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The PGA Corridor Residents Coalition was established in March of 2001, and is comprised of numerous communities along the PGA Corridor and elsewhere in the City, including the following communities and organizations: BallenIsles, Bent Tree HOA, Shady lakes HOA, Garden Lakes HOA, Garden Isles HOA, Oaks East HOA, Tamborlane Condo Association, Inc., Woodland Lakes Condo and HOA, Suntrace, Gardens of Woodberry, Longwood, Beaumont Place.
The Present primary goal of the Coalition is to work with the Borland Center, State, Regional, County, and Local entities, to arrive at a development of the Borland Center property which is acceptable to all parties concerned.
Borland Center project is a proposed development to be built on 47 acres
on the north side of PGA Boulevard west of Military Trail, between Garden
Square Shops and Shady Lakes Drive. The Borland Center has submitted for
traffic concurrency, which it received, and has submitted plans to the
City of Palm Beach Gardens for the following:
3000 Seat, over 80 foot tall Performing Arts Theater
and Performing Arts Training Facility
500 Seat Performing Arts Theater and
500 Seat Banquet Hall
217 Multi-Family rental units (four story buildings)
100,000 sq. ft. Retail (approx.)
76,000 sq. ft. Office Space (approx.)
Bank Building with Drive-thru
Church Facilities (Office/Education/Meeting/Chapel)
- The Borland Center as currently proposed will generate 9820 car trips on PGA Blvd. per weekday, and this number could be greater on weekends because many of the events at the 3000 and 500 seat theaters will occur on Saturday and Sunday.
- Currently there are 30,699 (per the Borland traffic study) car travels on PGA Blvd. and this proposed development would increase traffic on PGA Blvd. by 32%.
- This project if built as presently proposed will cause a drastic impact on the overall character of what are currently predominantly residential areas adjacent to the proposed development, and bring about resulting serious problems related to noise, lights at night, and general area congestion, as well as having an obvious critical impact on traffic!
- Not Consistent with the City's Comprehensive Land Use Plan
- Not compatible with the character of the surrounding area
- Not consistent with the Land Development Regulations
- Not consistent with the PGA Overlay District
Coalition members have participated in several Borland Center sponsored planning charettes, conducted meetings and discussions with City and County officials to review the concept of the project as it has been represented to date by the Borland Center and its possible implications for the City and beyond. During the process of traffic concurrency review, the Coalition carefully analyzed the traffic impact documentation prepared by the Borland Center and submitted its own analysis document for the consideration of those examining the matter. In addition, the Coalition has prepared and submitted several Position Papers and detailed documentation of concerns to the City and Borland Center principals, and has formally made presentations or statements before the Planning and Zoning Commission at its Workshops held to date regarding this project.
In the concepts for development
represented to date by the Borland Center, the Coalition has been concerned
about a number of issues:
- concerns regarding the project's overall intensity
- concerns regarding the impact on the character of what are currently predominantly residential areas adjacent to the property involved
- concerns regarding noise
- concerns regarding night lighting
- concerns regarding general area congestion
- concerns regarding environmental impact
- concerns regarding impact on traffic.
- Loss to Property Values
- Loss of accustomed Lifestyle
- Negative impact on safety and welfare
|A recent important legal case means neighbors of proposed developments can have a voice equal to that of public officials and developers. Click to read more about this new legal precedent.|
There will be a public hearing of the City Council at the City Complex regarding proposed "Ordinance 10, 2003" on Thursday October 16 (to ensure seating, plan to arrive between 6:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. when the meeting starts) We urge as many residents as possible to attend. This Ordinance, if approved as proposed, will have major negative consequences in terms of growth management issues in general and particularly in terms of its ramifications for the proposed Borland Center.
proposed Ordinance would drastically change present requirements for granting
1. Eliminates requirement for updated traffic studies!
2. Eliminates oversight of Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council by giving authority to the Growth Management Administrator to grant extensions of up to 6 years!
3. Favoritism for projects which have not achieved approval for development!
Particularly regarding the Borland Center project, the "conditional concurrency certification" granted in 2001 expires at the end of this year. Concurrency is granted for a limited amount of time to ensure that public facilities and services are available "concurrent" with the impacts of development. These approvals are granted in reliance on specific traffic impact projections based on the expected build out date of the proposed project.
