After Downturn, Palm Beach County Development Requests Surge

Written by on April 8, 2014 in News, Trends - No comments

Palm Beach County’s revived development boom is gaining steam, targeting farmland that could be transformed into new neighborhoods, shopping centers and even a baseball stadium.

The 5,051 building permits issued for new homes in 2013 were nearly four times as many as were issued four years ago. And as Palm Beach County home sales improve in a resurgent economy, builders are looking for more territory for new neighborhoods to meet what they contend is a growing housing demand.

“There certainly is an upswing in activity,” said Skeet Jernigan, of the Community and Economic Development Council, which represents South Florida builders. “Raw land, green land is the raw material of the development industry.”

Some of the activity:

  • More than 20,000 new homes have been proposed for on thousands of acres of agricultural land near Wellington, Royal Palm Beach and Palm Beach Gardens.
  • The County Commission in October approved revived plans to build 2,000 homes on 1,200 acres once planned for rock mining at Palm Beach Aggregates, west of Royal Palm Beach.
  • Farther north, developers propose to turn the 5,000-acre Vavrus Ranch on Northlake Boulevard into the Avernir community, which would include 7,600 homes along with 1.7 million square feet of buildings to house shops, offices and restaurants. Plans also call for a golf course, hotel and college campus.
  • Minto West developers have plans for creating a new community with a mix of neighborhoods, shopping centers and a college campus, along with a baseball stadium. The proposed 6,500 homes along with 1.4 million square feet of shops, offices and manufacturing space would stretch across the 4,000-acre Callery-Judge Grove, split by Seminole Pratt Whitney Road.

While the boost in building plans is another hopeful economic sign, it also triggers concerns for some residents and officials worried about losing more open spaces to subdivisions and shopping centers — and the increased traffic expected to follow. ”We have to be careful,” Palm Beach County Mayor Priscilla Taylor said. “Growth is something that we are probably going to have regardless, but it has to be smart growth.”

Development interest has the county considering easing building limits in the Agricultural Reserve — which covers 21,000 acres of farmland west of Delray Beach and Boynton Beach that is prized by vegetable growers and developers alike.

While the volume of new home construction in Palm Beach County remains well below the 12,000 building permits the county issued in 2005 during South Florida’s building boom, the current upward trend is a good sign, according to industry experts. Much of the demand for land is getting directed at citrus groves, pastures and other agricultural property in Loxahatchee.

The estimated value of the 5,051 new houses, townhomes, condominiums and other homes permitted for construction in 2013 was about $1.2 billion, according to the county building department. ”Residential [development] is definitely growing,” said Doug Wise, who heads the county’s building division. “Market prices are getting better.”  The improved home-buying market is a big reason why developers are reviving past development proposals for large-scale agricultural properties.

While county guidelines are supposed to encourage redevelopment near existing roads, schools and other infrastructure, developers often prefer to target farmland or other undeveloped property, which can cost less and provide more room to build. ”It is infinitely easier to develop on green fields than it is on previously developed parcels,” Jernigan said. “There is pent-up demand.”

Minto is proposing twice as many homes as currently allowed on the property. The County Commission is expected to weigh in on the development plans this summer. The number of homes commissioners allow for Minto West could set a precedent for the neighboring 5,000-acre Indian Trail Groves property that G.L. Homes has long planned to develop. Minto West plans call for setting aside about 1,400 acres as open spaces and including large landscaped buffer areas to help create a transition between the new community and its more rural neighbors.

Requested changes to Agricultural Reserve building limits could lead to about 6,000 more homes than planned in the farming area where county taxpayers have spent $100 million trying to protect land from development. To limit the influx of development, voters in 1999 approved the $100 million to acquire about 2,400 acres in the Agricultural Reserve that now gets leased to farmers.

Also, builders are required to set aside the equivalent of 60 percent of their property for agricultural uses, conservation or water storage. In addition, county rules limit the amount of commercial development allowed in the Agricultural Reserve. But on Tuesday, the County Commission agreed to consider easing those building limits at the urging of landowners concerned about regulations stifling their property values.

In additon to the 6,000 more homes, changes proposed by a collection of nursery operators and other agricultural land owners could allow another 200 acres of commercial development. Ultimately, the County Commission decides whether to ease building restrictions to allow everything from Minto West’s plans to the push for more development in the Agricultural Reserve.

Taylor, who heads the County Comission, said the county needs to take a cautious approach when it comes to changing development rules to accommodate building plans, particularly in the Agricultural Reserve. ”I would like to think that we are different from Miami-Dade and Broward,” said Loxahatchee resident Anne Kuhl, who said she is “fearful” that development will be allowed to overwhelm rural areas. “We have an opportunity to stop this, [to] put on the brakes.”


Source: SunSentinel


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