The Palm Beach County Commission gave final approval to the annual update of its five-year road plan Tuesday, but without plans to pave Lyons Road through Palm Beach Ranchettes.
Lyons Road is the county’s designated reliever road for State Road 7 when it is eight lanes and over capacity. However, Lyons Road currently does not go all the way through because a bridge has not been constructed to connect the portions of Lyons Road between Discovery Key Elementary School just north of Lake Worth Road and Stribling Way just south of Wellington’s Olympia neighborhood.
The missing stretch is known as Frontier Avenue in the Palm Beach Ranchettes community. If paved and connected, Lyons Road would bisect the neighborhood. Area residents have been fighting the connection for at least two decades.
“You heard this already, but what you have before you today is a recommended change by staff based on a public meeting we had at the Ranchettes community,” County Engineer George Webb told commissioners.
Webb said staff had recommended allocating some money in 2016 to pave the shellrock road portion through the Ranchettes. “When we brought that up at the Ranchettes meeting, the residents overwhelmingly said they were not interested,” he said. “They liked their shellrock road, and the county should just stay away and leave it alone.”
Webb said county staff recommended removing the money that had been allocated for paving Lyons Road.
“Also at that meeting, the residents had two other issues with the future Lyons Road,” Webb said. “One of the issues is the right-of-way width that you have specified already in your comprehensive plan that has been there for about 15 years. They questioned if it could be smaller.”
Ranchettes residents also questioned the three lanes proposed ultimately for Lyons Road. “Staff has proposed a three-lane section with a two-way left turn in the middle,” Webb said. “You have told us not to do anything as far as right-of-way acquisition until we bring that item back to you. The lanes and the right-of-way width are not part of this board item.”
Webb said he planned to bring a separate lane plan back to the commission in the first few months of 2014 for public discussion.
“The focus today is on Lyons Road within the Ranchettes,” Webb said. “It was not well-received by the community, so staff now is recommending that the board just go back to the status quo and not show any construction there.”
Commissioner Steven Abrams asked whether the money could be moved to the roads of some of his constituents who wanted curbing, but Webb said the money was from impact fees and had to be used for capacity improvements, such as paving what is not currently a paved road or adding lanes.
Webb noted that in 1999, the commission adopted a 100-foot right of way for Lyons Road from Lake Worth Road to Southern Blvd. and that it currently has a 100-foot right of way everywhere except the Ranchettes.
Ranchettes resident Nick Rotenberger said that instead of three lanes, most of the residents would prefer two, which would take up only 80 feet, instead of 100 feet. He said information passed out to residents two years ago showed only an 80-foot right of way.
“The concern is that the residents don’t want the road going through,” he said. “If it’s going to go through at some point in time out of our control, it doesn’t need to be wider than it needs to be. We only need two lanes, and that would take only 15 feet in front of my house. Taking 25 feet is going to be devastating.”
Rotenberger said that residents also were concerned that paving the road would make it easier for developers to pay for the bridge construction.
Ranchettes resident Dave Elder opposed the Lyons Road extension because he believed it would destroy the character of the neighborhood. “It’s an equestrian community, and I’m really opposed to the whole Lyons connection,” he said.
Elder added that he thought the comprehensive plan failed to consider the Ranchettes and that concerns about SR 7 should be resolved without affecting them.
“Everything else on Lyons are gated communities,” he said. “I have six kids and two dogs. I don’t want that type of traffic… Wellington’s doing all the building. Why should we have to pay for it?”
Ranchettes property owner Andy Schaller said Lyons Road was never intended to go down Frontier Road, but farther east on Blanchette Trail.
“We’d like to keep the road, if it has to go through, to two lanes, and we’d like traffic calming,” Schaller said, pointing out that the original plan called for roundabouts and/or speed bumps.
Commissioner Jess Santamaria said he believed it was his responsibility to protect the interests of residents no matter where they live, and compared the issue before the commissioners to action they had taken a few weeks earlier to protect residents of the Westwood neighborhood several miles north by not approving an entrance to Pioneer Road from a planned commercial development.
“Once again, we are faced with a similar situation here where Lyons Road would negatively impact the character and quality of life in the Ranchettes,” Santamaria said. “Therefore, I do oppose any of the still-on-the-books plan for Lyons Road running through the middle of Ranchettes.”
Santamaria said he was glad that staff had recommended holding off with paving plans for Lyons Road through the Ranchettes, and hoped that staff could come up with an alternative road plan to relieve SR 7 traffic.
Webb said he planned to bring the actual road options to the commission later as a separate item. He also stressed that the comprehensive plan states that they are not to think about connecting Lyons Road through the Ranchettes until SR 7 is eight lanes and over capacity.
“It is currently eight lanes, and it is within a few thousand cars of being over capacity,” Webb said. “There is development that is coming on line in that immediate area that will be adding cars in the next year or two on that roadway.”
Webb noted that consideration could come as early as 2016, depending on an actual traffic count.
Santamaria said that the commission’s recent development approvals, including the Wellington Medical Arts District at State Road 7 and Forest Hill Blvd., which required approval of a constrained roadway at a lower level of service (CRALLS) designation, had only accelerated the time frame to need Lyons Road.
Abrams made a motion to approve the road program as amended by staff, which carried 7-0.