In the process of drafting Ordinance 10, 2003 a provision was added which allows any proposed project with an expiring concurrency of December 31, 2003 or earlier to have that concurrency deemed extended for an additional year. This provision contravenes the stated intent of the Ordinance itself and really only applies to a single project, the Borland Center!
This Ordinance as proposed is very problematic for all of the following reasons:
When Concurrency is extended for any project, available traffic usage is
taken for that proposed project and is unavailable to other projects awaiting
· Developments that affect roadways designated as CRALLS (which applies to PGA Boulevard) should not be granted a build-out date extension. CRALLS roadways have a waiting list of projects that cannot be built because of lack of roadway capacity and granting extensions shows favoritism to particular developers. Concurrency is given on a first come basis and allowing extensions is unfair to developments awaiting concurrency.
· An updated traffic analysis should be required from any development before considering an extension to ensure that the roadways involved do not adversely impact traffic level of service.
· Extensions should be considered on a case by case basis, and unless due to a cause shown to be outside the control of the developer, should not be granted.
This proposed Ordinance benefits developers at the expense of the welfare, safety, and quality of life of the citizens of Palm Beach Gardens. Please plan to attend the public hearing and show your concern.
Sets July 8, 2003 for
Public Hearing on Borland
The Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a Public Hearing regarding the waivers requested by the Borland Center proposed development on Tuesday July 8, 2003 at 6:30 p.m., at the City Complex Council Chambers. As listed in the P&Z agenda, the items are: "PUD-01-13 Borland Center for Community Enrichment- PH Rec to CC (P&Z)", and " WAV-00-03 Borland Center Residential Waiver ...(LPA)". Of particular importance is the waiver (WAV-00-03) to allow an "Institutional Non-residential Mixed Use" for their site which is presently designated "Residential Mixed use" per the Comprehensive Plan and the Land Development Regulations. The Coalition continues to maintain that granting this waiver would run counter to the City's own Comprehensive Plan and would be in direct conflict with Section 163 of the Florida Statutes (see next article for more details). All concerned residents should plan to attend and voice their opinion regarding these requests of the developer to waive existing requirements of the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulations. Adrian Salee, Coalition Vice-President expressed the concern of many when he noted the importance of the decision on the land use waiver: "If the City Council is allowed to approve this waiver - without protest from us, the citizens - even though to do so clearly violates the City's own Comprehensive Plan, similar waivers can be expected to follow for future new developments, which could threaten the residential character of any given existing community and neighborhood in the Gardens!"
Charles Wu, Growth Management Administrator for the City has previously noted in a letter to Vito DeFrancesco, Coalition President that, "While City Staff appreciates your input on the review of the project, it will be City Council's decision as to whether or not the proposed waiver petition meets the necessary criteria established under the Comprehensive Plan for consideration as a non-residential mixed use planned unit development." Having this in mind, DeFrancesco recently commented that, "It will be very important to send a clear message to City Council by having as many residents as possible attend the up-coming Public Hearing, regardless of what the outcome at the P&Z level may be!"
The Coalition requested and was granted the opportunity to make a formal presentation to the Planning and Zoning Commission at the Workshop. Ably representing the Coalition on this occasion were: our counsel, Gary Fields, Dr. Richard Orman, Professor of Public Administration at Barry University, and Bulent Kastarlak, an architect, urban planner, and engineer who has taught at several colleges and universities including Harvard. Both Orman and Kastarlak, residents of GardenIsles and PGA National respectively, have been active in the Coalition. Howard Debs, Coalition Communications Committee Chair prepared and coordinated the presentation, assisted by Coalition President Vito DeFrancesco and Tom Sosey, Bent Tree resident and Coalition Technical Committee member. Some 140 residents from Coalition member communities and elsewhere in the City turned out to judge for themselves the first reactions of the Planning and Zoning commissioners to these crucial waiver and petition issues. Thanks go to Connie DeFrancesco, Joan Einhorn, Eileen Tucker, and Tom Sosey for coordinating the resident sign in process. The complete content of the Coalition's presentation is available at the documents page of this site.
