The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council took steps Tuesday to begin resolving issues regarding road ownership and goals for road paving.
Mayor Dave Browning was absent from Tuesday’s special meeting, and Councilman Tom Goltzené left early, leaving Vice Mayor Ron Jarriel and councilmen Ryan Liang and Jim Rockett to debate.
Town Manager Mark Kutney said that Goltzené had brought up the issue of road ownership at the board’s last meeting.
“Most of the town roads are easements cobbled together to form a public road system, not in the town’s ownership,” Kutney said, explaining that Goltzené was trying to ascertain whether the town needs to acquire some type of claim to ownership that will enable it to make future improvements.
Jarriel noted that the town is working with the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District to transfer ownership of the roads recently paved with open-graded emulsified mix (OGEM), but Goltzené said his concern is not so much with the district roads as non-district roads that the town does not have clear title to.
“Can we get the same thing done for the non-district town roads?” Goltzené asked, explaining that council members had discussed the issue in the past as it relates to Marcella Blvd. and Compton and Bryan roads.
He asked whether the form that was used to gain title to Bryan Road would be appropriate for other roads, and said the town should come up with a process to get it done. “They asked people, ‘Do you want to be a road?’ I’d like to take the first step in that process if that’s what we’re going to do,” Goltzené said.
Town Attorney Mike Cirullo said the form was prepared by the LGWCD with Bryan Road in mind, but could be used for any road.
In the process for Compton and Marcella, each property owner signed a dedication that had a legal description of the easement.
“It was accepted by the water control district on behalf of the public,” Cirullo said. “I thought that was a model we could use perhaps as a point of conversation for starting the process for doing a more formal documentation of roads that have been used around here for a long time.”
Cirullo added that implementation of the form takes time and money because each of the roads was done based on a survey and legal description. He said the process would begin by selecting some roads for improvement and seeing how the system works.
Rockett asked whether the town was going to have to go to every property owner, and Cirullo said the priority would probably be for those roads where there is a need or desire for paving.
“We could do it differently for different roads depending on how the council wishes to proceed,” Cirullo said.
Rockett said the council had separated Marcella Blvd. and Compton and Bryan roads in previous discussions because they are already surfaced and in need of repair.
“As for the discussion on the rest of the town roads, if we’re looking for a regularized way, to me we already have it,” he said. “I’m certainly not interested in spending that kind of money in terms of the work that would go into every single road. I don’t think it’s necessary to just identify the roads as we already have for a number of years. If they are town roads, they need to be maintained.”
Kutney said the town management has a quandary in that it gets calls from residents asking for maintenance or improvements. “These town roads are all different based on the level of treatment they have received over the years,” he said. “The concern is that since the easements have been cobbled together, the image out there is that they are public roads, but are they really?”
Bill Underwood, CEO of Underwood Management Services Group, the town’s contracted management firm, said he has concerns about the town’s road policy as it relates to the collection and expenditure of gas tax money, explaining that he had expressed concerns in the past regarding roads that might actually be private.
Jarriel said he thought the time was getting close that the town could legally claim many of the roads because it has had an interlocal agreement with the LGWCD.
“I’m not going to support spending a fortune for surveys and time to get people to give their property over to the town,” Jarriel said, adding that he would prefer to have residents agree to let the town have easements so it could take care of their roads.
Jarriel said the district has made progress in getting clear title to the paved portions of A, C and D roads that it plans to turn over to the town. He said he did not agree with the management firm’s concerns about clear title to roads for gas tax expenditures because the town had followed the Palm Beach County League of Cities’ recommended procedures.
“Legal says we can use it; management says they’re not sure about it,” Jarriel said. “If I have to pick who I’m going to go with, I’m going to go with legal.”
Goltzené said the issue was over Florida Statute 95.361, which states that when a road constructed by a governmental agency has been maintained or repaired continuously for four years, it shall be deemed to be dedicated to the public.
“The problem is they don’t want to ask you [the residents] because some of you will say no,” Goltzené said. “They will instead say they have been grading it, and some of you have been asking for it, and then you’ll lose your land. I’m not going to [stay] for the rest of this. Also, before I leave, I want to say I support the management team. I don’t know why we hired them if we don’t want to listen to them.”
Liang said he understood the hesitation in getting legal descriptions. “I think that in the long term, we’re going to have to do it eventually,” he said. “We need to bite the bullet and accept the fact that any roads we are going to claim as a town road, no matter which method we use, we are going to have to get legal descriptions.”
Jarriel said he thought future road policy should be discussed in a workshop with the mayor present.
Rockett made a motion to get bids for resurfacing or repairing Marcella Blvd., Compton and Bryan roads, as well as some other paved roads in the town’s jurisdiction, and it carried 3-0.
Jarriel said problems have also arisen with some residents closing off roads with gates or putting signs up saying “residents and guests only,” although some of the roads have several residences on them, which threw into question whether they were public roads or not, although they have been maintained by the district or town.
Jarriel asked whether the roads should be taken off the gas tax map or the residents should be asked to remove the signs and/or gates.
Rockett said he believed town officials should inform the residents that if they choose to make it a private road, they would lose the support of the town in maintaining their road, or should be informed what they are giving up.
Kutney suggested that he have the public works director go out and talk to them.
“If that doesn’t resolve the issue, they could get an informal letter from the town manager, and if that isn’t successful, I would have what I would call a formal letter from the town attorney,” he said. “If they ignore it, then they’re certainly a candidate for a private road, and not a public road and all that goes with that.”
Liang made a motion supporting Kutney’s recommendation, which carried 3-0.
The council also approved the town’s gas tax road map, minus about 2 miles of roads that have gates or signs posted, until town management might be able clear up the related issues. That motion also carried 3-0.