Palm Beach Gardens rolled out a massive and ambitious effort Tuesday to annex more than 1,350 acres containing more than 8,300 residents, a move that ultimately would be decided by voters after a potentially divisive campaign.
The city has sliced the properties, all east of Interstate 95, into five zones. A majority of residents in each zone would have to vote yes on the March 19 ballot for their respective zone to enter the city.
While the city continues to grow through new construction, it has turned to voter-backed annexation to expand its boundaries before but never to this extent.
The annexation would include diverse long-standing communities along U.S. 1, Ellison Wilson and Prosperity Farms roads, some with gates, manicured landscaping and waterfront property, others with throwback Florida homes and curbless streets.
The new boundaries would stretch north nearly as far as the NextEra Energy plant east of the Intracoastal Waterway and to Donald Ross Road along Prosperity Farms.
The city would absorb the 1960s-era Cabana Colony neighborhood, wedged between two major contributors to the city’s tax base — the Gardens Mall and Frenchman’s Reserve — and also the old Monet neighborhoods along RCA Boulevard.
For the city, growth means a higher tax base while squaring off its borders within easy reach of existing police and fire coverage areas.
For residents, it means a restructuring of tax payments that the city says would be lower for owners of homes valued at $411,250 or less. It also means stricter city code enforcement, with limits, for instance, on front-lawn boats.
The City Council gave its initial blessing to the concept Tuesday, the first time it has publicly heard the proposal from city staff, but many steps remain before the question reaches the ballot.
What lies ahead
A feasibility study has to be completed and sent to Palm Beach County officials by Oct. 18, Deputy City Manager Lori Laverriere told the council. Laverriere, the former Boynton Beach city manager, made her first presentation to the council although she has been on staff for more than a year.
Residents in the annexation areas would be invited to their first face-to-face meeting with city officials at an informal open house Oct. 26.
Under the heading “Annexation could save money,” the website says property owners with a taxable value below $411,250 would pay less overall if they annex. While they would have to pay the city’s property tax rate, they would be relieved of paying a utility tax, and would face lower telecommunications taxes and garbage pickup costs, the city said.
Non-city residents also pay higher fees for city recreation services, another potential savings for new residents.
If the city is to move forward with the plan, the City Council must vote in favor of the ballot question twice with meetings scheduled for Nov. 2 and Dec. 6.
If the plan is approved, it will appear on the March 19 ballot in the affected communities, the same day as the presidential primary.
Social media already weighs in
It’s a far more ambitious undertaking than the last time the city asked neighbors to vote on annexation.
That March 2018 election brought in 500 homes in three communities — Bay Hill Estates, Rustic Lakes and The Preserve at Bay Hill Estates — on west Northlake Boulevard.
Many residents of Rustic Lakes complained that their tiny community opposed annexation but they were forced to enter the city as support from their larger neighbors proved decisive.
The city recently took in 300 acres of mostly commercial land along western Northlake without a referendum.
The campaign already has begun on the social media platform Nextdoor, where a Cabana Colony resident posted information about the annexation on Tuesday, prompting sharp exchanges between residents in favor and against.
With 60,675 residents, Gardens is listed as the state’s 49th largest city by the University of Florida as of April 2022. The city would grow by more than 10 percent with the annexation in all five zones.
Among slightly larger cities in Palm Beach County that Gardens would surpass are Jupiter, Wellington and Delray Beach. Only West Palm Beach, Boca Raton and Boynton Beach would have more people.
From Cabana Colony to Captain’s Key
While Gardens also continues to grow the old-fashioned way, through new construction mostly in the rapidly rising Alton and Avenir communities, the annexation would focus on homes that have been under no municipal control on the outskirts of Palm Beach Gardens for decades.
Zone 1, the largest zone, includes Cabana Colony, as well as several communities to the east along Prosperity Farms Road, including Frenchman’s Landing. Zone 1 crosses the Intracoastal Waterway to reach communities along U.S. 1, including Captain’s Key, Pleasant Ridge and Hidden Key. All told, it would be the most diverse area economically, with 7,670 residents in 3,607 homes across 1,244 acres, city officials said.
The second zone, with just 157 residents in 74 homes, also is east of the Intracoastal. It includes the homes south of the Ritz-Carlton Residences and west of the Benjamin School along Ellison Wilson Road south of PGA Boulevard.
Zone 3 is Pirates Cove, the neighborhood behind the Waterway Cafe between Prosperity Farms Road and the Intracoastal. It has 134 residents in 63 homes.
In Zone 4, the city would add 151 residents and 71 dwelling units from Monet Acres and Monet Heights, both north of RCA Boulevard and east of Palm Beach State College.
Zone 5 is the Monet Gardens neighborhood, just east of Legacy Place and north of RCA. Its three long blocks have 240 residents in 113 homes.
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