In a special workshop on Tuesday, Jan. 16, the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council gave a clear message to a Southern Blvd. developer that it does not want zero-lot-line homes on the property.
Council members heeded the protests of a packed room of residents, who argued that the request for 94 homes on 47 acres of land at the southeast corner of C Road and Collecting Canal Road would alter the rural nature of the town described in its charter.
Joe Lelonek with Atlantic Land Investments sought land use and zoning changes for the proposed Loxahatchee Farms West development to allow up to two homes per acre, although the homes would be clustered on zero lot lines with a 100-foot buffer from homes to the north, recreational open space and other common areas.
“We are looking to create a category that creates more intensive land use south of Collecting Canal, and a zoning district that would apply to those higher-density land uses,” Lelonek said, explaining that the town’s comp plan does not currently allow residential uses higher than one home per five acres.
However, there are properties smaller than five acres south of Collecting Canal Road, which were grandfathered in when the town incorporated.
“It’s also historical record that property south of Collecting Canal has different use than north of Collecting Canal,” Lelonek said. “There has historically been a higher use there.”
He described the existing residential properties south of Collecting Canal as a patchwork of smaller properties, and maintained that the commercial uses already approved in the area would support a residential development.
Traffic would be funneled to Southern Blvd., adding that no C Road connection north across Collecting Canal would be proposed.
“This is a little different than the other uses,” he said, explaining that the proposed development would be laid out so that the residents would be able to walk or drive to the existing commercial amenities nearby. “We know Southern Blvd. is going to be widened. It’s supposed to start this year.”
He said developing the property at one home per five acres is not practical, because it is not compatible with the surrounding uses.
“We went through a number of ideas,” Lelonek said. “The existing use, with large equestrian lots coming of age and newer buyers coming in, south of Collecting Canal hasn’t been as popular because of its proximity to Southern Blvd. and noise.”
He added that large homes would be of little benefit to the town from a tax base standpoint, and only so much commercial could be built. Meanwhile, industrial is also not realistic due to noise concerns. A charter school was considered, but not deemed practical for the location, Lelonek noted.
“We sought your feedback,” he said. “We have researched every one of those uses. There was a lot of talk of not having C Road cross the canal. We are not planning, nor do we want C Road to cross Collecting Canal.”
He added that the developer included a potential connection to undeveloped property to the south, in the event that some is developed there. “That may or may not happen,” he said.
Lelonek made a presentation at the Roadway, Equestrian, Trails and Greenway Advisory Committee (RETGAC) meeting on Thursday, Jan. 11, where members raised many concerns, including that it would change the profile of registered voters in the town.
“This is one that I can’t answer,” he said. “People will have different opinions. This will undoubtedly put more voters in the area.”
RETGAC members also raised concerns about the approval setting a precedent for other undeveloped land in the area.
“Will it set precedent?” Lelonek asked. “It’s not my intent to subject other properties to this type of use, and it will not stop other developers north of Collecting Canal from asking.”
He said tax revenue from three homes approved for the property would generate about $6,000 for the town annually, where 94 homes would generate $120,000 to $160,000.
Planning consultant Jim Fleischmann said town staff was not making a recommendation at that time because it is too early in the process, and the public would have multiple opportunities to provide input through the approval process if it moves forward.
During public comment, council candidate Neil O’Neal III spoke against the proposal.
“Zero lot lines are crazy for this town,” O’Neal said. “It would have 240 new residents who don’t share the same rural values.”
He thought that the larger tax base would not compensate for the increased cost to the town to support the development.
Former Councilman Dr. Bill Louda shared concerns about shifting the voter base, and that the increased tax base was not worth increasing residential density.
Darcy Murray urged council members not to approve a land use change for the development.
“Loxahatchee Farms? Where’s the farm?” she asked. “We moved out here for cows or roosters, away from developments like this. I plead with you guys, do not approve this.”
Robert Shorr said he was glad to see residents turning out to speak on the issue.
“People don’t want to get involved,” he said. “They enjoy life on the farm. You’ve got to stop this now. You’ve got a guy who wants to take all the staff’s time in multiple meetings. It’s got to stop now. It’s not even close to one for five. Stop it now.”
Phillis Maniglia, another council candidate, pointed out that the developer owns more vacant land in the area that might be subject to the same land use change if approved.
“The other thing is we all have roosters,” Maniglia said, explaining that new residents not accustomed to rural noises would be complaining to code enforcement.
She also agreed that the development request was costing the town too much money and resources.
Planning & Zoning Board Chair Dennis Lipp said he had talked with Fleischmann, who told him that if the council denies the request, it would stop the process immediately. “I would recommend that you have this as an agenda item,” Lipp said.
Vice Mayor Ron Jarriel said it was clear to him that the residents did not want the development.
“The people have spoken,” Jarriel said. “I didn’t see any yeses. I hope Joe is smart enough to see that this workshop has served its purpose.”
Councilman Todd McLendon said he thought the council was on sound legal footing to deny the request, since the charter clearly states that uses would be one home per five acres. “This is completely opposite of that,” McLendon said.
Mayor Dave Browning pointed out how difficult it had been for the town during the incorporation process to get the county to approve reducing the allowable density from one home per 10 acres to one in five. Browning also shared concerns that a higher-density project would dramatically change the voting structure.
“Two hundred votes from people who don’t share our lifestyle would change things,” he said.
Lelonek thanked everyone for their civility and said he would deal with residents’ and council members’ comments accordingly.