The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council recommended Tuesday that a consultant proceed with plans for a recreational vehicle and short-term rental park east of C Road between Tangerine Drive and Collecting Canal Road.
At the workshop session, several residents living near the 47-acre site were not keen on the idea of 300 hookups and/or cabins and other camping opportunities. They expressed concerns about the prospect of noise, light intrusion and increased traffic in their neighborhood, but felt it was a better idea than the consultant’s earlier proposal for a residential planned unit development on the property, which was rejected by the council.
Joe Lelonek of Atlantic Land Properties said the idea of the proposed Loxahatchee Farms West RV Park was borrowed partly from the town’s experimental RV program, which met with limited success.
“Hopefully, that was a good test case,” Lelonek said, pointing out that the proposed RV park would be adjacent to commercial property, as well as county water and sewer services on Southern Blvd., which is scheduled for widening to six lanes. “We also know you have a variety of different commercial applications up and down the road.”
Lelonek explained that his company had gone through a long list of potential uses for the property that would be commercially or economically viable, including the failed residential use, an institutional use such as a charter school, which the company rejected out of traffic concerns and limited tax base. They also ruled out industrial use due to the proximity to residential properties nearby.
“You heard our presentation a couple of months ago on the residential use,” he said. “I still see residential use as the highest and best use for the property and the highest and best tax base. I understand the issues that exist, and the feeling that exists with the town on that, so we’re beyond that.”
Following that rejection, Lelonek said he met individually with council members where the idea of recreational hospitality came back up.
“It came up before — it has been discussed a little bit here and there — but after this last set of meetings, we went back and actually did a lot of homework,” Lelonek said, explaining that they went to RV trade shows in the state and engaged experts to help them with a proposal. “We are right in the middle of trying to learn that industry.”
The goal of the workshop, he said, was to get the council’s opinion on whether to move forward with the idea or not, which is still going through different variations with consultants for the best possible plan.
The RV park would have ingress/egress on C Road, which would open only to Southern Blvd. C Road dead ends at Collecting Canal with no plans to cross over it, except for an equestrian crossing.
A retention and recreational pond is planned at the center of the site, as well as a wetland and an upland preserve, and recreational amenities including a clubhouse and a swimming pool.
Lelonek added that the RV park could help solve the town’s code enforcement issues with people setting up illegally on private property.
“Having a larger park, maybe that’s a benefit to the town in having somewhere to point to and say, ‘You want an RV in the town? Go to this facility,’” he said.
Lelonek noted that he had gone to several new RV parks, which are nothing like traditional RV parks and campgrounds.
“There are parks out there that were done 30, 40 or 50 years ago, and they haven’t been upgraded to current standards,” Lelonek said, including higher amperage for hookups, open spaces, larger lots and better amenities.
“Park models” or cabins owned by the operator could be rented out for those who prefer a less rustic style.
Parks he visited included those in Savannah, Ga.; Hilton Head, S.C.; and Tryon, N.C., home of the Tryon International Equestrian Center, owned by Mark Bellissimo and his partners, the same people who own the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington.
“They have park models that are set up right behind a hotel that they’re building, and that houses many of the summer participants at that facility, but they also have an RV park right next to it,” Lelonek said, adding that the newer RV parks strive to be competitive, and that most RV parks in Florida have a four-month season.
“It’s hard to build an RV park and survive on four months,” he said. “You have to expand your season. You have to get more ‘staycations.’ You have to do a resort atmosphere. You have to add those park models I talked about. The last thing I want to do is develop something that fails.”
Lelonek said that if the council gives it conceptual approval, he would like to get the project going and have it ready for use by October 2019 in order to catch the 2020 equestrian season.
During public comment, Paul Coleman, who lives near the site, said he did not see how the plan was much different than the PUD residential proposal.
“A park model is no different than a mobile home park,” Coleman said. “I know there’s folks trying to park their RVs on agricultural properties next to their barns during the season… If we look just to the west, there’s been a KOA [campground]. I know it has been there forever, and I know when I was in high school, there were families living at that KOA.”
He said the applicant had made a good effort at something that was compatible with the community, but he was worried about the safety of his family and animals. “To me, to have transient traffic like that just doesn’t sit well,” Coleman said.
Resident Ken Johnson said an RV park, if approved, should have several conditions, including verification of the length of stay of no longer than four or six months. He was also concerned about controlling traffic and potential noise from the park, and the effect on surrounding residents.
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia said, as a proponent of legal RV parks, she understood that the agricultural and equestrian community has a need for places to put their staff, but she was concerned about the impact to surrounding residents and wanted assurance that effective berms and landscaping would be put in place.
“When Joe first came to me with this idea, my thought was, ‘What can he do for the community?’” Maniglia said, suggesting that the park’s amenities be opened up somehow to residents and their children. “Someplace where our kids could possibly go during the summer, where our particular community of Loxahatchee Groves would get maybe a day pass or something to be able to use the pool.”
She added that she did not want residents to be in a position that they could get voting rights from the RV park. Maniglia continued that the county has a 13 percent bed tax and wondered if the town could place a similar condition on the RV park.
Councilman Todd McLendon said he agreed with all the points and added that there is a 100-foot buffer on the north and east sides. He asked if more buffering could be added on the east side, since neighbors live closer on that side.
“My biggest concern is permanent residents,” he said. “I don’t know how we go about stopping that. If we could address that, it’s a very big concern.”
Mayor Dave Browning said he camps with his family and has seen parks that are plain, as well as very well-thought-out parks, such as Disney World’s Camp Wilderness.
“At the same time, I do have a concern about permanent residents,” he said. “I see a lot of campgrounds, and you can tell they’re pretty well permanent. We have a problem with the RVs in Loxahatchee Groves. It would give them a place to go. These things, if they’re done right, can be very successful. I do not want to see something go in there that is not well thought out.”