Lox Council OKs New Development Moratorium

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council approved a six-month moratorium Tuesday on further development applications until the council can refine portions of the town’s comprehensive plan to reflect its intentions for commercial development on Okeechobee and Southern boulevards.

The moratorium, which Town Attorney Michael Cirullo described as a “zoning in progress” measure, comes in the aftermath of an application for commercial development by the owners of the Day property at Folsom Road and Okeechobee Blvd. That proposal was turned down earlier this month, generating much discussion about the direction of the town’s commercial development.

Town Manager Mark Kutney said there is a lack of consensus on commercial development along Okeechobee Blvd. “There are a lot of different opinions out there,” Kutney said. “There is no prevailing opinion other than there is concern about commercial on Okeechobee.”

Kutney said more public workshops had been proposed, but he felt that idea would not be productive due to the lack of consensus.

“We simply need to do amendments to the plan,” he said, explaining that they need review policies and language related to Okeechobee and Southern boulevards. “Words mean things in the comprehensive plan.”

As an example, Kutney said the expression in the comp plan to “encourage limited economic development on Okeechobee Blvd.” is confusing.

“The word ‘encourage’ is very weak; what we consider a weasel word,” he said.

Kutney also brought up a reference to the use of the word “concentration” of commercial development on Southern Blvd., explaining that might give the impression to some people that commercial development is going to be quite intensive. “I don’t know that that’s the direction we’re thinking of,” he said. “We’re potentially creating expectations of development.”

Kutney suggested that one method of controlling development on Okeechobee Blvd. might be to come up with a concept such as “neighborhood activity centers” or “neighborhood spheres of activity” and designating two or three intersections for those purposes. “When you do that,” he said, “you would be telling the applicant, and we would put this in the comprehensive plan, which gives you the control.”

Having the areas more clearly defined would also give the town some flexibility as to design, rather than be put in a defensive mode when applications are submitted, Kutney said.

“You would have them come in and require that in conjunction with this plan amendment, they would provide a sector plan, which means that they tell you how much they are going to allocate, how many acres and for what uses,” Kutney said. “You would also have them provide a market study.”

Councilman Ryan Liang suggested referring the recommendations to the town’s Planning & Zoning Board, which has several planners on it, as well as the town’s planning consultant Jim Fleischmann, for a more in-depth presentation to the council.

Councilman Ron Jarriel agreed that amendments to the comp plan are needed.

Councilman Tom Goltzené said he would favor a moratorium in order to give the town an opportunity to step back and address various issues in the comp plan that have arisen.

He said he had become particularly concerned when staff had recommended approval of development plans such as the Day property, which they said were consistent with the comp plan but were ultimately voted down by the council.

“I’m not in any way attempting to derail anything that’s in the works right now,” Goltzené said. “I was not looking to do that in a moratorium, and I’m certainly looking to the council to assist in what we’re trying to rein in here… I think that what we want to do is get our comp plan consistent with what we as a council and what we as a town feel is appropriate.”

Mayor Dave Browning said one of the things that he thought needs to be done is to reduce the allowable floor-area ratio for commercial development on Okeechobee Blvd., pointing out that currently it’s 10 percent on Southern Blvd., and that 5 percent would be more appropriate for Okeechobee Blvd. “You’d have more trees, more buffer, more area to separate,” Browning said.

Kutney said all the floor-area ratios probably need to be reviewed.

Liang made a motion for a six-month moratorium, not including existing projects that are underway. The motion carried unanimously.