Palm Beach County judge jettisons zoning suit against Westlake

Rendering of Westlake
Rendering of Westlake

A Palm Beach County judge on Tuesday dismissed yet another lawsuit against the 3,800-acre Westlake development by Minto Communities Florida, located north and west of West Palm Beach.

In the lawsuit, which concerned zoning, Circuit Court Judge Edward Garrison ruled in favor of Minto and Palm Beach County. The two argued that the county’s development orders didn’t violate comprehensive plan policies on future land use and transportation in rural areas, because those rules don’t govern agricultural enclaves such as Westlake.

“This court finds that the development orders are consistent with the comprehensive plan,” Garrison wrote in his opinion. The county can “permit higher density and intensity within agricultural enclaves in the rural tier than ordinarily permitted in order to achieve specific planning goals such as new urbanism and balanced growth.”

Westlake is slated to include 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. The Palm Beach County Commission approved Westlake and amendments to the county’s comprehensive plan in October 2014.

“The fact that the judge took only one day after filing recommended orders to conclude that the case had no merit shows exactly how weak this litigation was,” John Carter, vice president of Minto Communities, said in a statement.

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The company also said this decision clears the final barrier for the 3,800-acre project to begin. Minto cleared another hurdle last month, when the District Court of Appeals rejected arguments that the project would illegally create urban sprawl. The developer expects construction to begin in June, a company spokeswoman told The Real Deal.

Minto sees the Westlake project in grand terms. “This will be the new downtown of central Palm Beach County,” Carter told TRD. Minto bought the land in September 2013 for $50 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.

The developer began marketing the retail and commercial space just 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-three power centers, Carter said. “We aren’t looking to build a major mall,” he said.

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.”

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