How Palm Beach Gardens reached so far west

City’s recent annexation flowed from a massive annexation more than 30 years ago.

Northlake Boulevard

With last week’s Palm Beach Gardens City Council vote finalizing the decision to annex 300 acres along Northlake Boulevard, we look back on how Palm Beach Gardens spread so far west in the first place, a story first told on the Palm Beach Gardens Historical Society Facebook page.

What is now Avenir and the Sandhill Crane Golf Club came into the city in a 5,638-acre annexation in March 1991. 

The biggest piece was the 4,763-acre ranch owned by Charlie Vavrus, who at the time proposed a city for 42,000 residents. That land is now called Avenir, approved in 2016 for nearly 4,000 homes. And they’re rising rapidly.

Under construction: The Coconut Boulevard entrance to Avenir along Northlake, where builders are erecting a town center. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

The move brought the city borders far west on Northlake Boulevard, where West Palm Beach in 1989 moved into the growing area by annexing what was then called Ibis Landing. 

On May 4, the Gardens council completed its annexation of 301 acres along Northlake, land that squares off the city’s borders with the western edge of Avenir at Grapeview Boulevard, and takes in vacant but potentially lucrative commercial properties along Northlake. 

But back in 1991, the city’s massive annexation also brought under city control the 142-acre golf course now known as Sandhill Crane Golf Club. The city is expected to open an adjoining 18-hole par 3 course in late July or early August this year on land donated by Avenir. 

1991 annexation map published in Palm Beach Post.

The final piece of the 1991 annexation, 734 acres owned by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, is a nature preserve that wraps east and north of Osprey Isles and Carleton Oaks. That land, now owned by Palm Beach County, is part of the 1,094-acre Sweetbay preserve.

Osprey Isles and Carleton Oaks, relatively new developments along Northlake, became part of Palm Beach Gardens in 2017. The city annexed the Ancient Tree site, then known as the Balsamo property, in 2016.

Sandhill Crane Golf Club
The Sandhill Crane Golf Club came into city limits in 1991. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

The 1991 annexation drew controversy because it left out the county’s 1,800-acre North County General Aviation Airport. The county seemed fine with that decision, according to reporting by The Palm Beach Post, even though it left the airport as a pocket surrounded by the city. But some city leaders wanted the airport annexed to give the city more control over airport noise. 

The airport remains today in the county, not the city.

Gardens annexation area
Palm Beach Gardens annexed this 301-acre area along Northlake Boulevard.
Coconut Boulevard
Coconut Boulevard at Northlake. Plans call for commercial developments on both sides of the intersection facing Avenir. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

Despite the annexation, Vavrus did not get an easy path to development in the city. While Charlie Vavrus fought off county efforts to buy and preserve his land, the city repeatedly thwarted his development ambitions. 

He sold the land for $20 million in October 2012 to the Coral Gables developers who are building Avenir. They also paid $10 million to buy out a purchase contract held by another. Charlie Vavrus died in June 2014. 

This brief historical look back first appeared on the Facebook page of the Palm Beach Gardens Historical Society, which researches and preserves the city’s history while inviting residents to engage in the city’s past. Joel Engelhardt serves on the Historic Society’s board.

Join the society or research city history at or follow the society on its Facebook page here.

© 2023 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.

Author: Joel Engelhardt

Joel Engelhardt is an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor based in Palm Beach Gardens. He spent more than 40 years in the newspaper business, including 28 years at The Palm Beach Post. As a reporter, he covered countywide growth, the 2000 election and the birth of Cityplace in West Palm Beach. As an editor, he oversaw probes into the opioid scourge, private prisons, police-involved shootings and more. For seven years, he worked on the paper’s editorial board. Joel left The Post in December 2020. He and his wife, Donna, have lived together in Palm Beach Gardens since 1992.

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