Dr. Orman pointed out in his portion of our presentation that what is proposed is a major regional facility which should never be placed next to existing residential communities, by law or based on fundamental urban planning principles. Bulent Kastarlak, during his portion of the presentation, told the Commission that it must decide the Land Use issue before it proceeds any further since the waiver would be required to allow for the Borland Center itself to be built at all and if the Planning and Zoning Commission adheres to the Comprehensive Plan and the Land Development Regulations the waiver should clearly not be granted.
"The Coalition wishes to extend our appreciation to you and your staff for undertaking facilitation of discussion
between RAM Development, The Borland Center, and the PGA Corridor Residents Coalition. We consider
that the meeting held July 15 under your auspices was both meaningful and responsive to the need for a
moderated approach between the interested parties."
"We stand ready to participate in additional such meetings as may be convened
by you, subject, as was mentioned,
to changes which may occur based on submissions by the developer. We will leave to your judgment as the facilitator
in this process, what might constitute such a change meriting a next round of discussion."
Gardens church must pay land taxes
Glad someone's fighting PGA overdevelopment
Traffic questions stall PGA projects
County Holds Second Public Hearing on CRALLS
CRALLS designation approved for PGA Blvd. by County
The Tax Man Cometh - Church Tax Spat heads to court
Borland Center requests preliminary review of project by P&Z
the road has enough capacity for the
cars they would bring
By Thomas R. Collins, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
(Palm Beach Post article published Monday, July 1, 2002)
PALM BEACH GARDENS - Development plans have stalled for at least four projects here as the city crunches numbers to determine whether there's room for any more cars on PGA Boulevard.
The four projects - which would add more than 1,400 apartments and homes, and 400,000 square feet of commercial and retail space - are the last in line behind a string of megadevelopments that have staked a claim to PGA.
The stalled projects are: Mirasol Walk, a mostly retail project on PGA just west of Florida's Turnpike; Legends at the Gardens, a mixed-use project at Central Boulevard and Donald Ross Road; and two mixed-use projects at Central Boulevard and I-95. Each is within a mile and a half of PGA.
The Palm Beach County has already approved higher traffic limits that would allow more Lexuses, BMWs and Land Rovers on PGA than the road was designed for. Between I-95 and RCA Boulevard, for example, the six-lane road was designed to hold 48,900 cars a day. The county's limits allow 67,674 cars, or 38 percent more.
The slew of sprawling gated communities and shopping meccas under way would put even more cars than that on the road, if built at the levels the developers wanted originally.
But some of the projects came in with fewer homes or less square footage of store space. So city officials and developers of the four stalled projects are hoping there's still some traffic capacity to spare.
"Typically, the projects went down," said engineer Dan Clark, who works for the city. "We're trying to see what kind of an impact that had."
Residents say there's a lot riding on how their elected officials handle the traffic situation.
"Everything's at stake: our property value, our safety...our lifestyle," said Howard Debs, a spokesman for the PGA Corridor Residents Coalition, which estimates that it represents 10,000 people living along the road.
If there's no room left, one of the few options is for the county to approve even higher limits - another CRALLS limit, or Constrained Roadway at a Lower Level of Service.
But County Commissioner Karen Marcus, who represents the area, doesn't want that to happen.
"We're starting to run out of capacity where you're having to start asking your residents to drive on levels of service that are acceptable in Miami-Dade and Broward County," she told the Palm Beach Gardens City Council recently.
"I need a whole lot more reasons why before I would ever consider a CRALLS," she said in a later conversation.
Before long, she warned, Military Trail and Alternate A1A also will reach their limits.
The issue is further complicated by the county's effort to write stricter standards on how traffic is counted. A committee has been discussing whether a wider area should be considered when traffic counts are done. If so, that could make it more difficult for developments to be approved, not just in the city but also countywide.
Attorney John Gary of North Palm Beach - who represents most of the developers who own land in the city, including the stalled projects - said the county has the wrong approach to planning. Development shouldn't have to cease just because drivers have to sit through red lights, he said. If they're driving to a sparkling entertainment center for a night out, it just might be worth it, he said.
"There are no red lights in the little town I grew up in in Mississippi, but I wouldn't call it a good quality of life," he said.
But the county study will assume a controversial turnpike interchange will be built at Beeline Highway, and reduce traffic on PGA. If it's not built, 5,400 more cars would travel PGA between the turnpike and Central Boulevard. Plus, the future of a railroad crossing needed for an important side road near The Gardens mall is in doubt; it's being legally challenged by the Florida East Coast Railway.
