Coalition fights to keep Ag Reserve rules in place
In response to a proposal by developer GL Homes to build in the Agricultural Reserve west of Boynton Beach, the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations had a town hall meeting June 7 with residents.
More than 300 people came out to Valencia Reserve where County Commissioner David Kerner, Everglades Law Center senior counsel Lisa Interlandi and land use attorney Steven Wallace spoke about efforts to preserve the area.
According to COBWRA president Myrna Rosoff, the plan violates its strategic plan and would take density from northern Palm Beach County and deposit it in the west Boynton Beach region of the Ag Reserve.
“The GL scheme will rob the citizens of West Boynton of the quality of life they bargained for and paid for when they purchased their homes,” she said. “It was never the intent of the Ag Reserve Master Plan that this area should be sacrificed as is being proposed by GL Homes.
“We felt we had to act; enough is enough in terms of development,” she said to the packed room. “Make no mistake, this is the beginning of a campaign.”
According to Interlandi, who represents the Sierra Club and has spent 17 years of her career working on issues related to the Ag Reserve, this proposal would “significantly undermine the Ag Reserve.”
“What GL Homes wants to do with their proposal is to dismantle 20 years of planning and growth management in that area in favor of more development,” she said. “My concern is that this disregard for the reserve is just beginning. This proposal affects our ability to protect all land countywide.
“It’s been a few bad years for the Ag Reserve, but the magnitude of this proposal goes above and beyond. It will be a total annihilation of preserve and a total abandonment of the Ag Reserve as a plan.”
Wallace, who lives west of Boynton Beach, gave an overview of the history of COBWRA and the county’s efforts to preserve the agricultural land.
“We have many new residents to the area within the last five years who may not be familiar with the issues,” he said, adding he believes that the Board of County Commissioners has “eroded the spirit of the Ag Reserve.”
“The GL proposal will destroy any thought of the Ag Reserve,” said Wallace, noting the GL Homes plan is to swap out land parcels that are not as valuable for parcels that are more valuable.
Instead of abiding by the 60/40-percent rule, in which 60 percent of the development is set aside to preserve and 40 percent for development, GL Homes’ proposal is to swap the land for a property in The Acreage in northwestern Palm Beach County and allow them to develop 100 percent of the property on the Ag Reserve.
Wallace said with more development comes more density and the proposal will result in 1,000 new families with children – more potential density than desirable and that current services can support.
“We’re not anti-development,” he said, “but this goes above and beyond the spirit of the rules. If the Board of County Commissioners allows this proposal to go through, the floodgates have opened.”
“This meeting is a call to action,” Wallace said. “We want to come up with an action plan and have our voices heard.”
Kerner, who doesn’t represent the district where the Ag Reserve is located, spoke in general about the need for county commissioners to be held accountable to their constituents.
“It’s incumbent upon you to make your case,” Kerner, a Palm Beach County native, said to address the audience. “Not all county commissioners have an interest in this issue, but I believe that the county needs to reevaluate its land-use decisions and slow down.”
Residents brought up the possibility of creating a political action committee to hire lobbyists to represent COBWRA’s interests, having the county respond to the area’s needs for services, parks, and libraries, and the fact that developers’ interests are for profit and that taxpayers will foot the bill for services that are required to support new residents.
“Under our plan, the amount of preserved farm land in Palm Beach Countydramatically increases,” GL Homes said in a statement. “The flooding that impacts residents of The Acreage is potentially alleviated. Traffic on stressed roads in the northwestern part of the county is also reduced.”
According to GL Homes, it was not given the opportunity to present the specifics of the proposal at the June 7 COBWRA meeting.
“Nonetheless, we look forward to working constructively with COBWRA and other community groups, not only to alleviate the impact of development, but to also bring benefits to everyone.” the statement said. “GL Homes has a strong history of both building successful communities and preserving land in the Ag Reserve with the support of COBWRA. We look forward to continuing the tradition of building western communities that everyone is proud of.”