By Mike S Payton, Contributing Reporter
DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA – The Palm Beach County Zoning Commission met yesterday, Friday, June 12th, to review three projects that requested changes to the Agricultural Reserve rules. In accordance with the Planning Staff recommendation, all three were almost unanimously rejected.
The proposals were all polished and well-funded, explaining how the projects add value to the area and solve various needs, but require incremental chipping away of Agricultural Reserve Comprehensive Plan through the text amendments.
The three projects were a Boynton Technology Park, a 140-acre tract straddling Boynton Beach Boulevard next to the turnpike. The Reserve at Atlantic, a 40-acre project on the southeast corner of Atlantic Avenue and Half Mile Road near the Delray Marketplace, and a development on a 39-acre site at the southeast corner of Boynton Beach Boulevard and Acme Dairy Road.
Despite the robust presentations and even comments of support from some farmers, the Commissioners voted 12-1 against the Reserve at Atlantic, 12-2 against the Boynton Technology Park and 12-1 against the multiple land use project west of Boynton Beach.
Commissioner Dagmar Brahs said to the Boynton Beach Boulevard project, “your complaint is that there is not enough preserve property. […] Why can’t they purchase the almost hundred acres on the south side of Boynton Beach Boulevard and turn that into their preserve property.” Answering herself, “Oh, it’s a cost issue.”
Before the meeting, Myrna Rosoff, Chair of the Agriculture Reserve Committee for Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations (COBWRA), provided a written comment. “COBWRA opposes privately initiated text amendments to the Comprehensive Plan.”
Adding, “The three appearing on the June 12, 2020 Planning Commission Agenda undercut the integrity of the Agriculture Reserve, attacking the fundamental requirement of sixty percent preserve land set aside for forty percent of development.”
“The proposed text amendments abandon this principle. The amendments destroy the Ag Reserve by reclassifying parcels to allow for increased density, intensity, and uses even including the device of workforce housing to secure greater density bonuses.”
“Such monumental changes, if being considered, must occur only after careful and thorough examination of the consequences to the Comprehensive Plan and with sufficient input from all stakeholders.”
Before the meeting, Patricia Behn, Planning Director for the county said, “The County has a long history with the Agricultural Reserve. A published staff report for tomorrow’s Planning Commission hearing can largely provide background information on changes.” The report can be found on their web site.
Last week Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay shared, “The Ag Reserve was created to be a mix of agricultural production and light industrial uses to meet the needs of that production (like packing houses) along with residential and limited amounts of commercial to support both the residential and agricultural development.”
“The acreage the County purchased with bonds is still in agricultural use. Certainly, any private landowner, including farmers, has the right to ask for rezoning. Finding the balance between what to develop and what to preserve is difficult in a growing state.”
Steve Byers, of Bee Healthy Honey Farms spoke before the meeting how important the Ag Reserve is, “I have lived here since 2004 and a lot has changed and unfortunately making it harder for the farmers and agricultural pursuits that are so critical to our local food supply.”
“I started a bee farm in 2011 and currently still am one. But the wild flowers that the bees forage on is getting slimmer and slimmer. The roads are getting congested. The local feed store was run out of town. […] We are given an uphill battle to remain a farming location.”
Beth Rappaport, president of COBWRA, shared this morning, “COBWRA was pleased with the outcome of yesterday’s Planning Commission meeting, as we felt the private text amendments conflicted with the Comprehensive Plan and were not in the best interests of the preservation of the Ag Reserve.”
Although she admitted, “COBWRA fully expects to see the projects presented again by the developers and their agents on June 29th before the Board of County Commissioners. Each developer has heavily invested in their projects and has a very specific vision they wish to realize.”