Florida homebuilder GL Homes just made a bold move by requesting permission for a land swap that would allow them to build 1,250 homes west of Boca Raton inside the Agricultural Reserve (Ag Reserve) in exchange for giving 1,600 acres to the county in The Acreage.
Under this plan, GL Homes would give land it owns in the Acreage to the county in exchange for access to a 682-acre tract near the southern boundary of the Ag Reserve.
The Ag reserve was set up “to preserve unique farmland and wetlands in order to enhance agricultural activity, environmental and water resources by limiting uses to agriculture, conservation, low density residential development, and non-residential uses,” according to the Palm Beach County Planning Division website.
The Acreage is an unincorporated community about 15 miles northwest of West Palm Beach taking up approximately 41 square miles. It is home to around 40 thousand people.
The Land Swap
Under this proposal, GL Homes would give 1,600 acres in Indian Trails Grove, which is located about 20 miles from the Ag Reserve near The Acreage, to the county to keep it from being developed. In return, the county would approve the builder’s request for rule changes allowing it to build a large development on the Hyder West parcel near Stonebridge Country Club, according to a news article. They gave their proposal to county commissioners at a meeting in December.
You don’t have to be a real estate lawyer to know that this proposal is fraught with difficulty. The dividing line in the fight both for and against this proposal is clear. Loxahatchee and Acreage-area residents are expected to support this idea because it would limit new construction in their area, while south county residents are expected to be against it, arguing that the Ag Reserve is already overdeveloped and a development this size would strain the county’s resources even further.
Some commissioners, along with several neighborhood and environmental group leaders, are also skeptical of the proposal. Commissioner Maria Sachs is opposed to the land swap, concerned about the lack of infrastructure in the Ag Reserve to support the proposed development, while fellow commissioner Dave Kerner feels that a rules change would signal to voters that they cannot trust what the county says. Beth Rappaport, president of the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations (COBWRA), said she is concerned about the lack of public notice on the issue.
Kevin Ratterree, a spokesman for GL Homes, said that more detailed plans would be submitted later. He also added that 250 of the 1,250 units would be allocated for workforce housing. He also said that the county would additionally benefit by acquiring property that could be used for land preservation and water storage.
Current Ag Reserve Development Rules
Developments in the Ag Reserve are required to have 60% open space, but off-site preserve parcels are often used to meet this 60% requirement. Under these current rules, GL Homes has preserved thousands of acres in the Ag Reserve over the past 20 years. They have built nine developments consisting of over 6,000 homes.
GL Homes seeks to un-preserve land on the Hyder West parcel, which would clear the way for its development, but it needs this rules change to make that happen. The market rate for homes there are expected to sell for $1 million or more, which is much higher than the builder could get for homes in The Acreage.
As part of the swap, GL Homes would also build a 100-acre park and donate a 30-acre civic site on the Hyder West parcel to the county if this plan is approved. The builder’s initial proposal included even more improvements, such as widening Lyons Road, providing $10 million toward the building of two schools and preserving 5,000 acres in The Acreage area. This proposal was withdrawn when the builder realized it didn’t have full county commission support.
The previous proposal would have resulted in almost 4,000 homes being built at a number of different sites in the Ag Reserve. This new proposal limits development to the Hyder West parcel.
What will GL Homes do if their plan is not approved?
If county commissioners do not approve the builder’s controversial concept, GL Homes will move ahead with plans to build 3,897 homes in the Indian Trail Grove area. They have already received approval for this development plan.
Contact Florida Bar Board-Certified Real Estate Attorneys David E. Klein, Esq. and Guy Rabideau at Rabideauklein.com. They have the expertise and experience you need to ensure that your interests are protected throughout your real estate transactions in the Town of Palm Beach, across the Palm Beaches and throughout Florida. Contact Rabideau Klein today to discuss the legal implications of your Florida property transaction.