Even so, Gary said he's hopeful.
"I really believe we have an excellent chance of coming up with a plan that satisfies everybody," he said. "Maybe I'm just an overly optimistic guy."
The residents coalition said it's concerned about government traffic studies, which they describe as "magic."
"Somehow the number keeps getting smaller and smaller," said the group's president, Vito DeFrancesco. "Something's happening where people are getting really creative."
Good article about developers'
request to allow higher volumes of traffic on the already overburdened
PGA Boulevard ("Traffic questions stall PGA projects," July 1).
The statement by an attorney for the developers about folks not minding sitting through the lights applies to workers who commute because they cannot afford to live in north county. John Gary's developer clients and Palm Beach Gardens officials should try harder to be part of the solution and not the problem. I would be surprised and impressed if any of the developers were going to offer affordable homes for the infrastructure of the community - people such as police officers, medical workers, small-business owners and trades people. Most of the opportunities created by all the PGA-area development seems to be for services and retail workers.
Further, the idea of PGA Boulevard becoming a CRALLS (constrained roadway at a lower level of service) is bad. It is an evacuation route for residents east of the Intracoastal Waterway.
The only ones who would benefit from a greater density of development in this area would be developers and Palm Beach Gardens (because of the increased tax base). I am pleased that a community group is objecting to requests to allow overdevelopment.
Nancy Silvio Lodise
December 5, 2001
Beach County Planning Div.
100 Australian Ave.
West Palm Beach, FL 33406
attn: Khurshid Mohyuddin, Senior Planner
Dear Mr. Mohyuddin:
Following is a statement we intend to present at the Public Hearing of the Board of County Commissioners on December 5. We are providing this in writing for insertion into the record of the proceedings and for distribution to the commissioners if possible. We will appreciate any assistance you might provide in this regard:
Commissioners and Staff, my name is Paul Auerbach, I am a member of the PGA Corridor Residents Coalition, and I have been asked today to speak on behalf of the Coalition. We thank you for the opportunity to once again address the issue of your approval of the CRALLS designation for PGA Boulevard and its potential consequences for Palm Beach Gardens and its residents.
In a previous statement presented by our President Vito DeFrancesco, at the public hearing on this matter of November 29, which statement is I believe part of the record, we asked that the Board of County Commissioners carefully consider the implications of the information we provided you at that time before final approval of and implementation of the CRALLS. Granting all the information we presented we believed that the resultant allowable traffic on PGA Blvd. would very probably increase to levels equal to the existing traffic on Northlake Blvd. in some areas to 68,055 car travels which is approximately 5,000 more travels than are currently on Okeechobee Blvd. and 16,000 more car travels than Northlake Blvd. We are still of this opinion.
also were greatly concerned that in approving the CRALLS designation, the
amendment to be adopted by the Board of County Commissioners ensure that development was to be at densities and/or intensities no greater than those provided for in the Forbearance Agreement entered into between the City of Palm Beach Gardens and various property owners dated April 15, 1999.
Since that public hearing, and our presentation before you we have met, at the suggestion of Commissioner Marcus, with Dan Weisberg of the engineering department. The information Mr. Weisberg kindly provided to us suggests new reasons to appeal to this Board to postpone final approval of the CRALLS designation.
Namely, that the report relied upon for the approval of the CRALLS designation , having
been prepared in 2000 urgently needs to be updated and revised to reflect current data. We will use the Borland Center/Palm Beach Community Church proposed development as one example with which we are well acquainted.
The "Text Amendment Staff Report, Round 00-2" has a listing for allowable traffic on PGA Blvd between Central Blvd and Military Trail of 50,738 vehicles per day; this number was established by using the data from Exhibit 7 of this report. The Borland Center/Palm Beach Community Church was assigned and allotted 2207 vehicle trips per day in Exhibit 7 of this report. When the data was gathered in 1999 for the year 2000 report, the Borland Center was only projected as a church and the project did not include 256 residential rental units, restaurants, retail shopping, food market, small theater or the concept of a 3000 seat Kravis Center type entertainment venue, all of which are now being proposed to be developed on the property in question.
