Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Palm Beach denies development permit in Western Palm Beach County

By Drew Martin, Conservation Chair, Loxahatchee Group

Last week, Palm Beach County voted to stop industrial development from spreading west into agricultural land after the Sierra Club Loxahatchee Group and others opposed a plan by rock mining company Palm Beach Aggregates. Agriculture has been a driving economic force and a development buffer in Palm Beach County. The County has issued $150 million in bonds to protect its "Agricultural Reserve" and buy areas to be preserved as natural areas and open space.  The proposed development changes were not in the Agricultural Reserve, but the change of status would create a precedent of rezoning agricultural land for industrial use thus threatening other agricultural areas.

L8 Reservoir  Photo:
During the last 20 years, Palm Beach County has proceeded to move development further west into rural and agricultural areas.  Despite protections for agriculture, the Board of County Commissioners has repeatedly changed the Comprehensive Plan to open new areas to large scale development.

In the latest push involving west of the L8 Canal and west of Wellington, Palm Beach Aggregates  had agreed to give up development rights on the property for a 2,000-home development on the east side of the canal.  After selling that property on the east side it immediately came back and attempted to break the agreement asking for development on the west side of the canal.

Palm Beach County officials noted that the developer had just agreed to the 2,000 homes and to not move forward with a request to develop on the west side of the canal.  Within a month the company was back asking for new changes to the counties development plant, and to transmit to the state a request to change the development status of the property on the west side of the canal to allow 142 acres for industrial use.

The tragedy is that before rock mining this area was a Cypress Forest holding water and protecting wildlife. It was proposed to be used as a wildlife corridor and sits north of the Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge.  It has now been turned into deep open rock pits.  One is the L-8 Reservoir that was purchased by the South Florida Water Management District intended to store water for the Everglades. An industrial site near the L-8 canal could lead to industrial chemicals polluting the Everglades Ecosystem.  Further, pollution from industrial activity could pollute nearby water storage and agricultural areas. The county needs to protect its agriculture and natural areas.