Lox Council OKs Change To Limit Commercial Projects

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council approved the preliminary readings of two ordinances on Tuesday intended to control commercial development on Okeechobee Blvd. and drinking in public places.

The ordinances are the product of the town’s Unified Land Development Committee, which has been trying to correct problems with the Unified Land Development Code.

Planning consultant Jim Fleischmann said that the current ULDC requires that commercial development have frontage on an arterial or collector road.

“That means you have to have frontage on Okeechobee [Blvd.] or Southern [Blvd.],” Fleischmann said. “Based on council direction, we struck the word ‘collector,’ so now in order to gain commercial zoning, you have to have frontage on Southern Blvd. only.”

Town staff recommended approval, as did the Loxahatchee Groves Planning & Zoning Board.

Mayor Dave Browning said the ordinance will further protect Okeechobee Blvd. to keep it the way it is.

“We went through several different iterations, and this is a simple way of accomplishing it,” Fleischmann said, adding that several other comp plan amendments related to Okeechobee Blvd. are planned. “This is the fastest, quickest way to see that commercial only goes on Southern.”

Vice Mayor Tom Goltzené noted that the council had suggested a comp plan amendment that would stipulate that Okeechobee Blvd. would remain a two-lane road.

“Nothing has been done on that,” he said. “What has happened when six months ago we said we were going to do that?”

Goltzené said that if the county wants to widen Okeechobee Blvd., it has to make sure it’s in conformance with the town’s comprehensive plan.

“Right now, it says roll,” he said. “The same time we’re saying we want it to be a 30-mile-an-hour road, do we want it to be a 30-mile-an-hour six-lane road? We want it to be a 30-mile-an-hour parkway with some roundabouts. We discussed that already. We voted on it. Where is it getting? Nowhere.”

Councilman Todd McLendon asked Browning how his recent meeting on Okeechobee Blvd. went with Palm Beach County Engineer George Webb.

“They still claim that it’s basically their road,” Browning said. “We have speed control, but if they decide they want to widen it, they will be able to widen it. They say that if we work with them, they will pay for the lights and they’ll do the striping, and if the time comes that they need four lanes, they will work with us with a wide median or something like that. They are basically saying we can’t stop them, or we can come in there and do whatever we want, and we’ll pay for the lights, we’ll pay for the roundabouts and we’ll pay for the striping.”

Browning added that if Okeechobee remains two lanes, it will be a steady stream of traffic that would prevent residents from getting on and off the road safely.

“I think if we had a four-lane parkway with a big divider and done well, it would probably serve our community better than if we try to keep it a two-lane road with no divider and a lower speed limit through Loxahatchee Groves,” he said. “I think that no matter what we do, in the long run it’s going to backfire on us, but we can do that.”

Goltzené said lights and roundabouts will make pass-through travelers think about using other routes.

Former Councilman Dr. Bill Louda said he was glad the amendment on Okeechobee Blvd. was going through. He suggested a separate ordinance to require that the roadway remain two lanes.

Councilman Todd McLendon made a motion to approve the change in wording regarding commercial development, which carried 5-0.

The council also approved an ordinance that places restrictions on stores that sell alcohol and establishments that serve alcohol.

Underwood said that the ordinance makes several changes to the existing rules, including regulations on drinking in public, as well as a change in the hours of operation for drinking establishments from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. It also allows an extension to 2 a.m. with a special permit, and requires training for employees selling alcoholic drinks. No consumption of alcohol would be permitted within 500 feet of a commercial establishment.

Browning said the ordinance was the result of complaints about people drinking heavily outside a local market at 9 a.m. After some discussion among council members, the hours of permitted sale were extended to 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

McLendon made a motion to approve the ordinance, which carried 5-0.