After two years of negotiations between Loxahatchee Groves and Palm Beach State College, the two sides sealed the deal earlier this year, bringing the school’s new campus to a site on Southern Blvd. Now the whole thing is being threatened by a petition with the goal of reversing the approval of the campus.
If the petition succeeds, a referendum would be called to overturn the town’s decision to approve the campus. The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council voted to move forward with the plan in August, and that vote came after more than a year of meetings and public hearings on the matter. And now there’s a petition? Not only is it poorly timed, but its intentions are misguided — and the consequences could be disastrous.
The petition argues that bringing a college campus to Loxahatchee Groves would undermine the town’s rural character in favor of a large-scale urban development. First of all, Palm Beach State College is hardly comparable to a university with a “party” atmosphere. It’s a commuter school. Many of the students attending the college are adults going back to school. Others are high school students in dual-enrollment programs or adults in job-training programs. This is the type of thing the area needs — something that will create jobs and produce a highly skilled workforce.
Second, a long-standing goal of the town has been to encourage reasonable development along Southern Blvd. and discourage it in the town’s interior. Not only does this project meet that goal, it is an improvement over the development previously planned for the site.
More important, a college campus is something the western communities has sought for a very long time, and now that we’re on the brink of seeing it become a reality, this petition could undo all the work both sides did in negotiating the deal. Town officials are worried the petition will affect their relations with the college, which could be left holding a $4.5 million parcel of land and nothing to do with it, should the petition succeed. And if that were to happen, it’s likely that cost would ultimately be passed on to Loxahatchee Groves taxpayers. The question is whether people are aware of these consequences when presented with the petition. It’s not as black-and-white as simply being a matter of campus versus no campus. That argument had its time and place, which was at the public hearings. Loxahatchee Groves doesn’t need a new wedge issue to cause another rift in the community, especially when the issue is not a new one at all.
Just think: Students in local elementary schools right now could have all their educational needs met without leaving the area. We supported putting a Palm Beach State College campus in Wellington when those plans were in the works a few years ago, and we were disappointed when they fell through. Now that our area finally has its chance to get a long-awaited college campus — and is much closer to seeing it through this time — it would be sad to see a repeat of the same thing.