🏬 Land grab
Tuesday, let's go. For you, boundary tug of war, key information out of the public view, Decision Day for the Ag Reserve, another banned book, and everyday heroes.
Today’s newsletter is a 6-minute read.
Amid worries of 'a slow mess,’ Palm Beach Gardens makes a play for land
First, state lawmakers ignored a bill that would authorize creating the village of Loxahatchee. Now, the region faces losing a potential commercial hub that would help pay costs for the proposed town of 43,000.
And there likely is nothing they can do about it.
The Palm Beach Gardens City Council last week voted 5-0 to annex 301 acres on Northlake Boulevard, an area The Acreage pegged for itself.
That’s where residents in the unincorporated community of mostly one-acre home sites hoped to grow a commercial tax base.
“Solid land planning,” said Palm Beach Gardens Mayor Chelsea Reed of the annexation.
“Detrimental to the overall community” and cherry-picking, shot back the Indian Trail Improvement District, an elected body that oversees Acreage drainage and road maintenance.
“They’re basically grabbing all the commercial property that they can,” said a riled Bob Morgan, president of the Acreage Landowners Association.
“It’s just going to be a slow mess.”
Also unhappy: Jacob Gerb, general counsel of Konover South of Deerfield Beach. Konover is on the verge of county zoning approval for a commercial center in the land now targeted for annexation.
Neither the county nor the public was given adequate notice of the land grab, he told the council.
Yes, but. Longtime developer George Elmore, the largest landowner in the annexation area, said he would rather his property be in Gardens. “I think it’s a lot more forward-looking area,” he said.
“I know Gardens is not easy to deal with but I do respect what they’ve done.”
Why we care: It pits the interests of a city against a semi-rural community with dreams of becoming the county’s 40th municipality. It builds off the Gardens’ initial westward push, the 5,638-acre annexation in 1991 of the Vavrus Ranch, now Avenir, and neighboring lands.
Joel breaks down the reaction to the vote at OnGardens.org.
What’s next: The final vote on annexation takes place at 6 pm Thursday at Palm Beach Gardens City Hall.
What happened in the Epstein grand jury room, stays in the Epstein grand jury room
Secrets surrounding Jeffrey Epstein may stay secret a little longer. For the second year in a row, a bill unsealing Palm Beach County grand jury proceedings leading to Epstein’s notorious 2009 slap-on-the-wrist charge was filed in Tallahassee.
And for the second year in a row, it appears stalled.
What is lost: “This legislation would help the public to gain a better understanding of what happened … as well as help the victims achieve the sense of closure that has eluded them in the nearly two decades following Mr. Epstein’s arrest,” Joe Abruzzo said in a March 31 statement.
As Palm Beach County clerk and comptroller, Abruzzo holds the documents. He fought a lawsuit filed by The Palm Beach Post to release them but is pushing for legislation that would allow him to legally make them public.
The public story of Epstein started with sex assaults of underage girls in his Palm Beach mansion and ended with his 2019 suicide in a New York City jail cell. He was facing trial and decades in prison.
Instead of charging Epstein in 2009 when multiple victims came forward, then-Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer convened a grand jury to weigh evidence.
But Krischer’s prosecutors did not interview 13 underage girls or their parents. His lead prosecutor concluded there were "no victims," according to documents obtained and published by The Post in 2019.
A 14-year-old girl was called to testify about the assaults. The grand jury returned one indictment against Epstein for soliciting prostitution. Later, the case went to the feds, who brokered Epstein’s jail sentence.
What happened behind the closed grand jury doors? State Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, and state Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman, R-Highland Beach, cosponsored this year’s bill which would have allowed a records release.
The legislative session isn’t over until it is over, but after a fast start, the proposal is languishing in House and Senate committees.
Is the GL Homes land swap all wet?
In a move that would dramatically alter development rules in the Agriculture Reserve, Palm Beach County commissioners on Wednesday will weigh a GL Homes-proposed land swap.
GL wants the right to build 1,280 more homes on land west of Boca Raton in the county’s 22,000-acre Ag Reserve.
To get it, GL is dangling a water storage and treatment option that it values at $150 million.
It is also offering to build 1,285 fewer homes in Loxahatchee and workforce housing and provide land for a park, synagogue and elder care facility.
But water is key to the county’s decision.
Assuring water is captured during the rainy season so it can meet human and natural needs during drought is critical. GL says its offer is “transformational.”
Opponents say it is not enough of a game-changer to justify building on preserved Ag Reserve land, which they say would gut countywide rules that call for conservation lands to be preserved in perpetuity.
Residents of The Acreage, where GL’s promise to shave 1,285 homes from an approved Indian Trails Grove community of nearly 4,000 units, say yes, by all means, allow more homes west of Boca Raton to provide us with flood relief and fewer homes.
