The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council tweaked its nuisance abatement ordinance last week in the final reading of amendments intended to make it more enforceable by town staff.
The ordinance was introduced originally to curb excessive tree and plant growth along roads that impair traffic, but town staff developed it to a level that it could apply to other nuisances in the community.
At the April 3 meeting, Town Manager Bill Underwood explained that there were three iterations of the ordinance: the one adopted on its first reading last month, a copy with changes by the Unified Land Development Code Committee and another with proposed changes by the Planning & Zoning Committee.
“You actually have three ordinances presented to you,” Underwood said. “One went through the ULDC Committee, one went through P&Z and one that you guys actually modified at the last meeting. This can only be second reading if you approve the one that you did at the last meeting, so that we can move forward with cleaning up the town and getting trees off the roadways.”
He said there are changes that can be made to the original ordinance without having to go back to first reading. Other items can be modified at a later date.
“Our recommendation is to adopt the one you did last time, so we can move forward, because it has been three or four months since you first saw it,” Underwood said.
Town Attorney Michael Cirullo recommended working from the ordinance that was adopted at the first reading and making changes if desired.
Underwood showed pictures of situations such as construction debris and containers of waste oil on the side of roads that he felt needed to be corrected as soon as possible.
“Those are some of the items that we would like to be able to use this ordinance to clean up in town and move forward,” he said, adding that the ULDC removed all references to stagnant water. “I think everybody has some water on their property. You don’t want to be going after stagnant water.”
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia asked if town staff would be authorized to go on people’s property, and Cirullo said only if it was a health and safety issue.
“If there is a condition on the property that meets the definition of a nuisance, this provides the town with the ability to remedy that nuisance and to collect the cost,” he said.
“That’s something that I think needs to be looked at a little further,” Maniglia said.
Vice Mayor Todd McLendon made a motion to approve the ordinance passed by the council at the first reading for discussion purposes, and Councilwoman Joyce Batcheler seconded the motion.
“I still think there needs to be changes made to it,” McLendon said. “One of the things that the ULDC came up with was everywhere it says ‘health,’ it should say ‘health or safety.’ I think that’s a good change.”
A change the ULDC recommended that McLendon did not agree with was storage of “excessive” plant material. “Now someone’s got to determine what’s excessive or not, and you start opening it up to interpretation,” he said.
Maniglia said she had a discussion with Underwood about one resident who was having truckloads of construction debris dumped on his property.
“The gentleman has told the town staff that he is going to hand pick through that to separate — whatever he’s doing, recycling or whatever — but in the meantime, you can see 10 dump truck loads. Most of it looks like roofing debris,” she said.
McLendon said the ordinance has a definition for trash, junk or debris, but Maniglia said right now staff cannot do anything about it.
McLendon said the only way staff would have authority would be to go onto the property if it constitutes a health hazard.
Maniglia said a person can actually see the garbage on the property and suggested that there possibly needs to be a complaint about the condition.
McLendon said part of what the ordinance is trying to accomplish is to clean up road easements.
“Just like the pictures in front of you, none of that stuff is in the road,” he said. “It’s off to the side of the road. If we took the position we’re only going to apply this to stuff that’s in the road, you would never have that because it’s always off to the side of the road. I think it needs to apply to the parcel.”
Cirullo pointed out that the ordinance also gives the resident cited with a violation the right of appeal.
“If someone gets cited by the town for having a nuisance, they get a notice and the notice provides that they have a right to appeal it to you, and you will see what the town manager or code officer determined to be a nuisance, and you will be able to see whether it is a nuisance that needs to be cleaned up or not,” he said. “Knowing Loxahatchee Groves, I’m sure you’re going to get an appeal or two.”
Cirullo further explained that the person cited can come to the council before having to appear before the special magistrate.
“It is set up to say, ‘We have a problem, and it’s a health and safety issue, and we need it cleaned up fast, so either you clean it up or we’ll clean it up for you,’” he said. “If you disagree that it’s a problem, you have the right to appeal it. It will be scheduled for the next available meeting.”
Several residents, including members of the ULDC and P&Z boards, spoke in favor of the ordinance, explaining that they have seen it several times and recommended changes they felt were needed. Others suggested that the council hold a workshop to discuss issues with the ordinance. A public workshop has been scheduled for May 1 at 5 p.m. before the regular council meeting at 7 p.m.
McLendon’s motion, with several amendments he had taken from the committees’ recommendations, carried 5-0.