Legally adopted town ordinances (2012-04 and 2012-5) will permit Palm Beach State College to locate a 75-acre western communities campus at the northwest corner of Southern Blvd. and B Road in Loxahatchee Groves. The town council is already on record in support of the PBSC campus site through its ordinance votes. The current PBSC opposition petition seeks an illegal repeal of these ordinances through a referendum vote.
Currently, taxpayer money is required to be used by the town to carry out confirming legal research and the literal petition/referendum process outlined in the town charter. As a taxpayer, I object to this waste of town time and taxpayer money on an illegal referendum process. Let’s consider these relevant facts:
1) After the town fulfilled all required procedures (including planning and zoning committee reviews, multiple PBSC presentations at town council meetings, and a PBSC workshop presentation, all advertised public meetings), and town council members had individual discussions with residents who contacted them, the town council passed the subject ordinances. Following this, PBSC completed negotiations with the property owner that were conditioned on the subject ordinances and purchased the 75-acre campus site for $4.5 million.
2) F.S. 163.3167(8) states that, “An initiative or referendum process in regard to any development order or in regard to any local comprehensive plan amendment or map amendment is prohibited.” Relevant general wording in the Loxahatchee Groves Town Charter does not qualify for an exemption to this prohibition.
3) The current PBSC opposition petition’s stated purpose is to repeal town ordinances 2012-04 and 2012-05 that amended the town’s comprehensive plan and land use map to permit the PBSC campus on the northwest corner of Southern Blvd. and B Road.
4) Any illegal repeal of the adopted town ordinances as a result of a majority yes vote in a referendum would inordinately burden PBSC’s right to use the 75-acre site for a western communities campus.
PBSC’s attorney has already advised the town that such a referendum vote would be illegal and, if it went forward and the subject ordinances were rescinded, the town would be exposed to liability under several legal principles — possibly including Florida’s Bert Harris Act which states in relevant part that, “Whenever a specific action of a governmental entity has inordinately burdened an existing use of real property or a vested right to a specific use of real property, the property owner of that real property is entitled to relief.” (F.S. 70.001(2))
The town’s exposure to litigation would more likely include a traditional tort damage claim that, without the ability to use the 75 acres for a college campus, the property has no value to PBSC and would not have been purchased. The damage claim may even involve the original property owner and be resolved under settlement provisions of the Bert Harris Act or other court supervised mediation. If not settled, the PBSC claim would likely proceed to the state legislature for relief in the form of the town (i.e. landowner taxpayers) repaying PBSC its purchase price of $4.5 million and certain allowed additional expenses. For perspective, the current town ad valorem millage rate of 1.2 mills of assessed property value provides $206,025 revenues to the town. A property purchase refund payment from the town to PBSC of $4.5 million would require a one-time additional millage rate of 26.21 mils or a $26.21 special tax per $1,000 assessed property value. For example, $655 for $25,000 property value; $1,310 for $50,000 property value; $2,621 for $100,000 property value, etc.
No landowner wants or needs any tax financed repayment exposure to PBSC. The town does not need a $4.5 million 75-acre site for future use, or to be involved in speculative land resale of a 75-acre commercial site. While a majority no referendum vote (not to repeal the subject ordinances) is expected, inadequate public information is a problem and risk at this time. The town should inform landowners and registered voters in Loxahatchee Groves of the town’s official concerns by mailing a cover letter and double-sided copy of town council resolution 2012-22 (dated Dec. 4) to all registered voter households. The town should not risk losing the benefits of a western communities PBSC campus on the southern border of our community if at all possible.
Editor’s note: Mr. Ryan is an elected supervisor of the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District.