As referenced in our previous statement to you, there are currently 9 developments yet awaiting concurrency that will additionally effect PGA Blvd. traffic and we respectfully suggest that until a current, accurate listing is provided for all developments effecting PGA Blvd. this Board would be unable to make a truly informed decision as to the impact the CRALLS designation you intend to approve will have on Palm Beach County's overall traffic plan.
We believe there is an additional salient matter we need to call to your attention.
The Forbearance Agreement, which the Borland Center/Palm Beach Community Church is party to, listed as Parcel 6A1, has a restriction of 12 residential units per acre. The documents submitted by the Borland Center for their proposed development to the City of Palm Beach Gardens has requested the residential component be almost 15 units per acre. This type of density/intensity error could be the reason that the Borland Center has been listed in the "Text Amendment Staff Report, Round 00-2" as having such a low traffic count assigned to it, and as importantly, the Borland Center proposal now before the Palm Beach Gardens Planning and Zoning Commission seems certainly not in consonance with the Forbearance agreement your amendment requires.
The Coalition respectfully requests that the Board of Palm Beach County Commissioners postpone its decision on this issue until a revision is made to Exhibit 7 of The "Text Amendment Staff Report, Round 00-2" reflecting current data for all the proposed developments that will effect PGA Blvd. The Borland Center/Palm Beach Community Church has only been used as an example of how underestimated the traffic may actually be on PGA Blvd.
At the same time, we must ask the Board of County Commissioners to employ all available means at its disposal, should you pursue this approval, to both monitor and remedy any non-compliance encountered or shown to exist in terms of the amendment stipulations relating to the Forbearance agreement.
We are certainly prepared to provide to staff any information known to the Coalition which might assist in such monitoring efforts. We respectfully request that our statement, which we will provide in written form, be made a part of the record of the proceedings. Thank you again for your attention to our concerns.
PGA Corridor Residents Coalition
Vito DeFrancesco, President
November 28, 2001
Beach County Planning Div.
100 Australian Ave.
West Palm Beach, FL 33406
attn: Khurshid Mohyuddin, Senior Planner
Dear Mr. Mohyuddin:
The PGA Corridor Residents Coalition was established in March of this year, and is comprised of the numerous communities along the PGA Corridor, presently including the following communities and organizations: PGA National POA, BallenIsles, Bent Tree HOA, Shady Lakes HOA, Garden Lakes HOA, Garden Isles HOA, Oaks East HOA, Tamborlane Condo Association, Inc., Woodland Lakes Condo and HOA, Sun Terrace at the Oaks, Gardens of Woodberry, Westwood Gardens and Lakes HOA, Community Awareness Network (PGA National), and Villa D’Este (PGA National). We currently represent 9904 Palm Beach Gardens residences. The stated mission of the Coalition is to ensure that the quality of life of the residents in communities along the PGA Boulevard corridor is preserved and protected from any adverse impact in the process of general development of the area.
In this regard, the Coalition wishes to formally document our concerns and general comments regarding the proposed CRALLS designation for PGA Blvd.
Our overriding concern is the issue of adherence to the density and intensity provisions of the Forbearance Agreement between the City of Palm Beach Gardens and various property owners in respect to the implementation of the CRALLS designation. We want to ensure that developments party to the Forbearance Agreement be of an intensity and density in compliance with said agreement. We consider that indications as to potential traffic do have a bearing on the matter of intensity of development, and information we have reviewed in this regard leads us to some of our concerns.
The following items in particular give rise to these concerns:
The "Text Amendment Staff Report, Round 00-2" has a listing for allowable
traffic on PGA Blvd between Central Blvd and Military Trail as 50,738 vehicles
per day, this number was established by using the data from Exhibit
8 of this report. The Borland Center/Palm Beach Community Church
was the most recent development to gain concurrency and this development
project was only granted Conditional concurrency (see attached Conditional
Concurrency Certification, dated 10/17/01) because this project exceeded
the 48,900 vehicle per day limit allowed on a 6 lane divided highway.
There are still 9 developments listed on the City of Palm Beach Gardens
"Major Projects", dated 11/06/01 that have not been approved for concurrency
and can not until the CRALLS is approved. However, based on our interpretation,
the Borland Center/Palm Beach Community Church will utilize all the extra
traffic allowed if the CRALLS is approved, leaving no traffic allowance
for the remaining 9 developments.
