Under pressure from possible litigation, the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council voted 4-1 to remove 8th Place North as a public road, although council members were concerned about repercussions that might result if more residents want their roads removed.
Town Manager Bill Underwood said he had met at the council’s direction with attorney Jeff Kurtz, representing Mark Jackson, an 8th Place North property owner who had erected a fence at the north end of the road, which has three other residents living there. The town removed Jackson’s fence after doing maintenance on the road.
The meeting did not produce a conclusion, with Jackson asserting that it is a private road and the town maintaining its position that it is public.
Town Attorney Michael Cirullo sought direction on how to proceed. “This has been brought to the town council’s attention, and we’ve been trying to deal with the issue for the better part of a year,” he said, explaining that the road has been on the town’s gas tax road list created in 2008.
Kurtz contended that over the past seven years, the town has not maintained the road, which is a statutory requirement for determining whether it is a public road, and contended that the property owners had maintained the road themselves.
Cirullo replied that the town has records from the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District stating that Jackson had turned away graders, although a private contractor for the town had graded the road and allegedly damaged it, leading the town to put down base rock to repair the alleged damage.
Until last year, the town had engaged the LGWCD to maintain town roads through various agreements since the creation of the town, and in 2012 got the first reports of grading to support a per-mile charge.
“Prior to that time, the town would get a lump sum bill for the grading work of the district without identifying specifically which miles for which roads,” he said.
Cirullo said he had met with LGWCD Administrator Steve Yohe, who told him that the district’s grader operator supervisor had been told by Jackson not to go on 8th Place North.
In 2013, when Yohe became district administrator, Cirullo said Yohe directed that all the roads on the list be graded. Once again, Jackson told the district to stop grading the road.
“The district didn’t do it; they charged us for the one time that they did it,” he said. “We’re now trying to figure out what to do, and we’ve got two property owners who want this to be a private road, and one property owner who wants this to be a public road.”
Cirullo said in the past, residents who have voted unanimously to have their roads taken off the gas tax list have come to the council successfully to have their roads removed.
He added that after a drive-through audit by the Office of the Inspector General where the roads were inspected, the town took off roads that were barricaded, although they were on the gas tax list.
“Any roads that said ‘No Trespassing,’ a sign that said ‘Private Road’ or any indication that the public was not to go over what we had designated as a town road, those were removed, consistent to the OIG’s direction to us,” he said.
Cirullo said the town has two choices.
“The choice for the town council is to direct us to take action to remove it from the gas tax map,” he said. “Or have a judge tell us whether it’s a public or private road, which would require filing a lawsuit.”
Kurtz said in any lawsuit the burden would be on the town to demonstrate that it is a public road.
Loxahatchee Groves Vice Mayor Tom Goltzené said the precedent could lead to more residents saying to take them off the list, and added that the town could not rely on district records to hold up in court.
After more discussion, Councilman Ron Jarriel made a motion to allow the residents to settle the question in civil court, and not allow the town’s legal staff to pursue the matter anymore, which failed for lack of a second.
Councilman Ryan Liang then made a motion to remove 8th Place North from the gas tax list, which carried 4-1 with Goltzené opposed.