Members of the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council are disappointed if not angry at the Florida Department of Transportation’s report on retention pond siting in preparation for the widening of Southern Blvd.
Southern Blvd. is the area that Loxahatchee Groves anticipates as its commercial center, and many of the projected retention sites are in that area, rather than to the north of the commercial zone, as council members had requested at public hearings.
Town Manager Mark Kutney gave an update on the pond siting at the council’s meeting May 21, explaining that he and Vice Mayor Ron Jarriel had attended FDOT’s final public hearing May 8.
“What they did was a very elaborate matrix,” Kutney said. “Basically, our role is limited to input on certain parcels. We didn’t really have any decision-making capability. It’s all being done by FDOT and their experts.”
There are five basins that FDOT is looking at in the widening project, with the westernmost running from west of Lion Country Road to Seminole Pratt Whitney Road. The second runs from Seminole Pratt almost to A Road. The third runs from A Road to D Road, the fourth is from D Road to F Road and the fifth is from F Road to Folsom. Several parcels are sited in each basin, listed in the matrix as potential water retention sites and given rankings.
“As they have explained it to us, in each basin they need one parcel,” Kutney said, explaining that each parcel is ranked for the FDOT’s preference, and it will focus first on taking the site with the highest ranking.
More than a dozen sites are under consideration in Loxahatchee Groves between A Road and Folsom, Kutney said. From D Road to F Road, the parcel ranked highest was one owned by Drysdale Realty. “They have made their position known that they are not happy,” Kutney said, noting that there are a total of five potential parcels in that basin.
The parcel running from F Road to Folsom had a number of potential sites, including one that FDOT had indicated had potential joint use with the town, Kutney said, explaining that they had discussed one of the parcels as a potential future town hall site.
“What they had talked about was they needed the property for their pond and we would work out a joint use with them,” he said.
Kutney added that FDOT seemed to ignore commercial zoning by the town on some of the parcels. “The town had made it very clear, I think Mr. Jarriel was very eloquent in telling them that, please, be cognizant that this is our commercial corridor, and if we could, let’s try to move these ponds to the rear of the properties over by Collecting Canal,” Kutney said.
Kutney said FDOT maintenance representatives were concerned about the cost of laying pipe to a retention pond farther from the road. “Unfortunately, it just seems that most of the parcels are closer to Southern,” he said. “So, the process is ended and we’re waiting to hear what they have to say. I’ll be getting in contact with all the property owners, and we’ll be moving forward from here.”
Councilman Tom Goltzené said that not only did Jarriel inform them about the town’s preference to have the retention ponds away from Southern, but previous Town Manager Frank Spence, former Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Administrator Clete Saunier and he himself all had relayed the same message over the past two years.
“Apparently, the aspect of community involvement is very low on the matrix,” Goltzené said.
Mayor Dave Browning asked about the potential joint-use parcel, and Kutney said he did not have details. “What they would do is they would give the use of the property that’s going to be the pond to the town,” Kutney said. “They just want the easements to make sure that they can maintain the pond, and we can use the property for whatever we want as long as it didn’t threaten the integrity of the pond.”
Kutney added, however, that he did not know how much land would remain after FDOT creates the water retention area.
Browning said he found it ironic that FDOT seems to choose the sites that are desirable for other purposes. “They don’t really listen or care about what anybody else does along there, which is a shame,” he said.
Jarriel said FDOT representatives had implied they were going to make the acquisitions worthwhile to the town, but the final result has not been determined.
“They want to take property that we are going to allow to be commercial, and turn it into a retainment center,” he said. “That hurts the town and it hurts the developers as far as commercial, and it doesn’t do us any good at all. It cuts our revenue, and that property, because it’s zoned commercial, costs them three or four times more than what the property on the back side would be. I’m very disappointed, but I’m not surprised. They led us to believe they were going to work with this town, and they didn’t.”
Goltzené said he had attended several of the meetings in which FDOT had indicated it would work with the town. “It all really relates to their construction cost,” he said. “Everything else was an irrelevancy, whether people wanted to sell their property, whether we wanted it to be here or there. Any of that ranked so low that in the end it was, ‘How many pipes do I have to lay end-to-end.’ The fewest gets it, and if you look, that’s what happened in every single instance — the shortest distance won.”