The Wellington Village Council approved the abandonment of a portion of right of way on Greenbriar Blvd. on Tuesday to allow a property owner facing Equestrian Way access to the back of his property for manure collection.
Village Engineer Bill Riebe said the property is located in Saddle Trail Park and had received approval for the gate when the plat was approved by the county.
“There is an 8-foot gate there,” Riebe said. “That gate was installed when they built the fence years ago.”
The gate is used to access a manure bin at the back of the property, since access is not easily available from the front.
“The issue here is this subdivision along Greenbriar Blvd.,” he explained. “The only group that can approve a limited access easement or the abandonment of a limited access easement is the Wellington Village Council.”
Riebe said the staff recommendation was not to approve the abandonment because it conflicts with the policies of the subdivision and with current village policies. The access could adversely impact traffic flow because the vehicles must back in or out of the gate, and the vehicles must stop in the through lane in order to open and shut the gate.
The access is also located on the inside of a curve, which limits sight distance for drivers, he said, adding that approval might set a precedent for other property owners to receive approval along limited access roads.
Village Manager Paul Schofield said that the issue is a policy decision, and that the village had prepared a set of conditions for consideration if the council decided to approve it.
The driveway apron would need to be paved and the pathway along the road reinforced, and used only once a week only to empty the manure bin, he said.
“If that were to be violated, we would simply remove the access,” Schofield said.
Riebe added that the property owners need to offset the gate so that they can get completely out of the through lane and there is no backing into or out of the right of way.
Richard Pinsky, speaking on behalf of applicants Joseph Marois and Linda Evans, complimented the staff members on their openness to discuss the issue.
“We’re really not asking for special treatment tonight,” Pinsky said. “What we’re asking is for you to consider a very special and unique circumstance that the owners find themselves in. When they bought the property, there was nothing in the deed, there was nothing in the closing, there was nothing in the title searches. There was no reason for them to believe that they could not have that quiet enjoyment that the previous property owners had experienced for the 12 years before they had it.”
He said that when the property was platted and permitted by Palm Beach County, it was granted the fence and the gate. Pinsky said that they had spoken to the previous property owner, who told them that she had made it clear to the county at the time what she intended to use the gate for.
“There was no misrepresentation, so I think there’s enough on the historic record that demonstrates what the purpose was,” he said.
Pinsky said the owners had looked at alternative access, but there was no other easy solution.
Access along the right side of the house is blocked by a large, old tree, and access from the left is occupied by a septic tank and drainage field where trucks cannot drive.
“They have had engineering out there,” Pinsky said. “They have made every attempt. I think what we’re asking for is exactly what Mr. Riebe has laid out.”
Pinsky said the applicants would be willing to comply with the conditions, including a concrete or asphalt apron.
“They are only asking for the abandonment of a very small portion of the limited access,” he said. “They have absolutely agreed to once per week during non-peak traffic times.”
The gates would open inward, so there would be no reason to back in or out, Pinsky said, adding that during the off-season, they would schedule pickup only twice a month.
Pinsky said he also understood the council’s concern of setting a precedent, but that he thought the special circumstances and lack of alternatives other than degrading their property made it a unique situation.
Councilman Matt Willhite asked how the once-a-week use of the gate would be enforced, and Schofield said it would be through the normal code enforcement process.
Willhite also asked whether they were required to meet current best management practices, pointing out that the manure bin had apparently been built before they were required to be covered.
“I understand that they are grandfathered in, but we have changed the standards,” he said.
Riebe said that the council could make that one of the conditions, and added that it could require the property to be bermed so that runoff is allowed to lose nutrients before it reaches a swale.
Willhite said he still had safety concerns, about the liability of the truck crossing a village sidewalk and trucks pulling in and out, as well as the possible precedent.
Vice Mayor John Greene asked whether other properties might be able to follow the precedent, and Riebe said that there are other properties along the road that have 5-foot gates to allow pedestrian access. In the entire village, he said, there are about 20 properties with rear gates to limited-access roads.
Greene also asked whether there was exposure of liability to the village, and Village Attorney Laurie Cohen said there might be, with the driver crossing the sidewalk.
“Someone could sue the village, but it would be a difficult claim to make,” Cohen said, adding that the council could add an indemnification of liability. She also agreed with Willhite that anything not current with code should be brought up to date.
Councilman John McGovern said he thought the strict conditions of approval allow the abandonment of the easement and made a motion to approve the application, which carried 5-0.