Residents of the Palm Beach County enclave known as The Acreage see their rustic lifestyle under attack by international homebuilding giant the Minto Group. From the look of things they're not going to take it lying down.
The residents seem reconciled to the fact that Minto has won county approval for the construction of nearly 3,000 homes. That's a done deal. But the Ottawa-based corporation's plans to more than double that number is meeting fierce resistance in the forms of signs, petitions, letters to officials, social networking and agitated citizens flocking to meetings of government bodies. In other words, democracy in action.
An anomalous pocket of relatively undeveloped land on the county's western outskirts, the Acreage's nearly 100 square miles were almost entirely swamp and forest until the late 1950s when a Philadelphia developer bought up a huge swathe of terrain and started building homes for the area's citrus farm workers.
Now characterized by single-family houses on lots of one acre or more, the Acreage still has a bucolic feel. Many roads (privately-owned) remain unpaved, wildlife abounds, homeowners commonly keep farm animals and ride horseback. The place is a magnet for non-conformists: latter-day hippies, Tea Partiers and "all in between," according to 30-year resident Patricia Curry. . Minto is quite the opposite, a Canadian hawker of the American Dream, specializing in McMansions around golf courses in gated communities. Last fall, the company purchased 3,800 acres adjoining the Acreage and swiftly won official approval for the construction of 2,996 homes and 235,000 square feet of commercial and retail space.
But Minto has bigger plans, doubling the approved residential and other development and including an hotel, a spring training baseball complex and a 3,000-student college campus. The company has promised to
assist in regional drainage issues, address roadway deficiencies by paying more than $50 million in road impact fees and restore more than 1,400 acres back to natural habitat in the form of perimeter buffers, lakes and parks.
Many -- and perhaps a majority -- of Acreage residents don't buy it. Drainage is already a major issue there, as Hurricane Isaac showed. But traffic is the main concern: Minto predicts an additional 70,000 daily trips around the area; Avenir, another development a bit further north is expected to lead to 78,000 more. The "No to Minto" residents put it like this:
The Minto study projects 70,273 new daily trips through the Acreage. This is equivalent to one car per second, for 19 hours each day. It also discusses the need to widen eleven local roads to carry the new traffic, some up to 6, 8, and even 10 lanes wide. The Minto study assumes Avenir does not exist, and vice versa. If both developments are built, both traffic studies will have to be redone, and the increase in traffic will be almost unimaginable.
More than 1000 area residents have signed a petition against Minto's doubled development. A special meeting last night of the Acreage Landowners Association produced a lopsided vote against expansion, 67 for, 583 against.
"Really, all you have to do is look at what Minto wants to do," Patricia Curry told New Times. "The majority of the community recognizes immediately it doesn't fit here and will alter our way of life forever."
Acreage residents have had some weird troubles lately, including the discovery four years ago of a pediatric brain cancer cluster in the area. Now they're facing cancer of another sort.
[Online central for Acreage opposition to Minto, including the citizen petition, extensive documentation and action updates -- can be found at NoToMinto.com and the Facebook group Acreage Hitching Post.]
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers politics, activism, the environment and culture in Palm Beach County and elsewhere. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.