Elected officials should uphold public consensus in public policy, not just the opinions of a few people at a few meetings. And a state college campus is not just a building, it is a development of local, regional and state impact, with people, policies and regulations that would dominate Loxahatchee Groves. This is clear from the council’s premature acceptance of college plans before rural town voters had a chance to vote against the college project. Now the council is embarrassed and voters are intimidated, but they should all just stop and think.
The council should have said no to the project, because for almost 100 years, Loxahatchee Groves has been one of the few havens for people who want an agricultural/residential lifestyle and activities that are not allowed in the urban areas of Palm Beach County. In fact, the majority of residents wanted Loxahatchee Groves to stay a rural community, and hundreds of residents attended years of community meetings and public hearings to meticulously document public consensus in a neighborhood plan and the rural tier policy of Palm Beach County’s national, award-winning comprehensive land use plan. “Love it and Leave it Alone” public consensus limited new non-residential buildings in Loxahatchee Groves to rural design and neighborhood serving uses of residential scale, like the Red Barn and Everglades Farm Equipment. But just as Loxahatchee Groves was ready to become a legal rural community in the county charter, some people with “Rural Town” T-shirts and white cowboy hats, but no written rural town plan, lobbied for city government to “save Loxahatchee Groves,” so voters made Loxahatchee Groves a city in 2006 and elected local people to be their public servants.
But after city government replaced the county’s rural tier public consensus, a rural town plan never appeared. Instead, council members seem to have plans to squash small rural businesses, support unspecific, unnecessary and excessive “mixed use” projects, and make Loxahatchee Groves a college town. Now think ahead. Rural residents would not be isolated in a college-controlled town, since hundreds of pro-college voters can live anywhere in the city and vote to change regulations for everyone in the city, not just land on Southern and Okeechobee boulevards.
Will a college town council keep Okeechobee Blvd. from being stripped out with commercial buildings, apartments and condos and extended past the L-8 Canal so Big Sugar can build housing developments on it? Why delay final limits on traffic and development of the county highway through the middle of town? A rural town hall by Fire Station 21 in the exact heart of this square-shaped town would centralize community services and public participation. But most important, the civic landmarks and traffic-calming design of the main street of an actual rural town would structure development and hinder pass through traffic, on Loxahatchee Groves’ stretch of county highway, reducing need for extension further west to handle traffic from new development.
So is the purpose of city government to develop and urbanize Loxahatchee Groves more than county government? Will voters say no to the college and keep Loxahatchee Groves rural for the future? Developers and politicians are on the edge of their seats.
Editor’s note: Ms. Miller was a longtime Loxahatchee Groves resident who was a leader in the pre-incorporation managed growth and sector plan processes.