Groves Council Denies Day Property Project

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council deadlocked 2-2 Tuesday on an application to change the land use for 9.3 acres at the southwest corner of Folsom Road and Okeechobee Blvd. from rural residential to low-density commercial.

The Day property application was going through the first reading of its land use change, and although that would require only a simple majority vote to approve, the second and final reading will require a super-majority of 4-1 to amend the town’s comprehensive plan, according to Town Attorney D.J. Doody.

Councilman Tom Goltzené did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, which featured a standing-room-only crowd of about 50 residents. Most speakers were against the application.

Planning consultant Jim Fleischmann said that the Day property met all requirements for a small-scale land-use amendment. The land has 655 feet fronting Okeechobee Blvd., a county-designated collector road, and 570 feet on Folsom Road, an urban local road in the town’s plan, he said. “Okeechobee and Folsom are the only two roads in town with these designations,” he said.

Adjacent are a 19-acre vacant parcel to the north, Folsom Farms’ 9.4-acre commercial landscape nursery to the south, a planned residential development to the east in Royal Palm Beach and the 35,000-square-foot Red Barn retail commercial feed store, paint store and dance studio on 4.9 acres to the west.

The current future land-use designation for the Day property is one residential unit per 5 acres, and the application would have changed the designation to commercial low on all the property, he said. The applicant had revised a previous proposal, which came up in January, that called for two different designations of commercial low on 4.9 acres and commercial low office on 4.3 acres.

If the amendment had been approved, it would have reduced the requested square footage from a maximum of 40,510 square feet of commercial space, which had been reduced by almost 19,000 square feet from the previously requested commercial retail and office space.

All infrastructure needs would be met if the application were approved, Fleischmann said.

“Okeechobee and Folsom are the two highest-designated roadways outside of Southern Blvd. within the town,” he said. “We felt that a residential [land use] of one unit per five acres would not be appropriate for the site and a more intensive commercial development was more appropriate.”

Fleischmann added that the proposed floor area ratio for commercial low would allow space for extensive landscaping buffers.

Looking at consistency with the comp plan, Fleischmann said there is no language that prohibits or supports commercial development on Okeechobee Blvd. “We went to the future land-use element, which is the principal directive for the town in the comprehensive plan governing land-use decisions including amendments,” which says the town should protect residential and agricultural uses and encourage limited economic growth.

Conditions attached to the project would incorporate Rural Vista guidelines and require the developer to coordinate connectivity with Red Barn to reduce traffic impact.

The Loxahatchee Groves Planning & Zoning Board recommended approval in a 3-2 vote.

Mayor Dave Browning said the intent of the comprehensive plan was to have commercial development along Southern Blvd. and low-impact non-residential along Okeechobee Blvd.

“I’m having a hard time seeing how this is consistent with the comp plan,” he said. “Honestly, I’m a little flabbergasted. I put a lot of years in the neighborhood plan. We kept saying low-impact non-residential on Okeechobee, and the commercial was going to go to Southern, and when we put our comp plan together, we said low-impact non-residential.”

Browning said that commercial uses on Okeechobee were to be considered case-by-case, “and then you’re coming to me with a staff recommendation that is based on a property that has uses from property line to property line, road to back. I can’t see how you say it is consistent with the comp plan,” he added.

Kieran Kilday of Urban Design Kilday Studios, the land planner for the project, said they had reduced the floor area ratio in order to comply.

“To give you an idea what this means, the Red Barn has 35,000 square feet on 4.9 acres, roughly half the acreage that we have,” he said. “We’re asking for 40,000 square feet, only 5,000 more, on 9.3 acres. We definitely heard you.”

But Browning also pointed out that the Day family had developed the Red Barn property through the county at an intensity much higher than residents wanted.

“I think it’s something we need to address,” Browning said. “I think we’ve moved in the right direction… [but] I was hoping for a little more movement.”

During public comment, resident Ilene Rindom was one of more than a dozen speakers opposing the application. She said that when the Red Barn asked for zoning changes, residents were told it was for a hay and feed store and small engine and tractor repair shop. “There’s a paint store and a dance studio,” Rindom said. “We were lied to once; shame on them.”

Rindom said she has been involved in many workshops and neighborhood plan meetings where there was always a consensus that Southern was where residents want commercial. “The wording in the comp plan and neighborhood plan was forced down our throats by the county,” she said.

Okeechobee Blvd. resident Gaye Hankla was one of few who spoke for the application. “I support Bill Day because this property is unique. You already have commercial next door, and anybody who owns on Okeechobee that doesn’t live there, check out their taxes. What is their property really worth? You can’t sell it; you can’t develop it. What good is it?” Hankla said.

Hankla said residents of Okeechobee Blvd. asked to meet with the town council and were denied. “I have two acres. I can’t develop it. Commercial is really useless to me. You think Okeechobee is beautiful? It looks like trash to me — vacant, and nobody can do anything with their property,” she said.

Planning & Zoning Board Member Grace Joyce, a professional planner, said parts of the comp plan need to be addressed and that Fleishmann did the best he could under the regulations. “For a year now, I have been stating we need to look at the comp plan because there is no vision for Okeechobee,” Joyce said. “Time and time again, I have been knocked down with that request.”

Councilman Ron Jarriel said he thought the Day application is the only one that qualifies for a land-use change under existing regulations and would favor the project.

Councilman Jim Rockett said he’d listened to the people. “I’m looking for what the people here tonight had to say,” he said.

Councilman Ryan Liang said he’d prefer commercial on Southern Blvd. first, but felt the applicant had met all the requirements to at least pass its first reading.

Jarriel made a motion to accept the application’s first reading. The motion was seconded by Liang, but failed 2-2 with Browning and Rockett opposed.