2) The "Text Amendment Staff Report, Round 00-2, Exhibit 8" has a listing for the Palm Beach Community Church (Borland Center) utilizing 2207 vehicle travels per day. In the traffic study submitted by Borland Center/Palm Beach Community Church, they have submitted for and were approved for 6060 vehicle travels between Central Blvd and Military Trail (see attached Exhibit 10A from the Palm Beach Community Church Concurrency Traffic Impact Analysis). How is this reconciled?
3) The Borland Center/Palm Beach Community Church along with the 9 developments awaiting concurrency are listed in the "Text Amendment Staff Report, Round 00-2" as agreeing to and signing the Forbearance Agreement that was the basis for allowing the CRALLS and determining the ultimate traffic requirements. How is the data provided in Exhibit 8 of this report to be interpreted in light of the Forebearance Agreement, using the Borland Center/Palm Beach Community Church example of greater than originally defined traffic requirements?
4) It is assumed that the Borland Center/Palm Beach Community Church will bring the traffic count to 50,000 vehicles. The 9 parcels awaiting concurrency are: (parcel 4.07A (201 trips), parcel 4.07B (131 trips), parcel 31/A/B/C/D (5195 trips), parcel 31B (263 trips), parcel 31.02 (1972 trips), parcel 34.01 East (unknown), parcel 34.01 West (unknown), parcel 31.06/06 (Residential high at I-95/Central is not listed on non-major project list-trips ?) and parcel 30.02 (commercial at turnpike/PGA is not on non-major project list-? trips). The 7 parcels awaiting concurrency for which trip totals are given have a total impact on the segment of PGA Blvd between Central Blvd and Military trail of 7762 trips which does not include the two omitted parcels. If those parcels have the same 274% traffic "overrun" as the Borland Center/Palm Beach Community Church appears to have, the 7762 travels could reach 21267 vehicle travels yielding total car trips of between 57,762 and 71,267, on a roadway that only is designed for 48,900 daily travels (and this does not take into account the total travels when the two omitted parcels are ultimately included, or land that will be developed in the future which is currently not considered.)
5) Additional facts which impact our assessment are:
PGA Blvd from Central to Military Trail currently has 30,699 cars per day
B. PGA Blvd from Military Trail to I-95 currently has 40,117 cars per day
C. Northlake Blvd by Home-Depot/Costco currently has 52,849 cars per day
D. Okeechobee Blvd by Schumacher Buick currently has 63,214 cars per day
E. Allowable traffic on a 6 lane divided hwy (PGA Blvd) is 48,900 cars per day
F. Allowable traffic on a 8 lane divided hwy (Okeechobee Blvd) is 60,100 cars per day.
If the CRALLS is implemented, the allowable traffic on PGA Blvd. would, granting all the referenced items above, appear to increase to levels equal to the existing traffic on Northlake Blvd. in some areas to 68,055 car travels which is approxmately 5,000 more travels than are currently on Okeechobee Blvd. and 16,000 more car travels than Northlake Blvd.
In summary, in spite of the intention of ensuring that the properties involved as identified in the Forbearance Agreement are developed "at densities and/or intensities no greater than those provided for in the Forbearance Agreement", based on the information we have reviewed, PGA Blvd. traffic, if the CRALLS is implemented, will increase substantially from today's level, perhaps involving traffic volumes, in some areas, that are greater than that allowed on an 8 lane divided highway.
We ask that the Board of County Commissioners carefully consider the implications noted here before final approval of and implementation of the CRALLS, with particular attention and consideration to ensuring that the amendment to be adopted by the Board of County Commissioners provides for developing at densities and/or intensities no greater than those provided for in the Forebearance Agreement in question.
We respectfully request that this written statement be made a part of the record of the proceedings, and we would be glad to further discuss the matters addressed in this statement with staff if this would be helpful and appropriate.
PGA Corridor Residents Coalition
Vito DeFrancesco, President
"GET YOUR TWO CENTS IN":
If you feel strongly about the approval of the CRALLS, and that the County must ensure that developers, and specifically the Borland Center should be required to limit the "densities and/or intensities" of their developments, write and urge the County to carefully monitor the Borland development proposal for compliance. Mail or fax responses to: Khurshid Mohyuddin, Senior Planner, Palm Beach County Planning Div., 100 Australian Ave., West Palm Beach, FL 33406 (fax: 561-233-5365).
nothing has happened
on the property
other than member visits
by Thomas R. Collins, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
(Palm Beach Post article published December 14, 2001
WEST PALM BEACH - A judge ruled Thursday that 1,000 member Palm Beach Community Church in Palm Beach Gardens must pay property taxes on a prime swath of land despite the church's agrument that its members meditate and pray there.
