WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — After more than an 11-hour meeting, Palm Beach County commissioners on Tuesday night voted 4-3 to deny the controversial GL Homes land swap development to build homes west of Boca Raton.
Denying the project were Mayor Gregg Weiss, Vice Mayor Maria Sachs and Commissioners Mack Bernard, Marci Woodward. Sachs' district includes west of Boca Raton.
Approving the swap were Commissioners Sara Baxter, Maria Marino and Michael Barnett.
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Baxter, who serves the Loxahatchee/Acreage area, has hosted town halls about the land swap and hopes to build a racetrack on 128 acres along a 20-mile bend in Loxahatchee. Also, an ATV park proposed north of 60th Street, west of Seminole Pratt Whitney Road, is on the land that was involved in the swap. The ATV park originally was proposed on the Loxahatchee land.
In May, the proposal received first approval by a 5-2 vote with Weiss and Bernard switching their stance Tuesday.
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The plan was to swap land that GL Homes owns near the Acreage and exchange it for a smaller plot of land located south within the Agricultural Reserve along U.S. Highway 441 west of Boca Raton.
GL Homes was looking to build about 1,000 luxury homes and more than 270 affordable housing units. The plan also calls for GL Homes to install a water resource project on the northern property.
The meeting started at 9:30 a.m. in a full commission room that forced county officials to set up two overflow rooms with televisions on two other floors in the county office building. The vote came after 8:30 p.m.
"We believe we've been a good, trustworthy, reliable partner in Palm Beach County," GL Homes president Misha Ezratti told the board. "It's become more critical than ever with issues like water quality, workforce housing, parks and civic needs affecting Palm Beach County like never before."
"The proposal before you today represents a unique opportunity to start down a path or address these voids," Ezratti said.
After the vote, Ezratti declined to comment.
"If we did this today, that means that full 8,000 acres would be wiped away because the next developer would come, the next person would come and then we would just blow up the Ag Reserve," Benard said. "This was historic but, as you know, this was a controversial decision. It was 4-3, but I believe that's the right decision for Palm Beach County and the residents of Palm Beach County."
Opponents of the project wore green shirts and joined another group of GL Homes supporters wearing blue shirts.
"There's too much traffic here. We don't want to become another Broward County," one man wearing a green shirt said while exiting the hearing room during a lunch break.
People who voiced concerns over infrastructure and traffic in the area noted residents voted in 1999 to maintain the area as an agricultural preserve.
Some commissioners who opposed the land swap argued that provided workforce housing and even water projects shouldn't fall into the hands of a private company.
One speaker said the development is inevitable.
"I think anybody who believes long term we're not going to develop land and bring people to Florida is just short-sided," Bart Price, who was wearing a blue shirt, said. "Eventually, it's going to happen."
Commissioners spent hours grilling GL Homes executives and experts on the housing project, roads, schools and even the water project.
The public hearing, which reportedly had scores of request cards, began just after 4 p.m. and lasted several hours.