Voting members of the Loxahatchee Groves Landowners’ Association decided last week to oppose a petition being circulated to have the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council reverse its approval for Palm Beach State College to establish its fifth campus in the community.
At the Nov. 15 meeting, Loxahatchee Groves Vice Mayor Jim Rockett said the petition could have grave repercussions for residents.
“From a perspective of landowners and residents, people should know if they sign, they should get an explanation of why they’re signing and what the implications are instead of just signing,” Rockett said.
In August, the council gave final approval to comprehensive plan amendments and a resolution that will allow PBSC to proceed with the development of its fifth campus on a 96.7-acre site on Southern Blvd. known as the Simon property.
Since the approval, several residents, including Thais Gonzalez and Todd McLendon, who were at the meeting, have been circulating a petition to stop the campus.
“If this attempt to get the council to reverse its position is successful, you’re talking about several thousand dollars per resident liability,” Rockett said. “You’re talking about taxes, compared to our tax revenue, is 20 times what we collect in any given year.”
Rockett asked that the LGLA consider taking a position to oppose the petition.
“It’s not for the good of the residents, certainly from a financial perspective,” he said. “I don’t know that any of that information is going to get out when people are approached to sign this petition, and it should be included.”
LGLA President Marge Herzog said she has tried to get college President Dr. Dennis Gallon to speak at one of their meetings. “Since he didn’t have everything firmed up, he has been putting us off,” she said.
Rockett said he thought Gallon had postponed speaking to the LGLA until the land purchase was finalized, which has been done, following to the council’s approval of the location. “If you will pardon the expression, the college is pregnant,” Rockett said. “Undoing that, we have to buy the baby if it goes that route, and that’s several thousand dollars per resident in this town.”
Rockett said he did not oppose residents voicing their opinion, but that they should be aware of the consequences. “It’s fine to agree to a position, but you need to know the facts before you put yourself at risk,” he said. “I would not tell anybody they should not exercise their freedoms, but they should understand the implications.”
Morley Schloss of Sunsport Gardens said circulators of the petition had asked him to support it. He said he would not, but he allowed them to leave a copy of it at his facility.
“It has sat there for about a week, and it has no signatures,” Schloss said. “There were loads of hearings. Everyone has had a chance to see, and there’s myths floating around like they’re going to put up dormitories, which is not true.”
Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Supervisor John Ryan made a motion to not support the petition, which was seconded by Rockett.
Ryan was concerned that people might sign the petition without fully considering the consequences. “I know how easy it is to take a petition and make it sound like motherhood and apple pie and get signatures,” he said. “People don’t think through what they’re doing, and that can be vastly misinterpreted.”
Robin McLeod, who is not a voting member, said he was from a college town where the student population had been a problem for the community.
“The people were more than upset with what had happened to their town because there would be all-night drinking and running around,” McLeod said. “The people in that neighborhood actually moved out because they couldn’t get a night’s sleep because of the ruckus.”
LGLA Member Nancy Handwerg said she attended PBSC and never encountered problems. “I went to several of their campuses for classes a couple of nights a week for a couple of years, and I never experienced that kind of issue,” she said. “A college town is a little different than a commuter college.”
Herzog pointed out that there will be no dormitories at the Loxahatchee Groves campus.
LGLA Member Ken Johnson said the biggest issue would be traffic since it is a commuter college.
“At the same time, the college is a better choice than letting it go to commercial, because the college isn’t open nights or Sundays,” Johnson said. “They are open till 10 o’clock, but they aren’t open until 1 o’clock or 2 o’clock in the morning.”
Pat Johnson, a teacher at the college for 31 years, said the average student is much older than at a typical four-year institution.
“Our students are parents, and they have kids,” Johnson said. “Yes, we do have some of the 18-year-olds, but predominantly, we have people coming back for second careers. It’s a very different kind of college. Crime is almost nonexistent.”
McLendon, one of the circulators of the petition, said his main concern about the college was what it would bring afterward. “It’s the first domino that falls,” he said. “That’s where the concern is. The campus is going to make it easier for more commercial development.”
He added that the warnings of higher taxes were scare tactics.
“That’s all nonsense,” McLendon said. “The town is not going to be forced to buy the property, no more than Callery-Judge would have to buy Loxahatchee Groves had they stopped incorporation.”
The goal, he said, is to preserve the rural lifestyle of the town. “Can someone please explain to me how a college preserves the rural lifestyle?” McLendon asked. “It doesn’t.”
Gonzalez said she thought the LGLA should not come out against the petition drive.
“We are here, the people of Loxahatchee Groves, all together we can make a decision,” she said. “I am a foreigner, as you know, and I moved to the United States because it is the land of the free and the home of the brave, and I don’t see any of that happening here.”
LGLA Member Dr. Bill Louda said the motion was to oppose the petition, not to ban anyone from circulating a petition.
Ryan pointed out that the council had conducted public hearings for two years about the college.
“We’ve got membership here, and we’ve got a motion and a second, and I think we ought to vote on it,” Ryan said. “So let’s go ahead as an organization, take a vote and go forward.”
The motion to oppose the petition carried 9-2.