Despite objections from Jupiter Farms residents, the school board Wednesday night sold the 153-acre “Burt Reynolds Ranch” to a home builder… for now.
Opponents questioned whether New Jersey-based developer K. Hovnanian Homes would ever be able to get the 62 homes it wants on the rural property approved by Palm Beach County Commissioners and said the deal is likely to fall apart. But both opponents and supporters of the sale pointed out that if the sale does fall apart the school district will get the land back.
“I really don’t see how we could lose,” said School Board Vice Chairwoman Debra Robinson as the board voted 5-2 to sell the land at 16133 Jupiter Farms Road, which was owned by actor Burt Reynolds for decades, to Hovnanian for $5 million. Board members Mike Murgio and Marcia Andrews voted against the sale.
The district bought the ranch for $3.8 million in 1999 with plans to build a middle school there in the future.School district officials have previously said that the population in Jupiter Farms does not warrant a new middle school and the district does not have money to build any new schools for at least a decade.
Stephen Liller, Hovnanian’s vice president of land acquisitions, said last week that his company wants to build 62 homes at a density of about one home for every 2.5 acres.
But Rebecca Caldwell, the county’s executive director of zoning and planning, has said the Reynolds ranch property is only zoned for one home per 10 acres and because it is in the “rural tier,” the most that can be approved there is one home for every 5 acres or about 30 homes.
Lois Taylor, president of the Jupiter Farms Residents community group of Farms residents, brought letters from residents she said were opposing the sale of the Burt Reynolds Ranch to Hovnanian.
“Please think on this contract,” Taylor said. “It’s a long way from what should be approved.”
School Board Member Jennifer Prior Brown said she supported the sale because it wasn’t the role of the school district to advocate for any particular density on a piece of property being developed.
“We have a great county commission and that county commission is who will make the decision on the proper density,” Brown said. “Our job is to maximize the sales price.”
Taylor pointed out that what the developer wants is four times what is allowed on the property now and would require difficult and lengthy changes to county development rules if they could get them at all. The contract states that if the developer can’t get a site plan approved for 62 homes by Dec. 11 they can back out and the district gets the land back.
Murgio, who represents the Jupiter area, said he didn’t think Hovnanian would go forward with the deal if they couldn’t get the 62 homes approved. Murgio opposed the sale because he felt the district should hang onto because it might need a school more than 10 years in the future.
“I believe in land banking so we have land for future needs,” Murgio said.
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