Kushner Targets Agricultural Reserve

Article Courtesy of  The Boca Magazine

By Randy Schultz

Published April 22, 2021


A new county commissioner represents the Agricultural Reserve Area, but the perceived threats to the reserve remain.

In November, former State Sen. Maria Sachs succeeded Mary Lou Berger, who had been term-limited. The District 5 seat includes almost all of the roughly 20,000-acre reserve, which runs from Clint Moore Road to Lantana Road west of Florida’s Turnpike.

Those who want to preserve farming and limit added development face two new issues. One is the project we will discuss today. The other is a land swap involving the Lake Worth Drainage District and GL Homes, the largest developer in the reserve. We will discuss that later.

Kushner Companies wants to build a one million-square-foot distribution warehouse on 51 acres just west of the turnpike on the north side of Atlantic Avenue. That’s Kushner Companies as in Charles Kushner, father of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Morningstar Nursery owns the land, which is just east of the Delray Marketplace. Kushner seeks a rezoning from agricultural to industrial. A representative of Urban Design Studio, Kushner’s agent, said the company is “working out a few matters on the site plan/zoning.” He does not know when the project might go before the county planning commission, the advisory review board.

Critics—and there will be many—will argue that allowing an Amazon-like facility would go against the wishes of voters who in 1999 approved $100 million in bonds to retain as much farming as possible. No one from the county sought this change. The request comes from Kushner and Morningstar.

In addition, critics will argue that the warehouse would be the latest in a series of changes that threaten to tip the reserve inexorably toward suburban development. Proponents have called each change a small one, yet the effect has been significant.

Indeed, Kushner’s application notes this history. Since the adoption of the reserve’s master plan, the company states, “a number of amendments have been made to allow for planned residential development, multiple use planned development, and traditional marketplace developments. These amendments have resulted in a significant increase in the number of people living and working within the Ag Reserve.”

Kushner also notes that planners envisioned industrial use within the reserve. Mostly, though, Kushner says that its project would be compatible because of all the other exceptions the county commission has allowed.

Planners did always envision some residential development and two centers of commercial development, one of which is Delray Marketplace. They assumed, though, that any industrial projects would be farm-related. Perhaps that’s why planners didn’t put a cap on industrial development within the reserve.

According to its website, Kushner Companies is involved with other projects in South Florida, though Star Key is the only industrial development. Michelle Damone is Sachs’ chief of staff. On Monday, she said the office had received “about 200 emails” opposing the project.

In addition, the Delray Alliance–composed of homeowner associations in West Delray–said the group could not support the project as currently designed. On March 18, the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations sent a letter to Sachs and her colleagues opposing the warehouse.

The project, COBWRA wrote, “is contrary to the very rules designed to protect (the Agricultural Reserve Area) and ensure its preservation for generations to come.” COBWRA President Beth Rappaport told me, “No one is clamoring for industrial warehouses in the reserve. We strongly oppose the project.”