The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council authorized its attorney and manager Tuesday to do whatever they must to resolve a dispute over the use of 8th Place North, a road with three property owners. One of them has erected a gate to claim the road as private.
Property owner Mark Jackson installed a fence at the north end of 8th Place North, restricting access for other property owners on the road, town staff reported. Loxahatchee Groves officials want to restore the road to its previous travel path, which the town asserts it has maintained for the past seven years.
Town Manager Bill Underwood said that he and Town Attorney Michael Cirullo have been trying to resolve the issue, after the council at a previous meeting agreed to take action.
Cirullo said that he has been in discussions with attorney Jeff Kurtz, who represents Jackson.
“We’re at a point where we need to try to either resolve it among the parties or decide if it’s worth the town’s resources and time to ask a judge to confirm whether this is a public road,” Cirullo said. “Mr. Kurtz and his client are of the firm opinion that it is not. We are in the process of gathering information.”
Cirullo recommended trying to negotiate an agreement before filing any litigation, which would require participation by all the property owners involved.
“Maybe collectively there could be some solution without everybody spending a lot of resources,” he said. “If that is not successful, I will come to you with an analysis at the next meeting.”
Kurtz discussed a letter from him to the town dated Nov. 10 alleging that the street is a private easement established by the original owners of the four lots adjoining the road. It connects to Collecting Canal Road to the south and runs north along the west side of D Road, then turns left to extend to the fourth property owner.
“It has been maintained since the very beginning by those property owners,” Kurtz said. “In some of my discussions with Mr. Cirullo, we’re on the same page as to what the law requires for a private road to become a public road, and that basically is seven years of maintenance.”
Kurtz said he has contacted town officials several times in the past few months asking them to prove that the town had maintained the road for the past seven years, but had not received a satisfactory answer.
“There has been no evidence presented of actual maintenance,” Kurtz said. “There were contracts that you had with the water control district that included this as a road to be maintained. There may be a difference of opinion historically between you and the district as to what a courtesy grading is.”
Kurtz said he has had conversations with Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District staff, including District Administrator Steve Yohe, who told him that no maintenance had been done on 8th Place North in compliance with the contract between the town and the district.
“I’m open to Mr. Cirullo’s suggestion,” Kurtz said. “I hope we can get this resolved, but if we get involved in litigation, it’s going to be the town’s burden to show that maintenance was begun more than seven years ago and was ongoing. We’ll be happy to work with you. In the meantime, I assume that the town is not going to trespass on the road.”
“We don’t consider it as trespass, but I think in the interest of trying to maintain the status quo and not agitate, we’re working around the issues,” Cirullo said.
Vice Mayor Tom Goltzené said he thought the discussion should include resolution of rock that had been put down on the road at the expense of the town, and Cirullo said that would be part of the discussion.
Councilman Ron Jarriel noted that the town, in an attempt to maintain the road, had to put down rock to fix problems there.
“I told management and I told the council to leave that road alone, just like the water control district,” Jarriel said.
Councilman Todd McLendon asked about the possibility of a closed session with the property owners, but Cirullo said that there has to be potential or actual litigation for such a meeting.
“My question is how many other roads are going to be saying they weren’t maintained,” McLendon said.
Goltzené said several roads could be called into question.
Mayor Dave Browning said that he knew the water control district had spent money on the road, and it was listed as one of those it maintained.
“We’ve taken roads off as people have come and said, ‘Look, I don’t want my road on there anymore,’” Browning said. “That never happened with this one until this blew up.”
He said the town also has statements from district staff stating that the road did not need maintenance.
“That doesn’t tell me that he looked at it and said it’s not a town road,” Browning said. “He looked at it and it doesn’t need work. That happened in a lot of places. It still meets the criteria of a town road.”
Browning added that the town’s solid waste collector Waste Pro recognizes 8th Place North as a town road.
“Their trucks go down it,” he said. “They’ve assured us they won’t go down that road if it’s private.”
Browning said that many residents appreciate their roads being maintained by the town.
Goltzené said other residents on the road bought property there under the assurance by the town that it was a public road.
Cirullo said that after his meeting with Kurtz, he would provide an analysis at the council’s next meeting, explaining that there are concerns beyond 8th Place North to be resolved.
In other business, the council agreed to hire outside counsel, code enforcement staff and a special magistrate to represent the town to resolve a code enforcement case with Councilman McLendon. A motion by Jarriel to approve the item carried 3-0, with McLendon recusing himself and Councilman Ryan Liang away from the dais.
The council also approved a letter of response to the Office of the Inspector General regarding the office’s recommendations for town management. A motion by Goltzené carried 4-0 with Liang away from the dais.