Plans for a Palm Beach State College campus in Loxahatchee Groves, meticulously discussed for two years, have been threatened by a petition demanding a referendum on the project. It’s a bad situation all around, but the best course of action is to get through it as quickly as possible.
What looked like a done deal a few months ago could find itself tied up in years of expensive litigation. Opponents of the campus — who began circulating a petition last November to call a referendum — appear to have collected enough signatures to make it happen. Though we disagree that a referendum is needed, and believe that going back on the plan would be bad for the town, there’s a greater need to move forward expeditiously.
While some proponents of the campus believe that the petition and referendum are illegal — and they could be correct — fighting the idea at this point is likely going to make a bad situation worse. We expect, once presented with the facts, voters in Loxahatchee Groves will approve the campus, which is the quickest way to put the situation to rest.
For supporters of the petition, their argument seems to be twofold: first, that they were kept out of the planning process because the public workshops held on the issue were not properly advertised, and second, that having a college campus in Loxahatchee Groves is contrary to the town’s rural character. However, the former is not true — the workshops were all advertised and fairly well attended — and the latter is irrelevant; there was plenty of discussion over the rural-urban issue, but the time for discussion has long since ended. Even if it were still relevant, much of that debate was based on fears that it would resemble the college’s Lake Worth campus (or, even more off the mark, a residential campus).
Unfortunately, residents who haven’t paid attention until now have been presented only the opposition view of the project. The problem is that it’s forcing a black-and-white view on a complex issue, and they’re ignoring the larger context of the situation. This is about much more than just “keeping it rural” or “the people having a voice.” There are a few things being overlooked, most important among them: Palm Beach State College has already paid for the land; a step they took only after the necessary approvals were granted.
Another point campus opponents need to consider is the zoning of the location. If the college approval is overturned, it will revert to the previous mixed-use zoning and could end up in the hands of commercial developers. At the start of this process, a college campus was welcomed, since it would be a far less demanding use for the land than the previously approved mixed-use project.
This project wasn’t railroaded through with little debate or concern. A lot of work went into planning the proposed campus, and anyone who reads this newspaper knows how much town officials agonized over the “rural character” issue. In the long run, this campus will not only be good for the greater western communities, it will be good for Loxahatchee Groves — and that’s before even taking into account the legal and financial ramifications of trying to stop the campus at this point.
If there needs to be a vote, it’s crucial that it should be done as soon as possible. Our hope is that the community will support this worthy project and render the petition moot. If that does not happen, well, there’s plenty of time for the years of legal wrangling and likely financial consequences that will most assuredly follow.