Palm Beach County officials could approve a land use change that would permit more than 2,100 apartments in the Agricultural Reserve to address the lack of workforce housing in the area.
The County Planning Commission approved on April 8 the future land use change to facilitate “essential housing” in the Agricultural Reserve west of Delray Beach and Boynton Beach. The application was initiated by county staff, not a particular landowner. However, the application would apply to five specific parcels covering a combined 269 acres in the area.
The Agricultural Reserve is one of the largest markets for single-family home development in all of South Florida. The development rules encourage low density and a certain portion of land must be set aside for agriculture and open space for every acre developed. Using density of 2.5 units per acre, nearly 11,000 homes have been developed there, according to the county memo.
Given the low-density development pattern in the Agricultural Reserve, there are almost no housing opportunities for most people employed in the workforce, the county memo stated. The median sales price of a home on less than one acre in the area was $880,000, according to the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser. Less than 3% of the homes sold for under $500,000.
“Creating a higher density category with both a significant workforce housing requirement and a preserve requirement will help to address this imbalance while continuing to support the preservation objective,” the county memo stated.
The staff recommendation for the essential housing land use category is eight units per acre and a requirement to preserve 60% of the site and develop 40%. In addition, 25% of the units must be workforce housing.
That land use category would be restricted to locations fronting major roads, like Atlantic Avenue and Boynton Beach Boulevard, in close proximity to Florida’s Turnpike. Under the essential housing proposal, these five sites could be developed with a combined 2,152 units. However, that number could increase to 5,379 units if the owners of these properties are able to preserve land in other locations within the Agricultural Reserve, thus being able to build apartments on the entirety of their land within the essential housing district.
Developers such as GL Homes frequently buy land in the Agricultural Reserve for preservation in order to build home communities in other locations in the area. One of those five locations already has a pending development application.
The essential housing land use plan would need approval from the County Commission at a later date.