Western Palm Beach County’s housing boom: A boon or a bane?

With Iota Carol’s recent application to build 1,030 homes in the Acreage west of West Palm Beach, plans are now in place for more than 15,000 new homes in the area. For some, it’s about time, while others see all the development despoiling the environment.

Planned developments include:

  • Iota Carol, an affiliate of a Newport Beach, California-based investment firm, would build its project a mile west of Seminole Pratt Whitney Road, just north of 60th Street North.
  • Avenir, located north of Northlake Boulevard and west of Bee Line Highway, plans 3,250 homes. It is being developed by Landstar Development Group of Coral Gables.
  • Indian Trails Grove, located west of 180th Avenue North and south of Hamlin Road, plans 3,943 homes. It’s being developed by GL Homes.
  • Westlake, located north of Okeechobee Boulevard on each side of Seminole Pratt Whitney Road, plans 4,546 homes. It’s being developed by Minto Communities.
  • Arden, located on Southern Boulevard west of Lion Country Safari, plans 2,000 homes. It’s being developed by PBA Holdings.

Brad Hunter, chief economist for HomeAdvisor, thinks it’s all for the good. “This is vitally needed housing supply for Palm Beach County,” he told The Real Deal. “Palm Beach County has a worsening housing shortage.”

The county’s population is growing rapidly, and that creates housing needs. “It’s good for economic development, for jobs, for tax revenue,” Hunter said. “Unless you’re in the camp of no-growth it seems all positive.”

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But some environmentalists feel otherwise. Drew Martin, conservation chairman of the Sierra Club for Palm Beach County, thinks Iota should be denied its request for one home per 1.25 acres and should adhere to the current rule of one home per 10 acres. “I don’t think the roads or drainage are adequate for that kind of density,” he told TRD. “That’s the problem with all these projects: they’re too dense.”

By taking away permeable landscapes, the projects run the risk of flooding and damaging water quality, Martin said. He rejects the idea that adding retail and office buildings to projects will reduce traffic. “The developers argue that people will stay near their house if you give them a place to go,” he says. “That hasn’t happened in Florida. The idea of walking and biking won’t work.”

But West Palm architect Rick Gonzalez, president of REG Architects, says that’s exactly what the projects require. ”What’s needed is a small downtown with walkability,” he told TRD. “Something where you can ride your bike to the town center for dinner, a store, or your office. If we don’t, we’ll ruin Palm Beach County.”

So far he hasn’t seen a commitment to those ideals from the projects’ developers, and said the government and citizens must apply pressure to insure those goals are achieved. “We want to avoid the mistakes of Dade County and Broward,” Gonzalez said, referring to suburban sprawl.

The developments should aspire to match Abacoa community in Jupiter, which in addition to residences includes a downtown with a baseball stadium, shops, restaurants, and a hotel. Abacoa also contains scientific institutes and a campus of Florida Atlantic University. “There are lessons that can be learned from Abacoa’s environment — greenways, pedestrian and bike connectivity,” Gonzalez said.

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