Jackie Larson has been a strong voice on the Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission for 24 years. She retired this month to accolades from village officials, including a certificate of appreciation from the Royal Palm Beach Village Council.
Living in Royal Palm Beach for 32 years, she has worked diligently in reviewing plans, questioning issues, pointing out possible problems and suggesting solutions.
Larson takes pride in the credentials of the people she has worked with. “I am most proud that when I started on the Planning & Zoning Commission that we had such technical people there,” she recalled. “We had planners, architects, engineers and landscape architects. I was the environmental expert.”
It was work that she thoroughly enjoyed.
“We would literally search through everything in the plans submitted, and frequently we would find errors that could have created a problem, like for instance road intersections that did not line up correctly. We would catch those,” Larson remembered. “The purpose of the board is to review the application and make comments to go to the council. They are looking at what we have seen. The village staff has already done a huge amount of work. We are looking at it like a third party and passing it on from there. It’s a very important review.”
The Planning & Zoning Commission is one of several advisory boards within the village, but it’s the only one required by the village charter. It serves several functions. In addition to planning and zoning work, it serves as the village’s Architectural & Aesthetic Review Board and as the state-mandated Local Planning Agency.
“The Architectural & Aesthetic Review Board is the least technical, then we have the Local Planning Agency, which is more technical,” Larson said. “It’s the foundation for everything that we do, including our plats, our zoning and ordinances — whether they are new or revised. It is the big picture where everything else is built from. And then you get to Planning & Zoning. That board is the most technical. It’s taking the LPA things and putting it on a microscopic level. Those are your site plans, your landscape plans, your drainage plans.”
After playing a huge role for the whole community in reviewing the planning and zoning applications for just about everything that has been built during her tenure, Larson announced her decision to step down at the March 28 Planning & Zoning Commission meeting.
“I have been asked to stay on the commission, and I take that as a compliment, as I believe I have acted for the benefit of the village during my 24 years,” she said at the meeting. “I will still be here as a resident of Royal Palm Beach. A wise person once said, ‘It’s not always what others need from you, it’s what you need.’ At this point in time, this is what I need. So, I want to thank you all for the experience.”
With years in the environmental consulting industry, a degreed chemist, Larson spent years running her own consulting business, called ENTEL Environmental Companies Inc., for her clients and their projects. From the permitting process, to the expert testimony, to sampling water throughout Palm Beach County, to the monitoring of phosphate mines in central Florida, she has been on every side of the environmental industry and has helped ensure the preservation of the environmental quality for the village and the surrounding areas.
The March 28 meeting culminated her current three-year term as a commissioner and her 24th consecutive year on the board. “I have learned a lot over the years, and it has not all been about the ordinances,” she said. “I have worked with a number of planning and zoning staff members, and I have worked with a variety of councils, and I have worked with a tremendous number of volunteers through this board.”
She was asked by two council members to join the Planning & Zoning Commission back in 1994.
“At that point, the village was not in a really good position, as it is now. Then we acquired a very strong mayor, a very strong village manager, and with the subsequent councils who made incredible decisions, we are all now benefiting from those good decisions today. We are in a position no other municipality is in: we have money in the bank, we don’t need to increase our taxes and we have the highest park acreage per capita around. All we have to do now is not mess it up,” she said with a chuckle. “We’ve gone from pretty much the bottom to way up on top in the time frame I have been here.”
Sitting on the Planning & Zoning Commission can sometimes be a great deal of work. For example, last year the commissioners were given a box of materials that weighed 42 pounds to review for one meeting. However, Larson was quick to point out that current board members have more resources than ever before to support them in their work.
“You have resources that 90 percent of the time I have been on this board, we did not have,” she said at the March 28 meeting. “You will have great training, and the staff will always answer your questions. And thanks to former Councilman [David] Swift, we have an attorney with us at every meeting. We never had that before. We had to sit here and ask questions that nobody could answer. Not only do we have an attorney, we have [Village Attorney] Jennifer [Ashton]. We are so fortunate.”
Larson offered some parting advice to her fellow commissioners.
“What I want to leave you with is, if you don’t understand something, ask. Remember, you are the only board that is required in our village charter. None of the other boards are required,” she said. “This one is required because it is important. It is important for the village and for the applicant to have a proper review of their agenda item.”
Larson said that some of her favorite things about Royal Palm Beach are the dog parks, which she had a large role in getting started back in the 1990s.
“There was a group of us who used to meet up at the Todd Robiner Park on the west side with our dogs,” she recalled. “The park was fenced, but where we were, it wasn’t. We had been meeting up there for a couple of years. The village improved the park, and with those improvements came signs that said, ‘No Dogs Allowed.’ At that time there was a village ordinance that stated that no dogs were allowed on public property within the village.”
That was something Larson set about to change.
“Technically, we realized that would mean a resident could not walk their dog on the sidewalks, because that, too, is public property,” Larson said. “We had our own police department, and my husband got a warning ticket while walking one of our dogs. I knew everybody, as I had been working on planning and zoning. I got on the phone with David Farber, who was then the village manager.”
That led to a meeting that began the process to make Royal Palm Beach a more dog-friendly community.
“On Christmas Eve morning, he set up a meeting. Everyone came. We had a conference room full of people. David got on the phone with the police chief, and he came over. David [worked] to get everything straightened out, so we were allowed to use the parks,” Larson said. “Then, for the next six months, we rewrote the ordinances so that dogs were allowed on leashes in public places. Then, we had the chance to build the dog parks. I think we now have enough dog parks, a total of four.”
Larson added that she is grateful to live in Royal Palm Beach.
“Royal Palm Beach is working folks and retirees,” she said. “There are so many people whom I have watched their kids grow up and whose kids have come back and bought houses. That is what Royal Palm Beach is; it’s real.”
Development Review Coordinator Kevin Erwin spoke for many at the March 28 meeting when he said, “On behalf of the village, we would all like to thank you for your 24 years of service.”
At the April 5 council meeting, Mayor Fred Pinto presented Larson with a certificate of appreciation.
“We are going to miss your knowledge and diligence in helping us with the Planning & Zoning Commission for the many years you have,” said Pinto, who thanked her for her professionalism, passion and commitment.