Faced with the possibility of losing some of the town’s office space to a new tenant, the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council directed its staff Tuesday to search for a new office location.
During his administrative update, Town Manager Mark Kutney said he had learned just recently that a U-Haul operation is seeking to occupy part of the town’s current office space at Palms West Plaza on Southern Blvd.
“This report troubles me,” he said. “It is not good news.”
Kutney said he learned of the situation when two people visited last week, “sizing up our offices and informing us that they were going to be taking over the space.”
He immediately contacted the landlord, Kan Yee of Yee’s Corp. “It turned out he did do some negotiations with them,” Kutney said, pointing out that the town’s current lease allows the landlord to attempt to secure tenants for portions of the town’s office space.
“If he is successful in acquiring an expected tenant, then he needs to give us a letter in writing, and then we have 15 days to vacate the space,” Kutney said, explaining that he and Councilman Ron Jarriel met with the landlord to find out his intentions.
Kutney said the landlord was not aware of the notice requirements. “He thought he could go ahead and do it,” he said. “I corrected him on that. I also informed him that we didn’t appreciate folks just dropping into our offices.”
Kutney noted that the prospective tenant wants the space that currently serves as a conference room and is also used by town committees.
“We’re at the point now where Councilman Jarriel did ask Mr. Yee if he had an alternate proposal or if he wanted to talk to us about making a different proposal, and he didn’t,” Kutney said. “We have started to look at various options. There aren’t a lot of options in the town.”
Thus far, Kutney has explored an office near Palms West Hospital and a private residence.
“We have even talked about the idea of possibly building a small town hall to meet our needs at F Road and Okeechobee where there seems to be a site we could work with,” he said, adding that they might occupy the space temporarily with some trailers. “We’re bouncing a number of issues around.”
Kutney is also exploring the town’s options at its current location. “I’ve asked the town attorney to take a look at the lease to see where we’re going, but we’re very unhappy because we thought we had a good arrangement with Mr. Yee,” he said. “We feel like we are a good tenant, and he’s not treating us the way he should. There is [other] available space in the center.”
Town Attorney Mike Cirullo said the lease expires in September 2013 but that it does allow the landlord to investigate leasing out some of the space currently occupied by the town.
Mayor Dave Browning asked whether the new tenant is going to operate a U-Haul business and store rental trailers in the parking lot. “You’ve got a parking lot there that’s approved for parking, not for staging a U-Haul business,” he said.
Councilman Jim Rockett noted that it might be time to discuss setting up permanent facilities for the town. “We’ve been in existence for a while now, and we’re still taking baby steps, I believe, but maybe we need to have serious discussion on the options of putting our own facility together,” he said.
Rockett pointed out that the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District office is the designated emergency operations center but that the office is not a hardened building and could be destroyed in a hurricane. He added that the town’s Community Emergency Response Team needs a good staging area for emergencies.
“If we had our own land or site, we could certainly create something that is a little better suited for what they need,” Rockett said.
Rockett said he would like to look at possible sites for the town to acquire and construct a facility that could serve as an office and emergency operations center.
“The thing that comes to mind is a hardened core of poured concrete block or concrete wall and ceiling and maybe have a central part to a facility that could be an emergency operations center,” he said.
Councilman Ryan Liang said the council needs to look at both long-term and short-term needs.
“I know that CERT keeps quite a few things in that second office, so you have to look at storage and also alternate meeting places for our committees, and then the other would be a long-term solution,” Liang said. “If we have to build a facility, obviously it’s not going to get built in less than a year. So, we have to think about short-term options as well.”
Jarriel said he had been under the impression that the town would be able to occupy its current offices until it could build a town center. “The shame is in all the work that our staff has put into upgrading those offices,” he said. “We finally had a place where our committees could meet.”
Jarriel asked that the council direct staff to come up with temporary solutions but also look into a more permanent solution.
“Now is the time to buy property if that’s what we want to do,” he said. “I’m thinking along the lines of modulars or something like that, but that would be more or less temporary.”
Councilman Tom Goltzené said building a town hall is not his priority, especially not on Okeechobee Blvd., and not when there is the possibility of developers building office space on B Road where they might be able to get the developer to build to the town’s needs under a long-term lease.
“I would have concerns about sinking a lot of money into any particular thing at this time because we have a lot of things we have to work through,” he said, adding that he felt it was unfortunate that the town is in this position. “I don’t know if there was some penny-wise and pound-foolishness in not securing these spaces. We certainly should pay more attention to that kind of stuff.”
Browning said if they were to build a town hall, “it would have to be very basic, attractive but very basic,” he said. “If we were to do it, now is probably the best time to do it because prices are the lowest in history. It does change our priority list and makes me glad I’ve got some money in the bank.”
In other business, the council agreed to discuss giving more money to the town’s management firm at a future meeting in order to accommodate the firm’s growing list of duties. The council also approved resurfacing of Bryan and Compton roads but voted down a motion to pave South D Road from Okeechobee Blvd. to Southern Blvd.