east-west axis, and up and down the county on the north-south axis, as the area’s population influx creates a need for new housing.
Local real estate pros see the trend as a good thing—a sign of economic expansion. But they are concerned about traffic. “More businesses will move here if more people are here,” Neil Merin, chairman of West Palm Beach-based NAI Merin Hunter Codman, told The Real Deal. “The arts grow, healthcare gets better, food choices increase. That’s part of growth.”
And it’s not as if the developments are overtaking pristine rural settings. “You’ve got open agricultural land with gnarly trees and cow dung,” Merin said. “The real issue is traffic. We just won’t be able to have the kind of road system to accommodate that kind of development.”
Indeed, Palm Beach County is growing by 25,000 new residents a year, he said, and given that traditional public transit systems are unlikely in the county, the focus has to be placed on ways to avoid one person per car, such as ride-sharing.
The new projects include:
- Westlake, which is being developed by Minto Communities west and north of West Palm Beach. It has plans 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, including 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.
- Avenir, which is being developed at the western end of Palm Beach Gardens, north of Northlake Boulevard and south of Beeline Highway, by Landstar Development of Coral Gables. Plans include 3,250 homes, 2 million square feet of office space, 400,000 square feet of retail space and 300 hotel rooms.
- Indian Trails Grove about 20 miles west of Riviera Beach. G.L. Homes plans to build 3,900 homes and 350,000 square feet of commercial space there.
Merin calculates that just in the last five months, the county has approved 15,000 homes, 4.5 million square feet of industrial space, 3.6 million square feet of office space and 2.5 million square feet of retail space on agricultural land about 20 miles west of the Intracoastal.
Basically, “growth is moving up from Dade and Broward counties,” Rebel Cook, president of Rebel Cook Real Estate in Palm Beach Gardens, told TRD. “They’re out of land, as we soon will be too.”
In addition, to the road issues, environmental impact is a big issue. Westlake and Avenir are part of preserve areas. “The concern is that as they move west, the water supply would get polluted by developments,” Cook said. But developers have pledged to leave some areas untouched in their projects. “I think these communities will provide more places of beauty,” Merin said.
Architect Rick Gonzalez, president of REG Architects in West Palm Beach, told TRD it’s important that the projects “follow principles of new urbanism with connectivity and walkability and [are] not just big pods where you need a car to go from one place to another.”
Both Westlake and Avenir look promising, as they have town centers that will take traffic off the roads, Gonzalez said. “You need a mix of office, retail, residential and entertainment.”