Circuit Judge Lucy Chernow Brown settled in one day a question that property appraiser and church officials have haggled over for months: If a church uses land for occasional prayer but also in the process of selling part of it to other developers, should the church get a religious exemption?
The church, with unorthodox services including Christian rock and dramatic portrayals of religious themes, plans to build a 3,000-seat auditorium that would double as the church sanctuary along PGA Boulevard near Military Trail.
Because the city requires a mix of uses on the land, the church has submitted plans to build apartments and stores, too. It needs approval of all 47 acres before it can build the sanctuary; the church has had two deals in the works to sell parts of the land to developers.
Borwn wasn't swayed by the argument of Rober Saylor - the church attorney and a church member - that because nothing has happened on the property other than visits by church members, the church should not have to pay taxes, amounting to about $200,000 over the past two years.
"If the church participated in development activities, that would be a use," Brown said. The religious use wasn't the main use of the property, she said.
Church officials said they probably will appeal. Property appraiser officials said if Brown's decision is reversed the case could set an important statewide precedent by giving other religious organizations more latitutde in obtaining exemptions.
Saylor said the church has been in a tough position, unable to build its sanctuary because of the city's strict requirements.
But Brown said church officials should have researched that before buying the land from Watermark Communities Inc. for $4 million in 1999.
Before the ruling, church development consultant Hank Gonzalez said there wasn't time for that because the land was bought in a fast-paced, ravenous market when nearly 15,000 choice acres of John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation land was being sold and resold.
Throughout the trial, property appraiser attorneys said they felt hoodwinked by the church's application for its exemption, which said all the property was used for religious reasons but said nothing about the need to sell much of the property for commercial development.
"When they file an application for exemption, they have an obligation to be candid," attorney Jay Jacknin said.
Church officials said they felt the application was truthful and didn't need to go into the development details. The Rev. Ray Underwood, who founded the church in 1985, said all he wants to do is build a church.
"We're trying to do good. That's what's so frustrating."
Do ‘prayer trails’ merit $200,000 tax exemption?
Thomas R. Collins, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
(Palm Beach Post article published Thursday, November 29, 2001)
intersections, crude clearings stagger through dapples of shade, and pine
cones freckle the ground beneath darting and hovering dragonflies.
Palm Beach Community Church officials call the clearings "prayer trails,"
spots where members of the congregation come to pray and meditate.
the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser's Office says it's little more
than wilderness that doesn't merit giving the church an exemption from
paying about $200,000 in taxes for this year and last. A judge is scheduled
to hear the dispute Dec. 13.
officials argue the church doesn't deserve a free pass because the
tax bill is based on the way the property existed on Jan. 1, 2000, a few
months before the trails were created.
church has bigger plans for the 47-acre parcel: a collection of luxury
apartments, restaurants and stores -- besides a 3,000-seat auditorium that
would double as a church sanctuary.
have been few tests of this law," said Dorothy Ewing, director of the
appraiser's public services division. "It could affect exemption law across
the state of Florida."
Nancy Galeta, who handles tax exemptions for the appraiser, says it's very
rare for a religious exemption case to wind up in state court. Usually, an
appeal before a county board is as far as these cases get.
can tell you that I've worked here with exemptions for 17 years, and this
is the first one I can recall," she said.
church's attorney, Robert Saylor, who also attends the 1,000-member
church, said the few examples elsewhere in the state favor the church. In
one case, a religious school won an exemption on land where it holds "nature
prayers," he said.
The case is indicative of the thorny issues that have developed in recent
years as nondenominational churches, like the Christianity-based Palm Beach
Community Church, grow in size and ambition, said Scott Thumma, who has
extensively studied so-called mega-churches for the Hartford Institute for
more of those kinds of things get into the courts, it opens the door for
other folks to pursue similar kinds of battles," he said.
church is led by the Rev. Ray Underwood, a Harley-Davidson-riding man
whose relaxed church strives to reach out to those put off by other
churches. At services, now held at Palm Beach Community College's Eissey
campus theater, Christian rock replaces hymns, and dramatic presentations on
religious themes replace age-old ritual.
