The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council approved the preliminary reading of an ordinance Tuesday that would allow the owner of a residentially zoned property on B Road now surrounded by commercial uses to ask for commercial use on his property.
The applicant was Seth Brier, who lives on B Road and owns property near the Palm Beach State College campus, where he has commercial and residential uses.
Planning Consultant Jim Fleischmann explained that the ordinance would change the comp plan and future land use on properties bounded by Collecting Canal Road to the north, Southern Blvd., B Road and C Road to allow owners to apply for non-residential land use categories.
“That’s commercial low, commercial low office, institutional and conservation,” Fleischmann said.
Brier, who owns property at 444 and 556 B Road, initially asked that his property be allowed to retain its existing businesses, which include the Country Corner, be included as nonconforming businesses and not be counted against any future potential uses. However, he withdrew the application after staff and the Planning & Zoning Board recommended denial.
The third part of the initial application was to allow a commercial low land use designation on the two properties.
“The Planning & Zoning Board was concerned that those properties had some existing issues and problems that they needed answers for, such as building permits and whether the country store was really an approved use,” Fleischmann said. “They wanted to get some answers, so they tabled the land use amendment, so the application went from three parts to just one part.”
The Planning & Zoning Board recommended approval of that one part in a 5-0 vote, and staff also recommended approval, but recommended that applicants also be allowed to apply for the multiple land use category.
“That would give landowners such as Mr. Brier the opportunity to essentially come up with a mixed-use proposal on his property, as opposed to commercial on the entire 16 acres,” Fleischmann said, adding that the basis for the staff recommendation was the changed nature of the areas surrounding the properties. “At the time the comprehensive plan was written, all of the properties east and west of B Road were assigned the rural residential and agricultural residential zoning districts.”
Since that time, Palm Beach State College has been approved, as well as the Loxahatchee Groves Commons shopping center. Meanwhile, on the east side of B Road, the Groves Town Center has been assigned a 75-acre multiple land use designation.
Vice Mayor Tom Goltzené asked what would stop other property owners with commercial uses from also applying.
“The answer is the domino effect — like we said was going to happen as soon as we did the college,” Goltzené said.
Fleischmann said that the uses on the block are totally different than other areas of the town.
Attorney Al Malefatto, representing Brier, said that his property is now largely surrounded by commercial uses, but Goltzené said that other property owners would be asking for similar allowances and others would be chased out by the changing nature of the area.
“This is in a neighborhood of people where you have 30 or 40 homes, all of which have three or four or five people living in them,” Goltzené said. “You’re taking hundreds of people who live in this town, and you’re putting them in a commercial area, and all of the stuff that goes with it.”
Councilman Todd McLendon agreed, noting that he opposed approval of the college campus, and this type of expansion was one of the reasons.
“I don’t want to see commercial on B Road if we don’t allow commercial on Okeechobee Blvd.,” he said. “The problem is how do you deal with the single-family residences that have been completely surrounded.”
McLendon said that he did not favor allowing commercial uses on land that fronts only B Road.
“I don’t know how to fix this issue that this council has created for him,” he said. “The council has surrounded him with institutional. How do you fix that? If we made the problem, it’s up to us to come up with a solution to fix it.”
Brier said that his property is no longer suited for residential use.
“My residential property would be deemed valueless where all the animals and the lights that are coming on from the shopping center across the street, and the horses used to sleep in the dark, and it just happened,” he said. “What happened is what caused me to get to this point where I don’t really have a choice. I live in a fishbowl.”
Goltzené, who lives in the area, said he understood Brier’s situation.
“I know just what you mean,” he said. “It’s just a tick, tick, tick until I’m gone. That’s not what you want when you have a house.”
Mayor Dave Browning asked if a gas station could be approved on the property, and Fleischmann said they could not build anything not approved by the council. Town Attorney Michael Cirullo pointed out that any approval would be a four-step process.
McLendon objected to the special use because the only access was on B Road now, but Brier said that could be addressed through cross-access agreements.
Goltzené said that he would vote for it because the Planning & Zoning Board and staff had recommended approval.
Councilman Ryan Liang made a motion to approve the special policy with the mixed-use option, which carried 4-1 with McLendon opposed.