Commissioners have been inundated with emails from both sides, but one email delivered to them on April 27 is likely to carry more weight.
It’s from Paul Linton, the county’s own water expert. And Linton, whose need for more time to weigh in on the proposal figured in the county’s August decision to postpone the matter, treads lightly.
Bottom line, he wrote, the GL water storage option could help send more freshwater to the Northwest Fork of the Loxahatchee River, a decades-long unmet goal.
It could also boost West Palm Beach’s water supply, he said.
But he described as “minor” the help it would provide to the Lake Worth Lagoon.
He expressed concerns over cost, management, pumps and even farms that would become the county’s responsibility.
If GL gives the county 1,600 acres in Loxahatchee, an increase of 532 acres over current plans, the county would have to pay an estimated $88,000 a year to a special district — one controlled by GL Homes, he wrote.
The county would have to manage 725 acres leased to farmers.
What’s next: The meeting starts at 9:30 am Wednesday at the County Commission chambers, sixth floor, 301 N. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. But beware, it’s last on a packed agenda, and the county has taken measures to be sure the room will be available past 5 pm.
🍅 The juice
Fresh-squeezed news from all over
🚫 Just saying no. A March survey of 1,000 students by Intelligent.com found one in eight Florida high school seniors won’t attend college here, citing seismic shifts in education policy led by Gov. Ron DeSantis. One in 20 college students plans to transfer. And educators told the Florida Bulldog some professors are packing to leave, too, while out-of-state professors are just saying no to Florida.
🚦Last week in money: Shares of GEO Group (NYSE: GEO) belly-flopped after missing quarterly per-share-earnings estimates by 3 cents. One culprit: A $22.6 million increase in interest expenses, even as the prison management company continues to aggressively pay down debt. GEO shares closed slightly up at $7.57 Monday.
Meanwhile, JP Morgan Chase has gobbled up First Republic (NYSE: FRC), the San Francisco bank that made its chops on white-glove service to high-wealth customers. We wrote about the bank, its local branches and its troubles in March.
☀️ Lake Worth Beach’s city attorney is “very confident” the city will reach a lease agreement with Benny’s on the Beach. (Stet contributor Joe Capozzi reports there will be an update at today’s LWB city meeting.) (WPBF)
🚂 Brightline says its route from West Palm Beach to Miami was, for the first time, profitable on an operating basis in March. (The Next Miami)
⛲️ The naked truth about “Naked Gardens.” (Joe Capozzi)
Recent obituaries of notable people in our community
Sandra “Sandi” Richmond, longtime Palm Beach County School District board member, March 29 at 73.
George de Guardiola, played a key role in the development of Abacoa in Jupiter, April 13 at 75.
John C. Grant, oversaw renovation of the Coast Guard Station and JFK Bunker on Peanut Island, Dec. 29, 2022, at 89.
Erika Kirk, the colorful wife of former Gov. Claude Kirk (who died in 2011), April 26 at 88.
👎🏼 Quiz: ‘Bad books! Bad!’
Which well-known but dearly departed person is spinning in their grave because a Florida school district just banned a children’s picture book about their life?
561 insider: First responders show how they save the day
More than 250 firefighters, police and paramedics are in Lake Worth this week to compete in a measure of the lifesaving skills they perform on the job.
And you can see it for free.
What’s happening: The inaugural Palm Beach State College Invitational will be at the school’s Lake Worth campus. The competition will simulate real-world emergencies.
The challenges will take place Tuesday through Saturday at various times, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., at the campus’s Public Safety Training Center, 4200 Congress Ave.
Wednesday will have the most action with a vehicle extrication preliminary at the campus and a competition called Rapid Intervention Crew on the street in front of the Lake Worth Beach casino building.
Of note: Palm Beach State College, founded 90 years ago, is the leading educator of public safety professionals in Palm Beach County.
Among the teams are first responders from Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens and Palm Beach County departments.
If you go: The public is welcome to observe — and cheer — the competitors at no charge.
The event schedule and details can be found at www.palmbeachstate.edu/PBSCInvitational.
There will be food, demonstrations and sponsor merchandise booths.
Greeters will be on campus to guide visitors.
☀️ SunFest returns to West Palm Beach’s waterfront on Friday. This year, the festival’s ambition is focused on three days of music as it sheds the traditional juried art show, fireworks and Thursday start.
🥭 What is it when you have too many mangoes on your tree? Pat is in the midst of her annual “curse of the mango lawn blanket.” On the other hand, neighbors, total strangers and a raccoon named Rocky all come by to say hello and pick up snacks.
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