In October 1999, church officials bought for $4 million the land for their
dream house of worship: an auditorium bigger than the 2,200-seat Kravis
Center that would accommodate services on Sunday and cultural events the
rest of the week. It's named the Borland Center for Community Enrichment --
for Bruce Borland, a golf-course designer and congregant who died two years
ago in a plane crash along with golfer Payne Stewart.
church's project proposal includes a mix of uses for the site because of
the city's zoning requirements. Church leaders hope to sell most of the land
that won't be used for religious purposes. The prayer trails would be
eliminated during the project construction.
worth $5,027,605, the 47 acres near PGA Boulevard and Military Trail
have racked up taxes of $203,201 during the past two years.
The county granted 41 new religious exemptions this year, but denied 18
requests, Galeta said. In the denial cases, the land generally was
considered unused or was being used to make profit -- one church was using
its land as a nursery to grow plants for future sale and another was renting
Palm Beach Community Church's prayer trails -- created in the spring of
2000 and advertised to congregants at services and in church bulletins,
according to court documents -- should make the church exempt, its leaders
issue is: Is it currently being used for religious purposes?" Saylor
The trails, marked occasionally by weather-beaten signs used to point out
the future development features, aren't the "predominant" use required under
state exemption laws, appraiser officials say. They say at least 50 percent
of a property has to be used for religious reasons.
cut out some of the brush and walk a small portion of the property and
pray," said Jay Jacknin, an attorney for the appraiser. "As a result of
that, they're claiming they should get a religious exemption on the entire
said the 50 percent rule applies only after the property is developed
and the church would not expect to receive an exemption on all of the
property at that time.
He balked at explaining how often the trails are used.
question is a trap," he said. "The issue is not how often you use the
property for religious reasons."
Any religious use at all entitles the church to the exemption, he said.
Rev. Underwood, meanwhile, wishes the whole dispute would go away. He
declined to comment for this story.
of the appraiser's office, said the church deserves all the attention
"You're not dealing with a typical church setting -- they're building what
they themselves have called the Kravis of the North," she said. "The normal
scenario is a church buys property and they're going to build a church and a
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At the workshop the Planning and Zoning Commission had their first look at the overall concept of the project to be proposed. Raymond Royce, attorney for the Borland development project maintained that the development has reached out to the community by meeting with neighborhood groups and holding planning charettes. "We have listened" he remarked in trying to make the point that resident input has been taken into consideration, a position that the Residents Coalition does not see reflected in the plans proposed to date.
Casey Cummings of RAM Development, the concern having the major management interest in this project admitted to the Commission that "mixed use is seldom the correct solution", in land use planning, but insisted that "here it is". He suggested that the concept of the project provided a "great place (for the people within the development ) to live, work, shop, and play", but what he didn't mention was how the intrusion of a development of this massive intensity will undoubtedly just as negatively impact all of the residents surrounding the project.
Hank Gonzalez, President and CEO of the Borland Center suggested that his center would have a "substantial positive impact on the quality of life" of the area; The Residents Coalition remains very skeptical as to how a project of this magnitude, with its resultant effects on traffic, noise, congestion, lighting at night, and the environment, would have the positive impact on quality of life claimed, afterall, the project if built as presently proposed would basically completely change the overall character of our community from residential to metropolitan.
Pinder, head of the traffic engineering firm hired by the Borland
Center admitted that "we don't have answers tonight" as regards concerns
about the tremendous amount of traffic to be generated by this project.
As Commissioner John Glidden said, "there's a lot to absorb", and this was the general reaction of the Commissioners to the presentation. A number of questions were asked by the Commissioners dealing with everything from issues of landscaping to heights of buildings (several over allowed restrictions per the code), from matters relating to underlying zoning and permissable uses, architectural features, to the every present issue of traffic. Commissioner Steven Tarr presented the most general concern in expressing his doubts about the "compatibility" of the project with the existing area. "I really don't want to live near a stadium, I don't want to see another Kravis".
The Coalition believes that while development and growth are certainly important, these should not be at the expense of the existing residents...and certainly not at the cost of the existing lifestyle of our residents.