A development fight is brewing over one of Palm Beach County’s remaining pockets of rural-style living.
And the future of Pioneer Road could revive a debate about a controversial county requirement for developers to include reduced-price, “workforce” housing.
Tucked between Southern Boulevard and Okeeheelee Park, the Pioneer Road neighborhood is a place where cows, estate homes and landscape nurseries coexist in the midst of Palm Beach County suburbia.
Now a developer proposes to build 200 homes that could double the number of houses in the neighborhood, which now features towering pine trees, horses and multi-acre homesteads.
Residents worried about losing their rural lifestyle on Wednesday presented the County Commission a neighborhood plan for their area that calls for limiting the number of homes that can be built in the 500-acre community. Following that plan could torpedo the development proposal.
“We want the peace and quiet,” community resident Raeleen Clark said. “We all like our little piece of paradise.”
But even though neighborhood plans are encouraged by the county to help shape future growth, the recommendations are not binding on zoning changes and other development decisions.
The Khan family plans to sell their 80 acres in the Pioneer Road neighborhood and has raised concerns that the new neighborhood plan threatens to curtail their property rights.
“This was my retirement,” Khudratoon Khan said about plans to sell the land for development. “People are trying to tell us what to do and trying to take away our rights.”
Developer Brian Tuttle said within the next two months he plans to submit development plans for the Khan property that would include 160 houses – which he said would be priced in the $500,000-to-$700,000 range – as well as 40 “workforce” houses.
It’s the potential for workforce housing, which comes with county-required price controls, that Tuttle says is prompting much of the community backlash.
“I follow the law and the code,” Tuttle said. “The county code requires it.”
Back when home prices were skyrocketing amid South Florida’s building boom, Palm Beach County in 2006 started requiring a portion of houses, townhomes and apartments in new developments to include long-term price controls.
The idea was to insure that there would be homes available for teachers, police officers, young professionals and other low- to middle-income residents who were getting priced out of Palm Beach County's housing market.
The program requires larger developments to limit the prices on about 16 percent of the homes built in urban and suburban areas. In return for holding down some home prices, developers get to build more homes than otherwise allowed.
The allowable home sales prices for the workforce housing program can range from $134,610 to $249,990.
Through the years, workforce housing has become one of the top not-in-my-backyard arguments for neighborhoods fighting proposed developments that they contend would hurt their home values.
But housing advocates and county officials have maintained that the workforce housing requirement is vital for boosting the inventory of homes for middle-income buyers.
On Wednesday, Pioneer Road residents who raised concerns before the commission about the potential influx of development questioned the number of homes, not the price range.
County commissioners commended residents for crafting their community plan, but also called for them to try to work with developers to reach compromise.
Commissioner Shelley Vana said that the county remains committed to requiring workforce housing and neighborhood plans shouldn’t try to change that.
“Everybody needs to be prepared to work together,” Vana said.