Forget hitching posts that might have been envisioned at the new Palm Beach State College campus in Loxahatchee Groves. Horses, and the public use of Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District maintenance easements, are not welcome on the campus due to safety concerns, according to college officials.
The LGWCD Board of Supervisors approved an interlocal agreement with the Town of Loxahatchee Groves for the use of recreational trails on district easements Monday that excluded public access to a district-owned easement on the west side of the college campus, which is under construction.
The exclusion came at the chagrin of several supervisors and residents who questioned why the exclusion was imposed so long after the campus had been approved.
LGWCD Administrator Steve Yohe said the Town of Loxahatchee Groves had been reluctant to sign the agreement since the college expressed concern that the town may choose to utilize the maintenance berm alongside the west side of the college as a recreational trail. As a result, the town manager decided to exclude that portion of the easement.
Attorney Brian Seymour, representing the college, said the primary issue was a safety and security concern for college staff and students.
“The removal of that from the horse trail is a critical element; it’s not the only element,” Seymour said. “The college asked me to come here tonight to thank you for considering this.”
Seymour also asked that the district exclude a northern buffer that had been included in the original agreement as a potential horse trail, and that the entire campus be excluded from potential recreational trails.
“There’s a couple of things that we’d ask of you this evening,” he said. “[Including] a proposed additional condition… for the perpetual use permit, so that it’s clear that the entirety of the Palm Beach State property be excluded.”
Seymour offered a document that would exclude the entire campus property, but LGWCD Chair Frank Schiola said the matter at hand was the district’s western easement of the campus property.
“This is probably not the time to be doing that,” Schiola said, explaining that the district’s attorney needed to look at it. “This is pretty much the eleventh hour.”
Seymour said he would leave the document with the attorney and board members for future consideration.
“The next step is really what comes next,” he said. “That condition is really the confirmation that there wouldn’t be the horse trails on the college property. There’s also still an open issue on the maintenance easement itself. The college is in a very unique circumstance and a unique property owner in the town because it is a government agency.”
Seymour reiterated that the college’s concern was security and safety, adding that the college wants to put up fences separating the maintenance easements, giving the district full access to them, but not the public. “Being a public agency, with all the students coming around, we need that extra level of security,” he said.
Schiola asked why the college had waited until now to bring up the issue.
“This is something that has been going on for quite a while, and now we’re just getting this at this meeting tonight,” he said.
Seymour said the issue of horse trails on campus had been discussed nine months ago with district staff.
“Tonight is the first night that the horse trails [issue] is being resolved, at least and particularly on that west side,” he said.
LGWCD Attorney Mary Viator recommended that the board consider the perpetual-use agreement before them, which included the exclusion of the maintenance easement on the west side of the campus, and that the exclusion of other maintenance easements on campus could be taken up later.
Supervisor Laura Danowski agreed with Schiola that this was a late time to bring up the public access question, and Seymour said that if the board approved the agreement that evening, excluding the western easement, it would cover the most significant issue for the college.
During public comment, Loxahatchee Groves Councilman Ron Jarriel urged the board to go ahead and approve the agreement before them.
“It seems like it’ll satisfy the town and nobody will have any excuses why we can’t get started on the horse trails,” Jarriel said, adding that other easements were available that the town could use to complete connections for a recreational trail. “The main thing is the perpetual permit amendment long overdue.”
Former LGWCD Supervisor John Ryan said the easement on the west side of the canal outside the campus could serve as a recreational trail that could complete the connection.
Supervisor Don Widing made a motion to approve the agreement, which carried 5-0.