This Is our Village

Thursday, January 24, 2013



Tie vote on proposed golf redevelopment means anxiety for Century Villagers

Golf course meeting
Century Village residents sit in county commission chambers during a hearing about development on a former golf course near their community Thursday, January 24, 2013.


During a meeting about development on a former golf course near their community, Century Village residents Shelly Kalef and Patricia Bellonci, who oppose the plan, hold up a copy of the plat for the village that includes the language restricting tract #36 "in perpetuity, for golf course purposes only".

Golf course meeting photo
The section of the plat for Century Village that includes the language restricting tract #36 "in perpetuity, for golf course purposes only". A copy of the plat was held up by residents Shelly Kalef and Patricia Bellonci during a meeting January 24, 2013 about development on the former golf course.

Golf course meeting photo
Century Village resident Jean Dowling, with the group "Welcome Neighbor" which supports the plan, speaks during a county commission hearing about the development of a former golf course near their community Thursday, January 24, 2013. Dowling says she thinks the proposal is "a wonderful opportunity to get more amenities."
century village vote  photo
An overflow crowd of Century Village residents sit outside county commission chambers watching a video feed of discussion about development on a former golf course near their community on Jan. 24, 2013.
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Palm Beach County commissioners were evenly split Thursday on a controversial plan to build on a closed golf course next to the Century Village retirement community in suburban West Palm Beach, forcing the board to delay its decision until next month when all of its members are present.
After five hours of debate, commissioners voted 3-3 on a motion to deny the project outright.
Commissioners Paulette Burdick, Hal Valeche and Jess Santamaria voted to deny the development, which would which transform the overgrown golf course near Haverhill Road and Okeechobee Boulevard into an Abacoa-style, mixed-use community. 
Commissioners Priscilla Taylor and Mary Lou Berger, and County Mayor Steven Abrams voted against rejecting it outright. Commissioner Shelley Vana was not present for the vote.
Development proposals that result in a tie vote are automatically placed on the commission’s next zoning agenda to be considered by the full board. The commission is slated to discuss the item again on Feb. 28.
Vana had jury duty Thursday morning and missed the first two hours of the meeting. She returned to the dais after the commission’s lunch break but an attorney representing Century Village residents opposed to the project objected to her voting because she had not been present to hear the morning’s testimony. Commissioners are required to base zoning decisions on information presented during a hearing.

Upon the objection, Vana left. “We have to follow procedure,” she said on her way out. She would not say how she planned to vote.
Developer Andrew Waldman, who owns the golf course property, and Century Village residents who spent hours waiting for the chance to comment said they were frustrated by the tie. The commission has twice postponed a decision on the project, which calls for 689 homes, town-homes  apartments, 84,500 square feet of shops and offices, a civic center and a 100-bed, assisted-living facility.
“It is disappointing again,” Waldman said after Thursday’s meeting.

Century Village resident Honey Sager, who helped lead opposition to the project, also expressed disappointment. “It is extremely difficult for residents to come here,” Sager said.
Three busloads of residents flooded the governmental center to watch the meeting. By 8:30 a.m., the auditorium reached its capacity of 125 people. An overflow crowd sat in a viewing area just outside the meeting room. Another 25 watched from a viewing area on another floor.
More than 70 people went before the commission to comment. Just over half spoke against the development plan.
Many in the crowd wore green T-shirts with the logo of Century Village’s Proactive Residents Projects Committee, a non-profit group formed last year to fight the development. Opponents pointed to a plat restriction placed on the property in 1974 that they said required the land to stay a golf course forever.
“I cannot understand why they do not agree to uphold the deed restriction,” Sager said after the meeting.
The county attorney’s office has said that the commission can lift the zoning restriction. County planners have recommended approval of the development.
Supporters, including many Century Village residents, contend the project it would bring economic development and raise property values. The 77 acres are just outside an area the county has targeted for redevelopment.
“It is time to put this project on ‘go’ and address some of the concerns of the rest of us,” Century Village resident Jean Dowling told the commission.
Commissioners first considered the development in January 2012. But after five hours of debate, that vote was tied. Santamaria, Burdick and former Commissioner Karen Marcus voted to reject the project. Commission Priscilla Taylor did not attend the January 2012 meeting and commissioners agreed to delay their decision for nine months.
In October the commission again delayed a decision, to give the landowner time to meet with Century Village residents and revise the plan. But an agreement was not reached.
This week, supporters of the project criticized Santamaria, after learning the commissioner allowed the opponents’ nonprofit group to hold a fundraiser at his mall in Wellington. The nonprofit has opened a legal fund and plans to sue the county if the development is approved and critics argued it was inappropriate for Santamaria to help their cause.
Santamaria has said that he has donated the use of his mall to nonprofits for years and has made no secret of the fact he opposes the project.
After learning about the fundraiser, County Mayor Steven Abrams asked county attorneys Wednesday whether a commissioner could be forced to recuse himself from a hearing if they have taken a public position on a project. The answer: As long as a commissioner doesn't stand to gain personally, he or she can vote.
Abrams did not specifically address Santamaria in his request. He said he sought the opinion of the county attorney’s office in case someone raised the question during the public hearing.
But throughout Thursday’s hearing, Santamaria stressed that his decision was based on testimony presented at the hearing.
Like opponents, he pointed to the plat restriction. Santamaria said he feared a decision to lift the requirement would set a precedent to lift similar restrictions on environmentally sensitive land throughout the county. “This issue goes way beyond Century Village,” he said.
But Abrams argued the land would likely never return to a golf course.
“The end result will not be that you will get the beautiful golf course that existed,” Abrams said. “Here you have a responsible project. This project is a traditional neighborhood development. It has a mixture of uses. It is appropriate.”
Dave Israel

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