Loxahatchee Groves’ Unified Land Development Committee finalized the landscaping section of the town’s Unified Land Development Code on Monday, spending time discussing walls separating commercial from neighboring property, the code for tree removal and replacement, and how much landscaping should be required in front yards.
Section 85 of the ULDC, which the committee had been working on its past three meetings, was renamed from the county’s old “ERM Landscape Ordinance” to “Native Tree Preservation, Soil Stabilization and Invasive Exotic Control.”
The committee drew from county and neighboring municipalities’ ULDCs to rewrite the code. The finalized changes will be presented to the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council in the form of an ordinance at a future meeting.
The committee spent a considerable amount of time discussing the use of walls, berms and landscaping to separate commercial property from its neighbors.
Committee Member Karen Piesley asked about a change made about requiring a wall separating commercial property from adjacent property, where language had been retained including berms and landscaping. She noted that properties, like the Day property under development, are exposed if a wall, as opposed to a fence, is not required.
“The wall is solid for noise, and then with trees on the outside of it,” Piesley said. “The fences are often not maintained and do not last that long.”
Committee Chair Mary McNicholas said she felt options are appropriate for buffers, so long as they cut down noise and unsightly activity that goes on in the back of commercial property, such as trash bins and trucks loading or unloading.
“It’s supposed to say wall,” Piesley stressed.
McNicholas said she has seen some effective uses of fences and landscaping.
“There are some pretty cool fence-type works that I’ve seen downtown that are spectacular, that I think would look so much better than just a plain concrete block wall, in my opinion,” she said. “I don’t want to see like a chain link fence or anything like that.”
McNicholas asked Planning Consultant Jim Fleischmann if a developer had the option to use something other than a wall if it was found to be desirable.
Fleischmann said the developer does have the option to present something other than a wall to the council, but Piesley said the committee had voted to recommend approval of only a wall separating properties from businesses.
Committee Member Mary Ann Miles asked how tall the berm is on North B Road, and former Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Supervisor Simon Fernandez estimated about 7 feet.
“I would think that would be a nice a buffer between properties,” Miles said. “I think esthetic-wise, that would be appropriate, without building a concrete wall that on the other side, they’re going to be looking at just a concrete wall, when we’re trying to preserve Loxahatchee Groves and want greenery.”
Miles said she would like people to have options.
“If there is not enough space to put a berm with nice hedging, then don’t make it mandatory. Let them do what they need to do with the space provided,” she said. “If they have enough room to put hedging and a berm and trees, and it can be high enough with enough buffer, then I feel they should have to bring it to the council and say, ‘This is what we propose.’”
Fleischmann pointed out that they were talking about incompatibility buffers next to the agricultural district, and what Miles was talking about was residential areas where the requirements are minimal.
Miles asked about cut-throughs from commercial-to-commercial, which she said is more desirable than having motorists go onto a main road to get to an adjoining commercial area.
Miles said she wanted to have a provision that would allow commercial developments to have cut-throughs to other commercial property. A bad example she cited was the shopping center at the northwest corner of Southern Blvd. and State Road 7 that did not have a cut-through to the shopping center to the north. “That was such a traffic debacle,” she said.
Fleischmann said roads have their own requirements in the code with specific buffering widths and landscaping requirements in a different section of the code.
After more discussion, the committee decided to rewrite the code to read that a developer should provide a landscaped berm and wall, or other opaque landscape barrier, on the perimeter of the property.
Committee members also discussed the height of the wall, which currently is 6 feet. Fleischmann said he would not be surprised if the council takes that height to 8 feet.
He added that provisions should be made for a developer required to build a wall that an existing neighbor’s 4-foot fence is abutting, explaining that he did not think that abutting fences is a good concept.
The committee also discussed a section on landscaping of parking areas, explaining that there is a section that said 10 percent of parking must be landscaping.
“We increased it to 15 percent,” Fleischmann said, but added specific requirements for where the landscaping should go, including strips at the end of aisles and pathways so that the landscaping is not trampled.
They also discussed the tree replacement table, prohibited trees and recommended trees, including “champion trees,” which are trees that are exemplary for their species, as defined by the state, but for which the code currently has no definition.
Prohibited trees include melaleuca, Brazilian pepper, Australian pine, earleaf acacia, carrotwood and schefflera.
Developers can receive credit for existing native trees preserved on a site. No credit will be given for fruit trees or any preserved trees that are in extremely poor condition or declining health.
Professional landscape plans will be required for all proposed non-residential agricultural developments.
The committee also discussed turf requirements in the front yard for new residential property, and McNicholas asked if xeriscaping could be included as an option.
“My neighbor has drought-tolerant trees, and it’s spectacular,” she said.
Fernandez said some turf is relevant for preserving pads and septic tanks.
At the end of discussion, Fleischmann asked the committee if it wanted to bring the section back in final form or send it to the council.
Members directed him to take it to the council after the necessary changes are made.
Fleischmann said it would not be put before the council at its July meeting due to advertising requirements and putting the revised section into the form of an ordinance.
Fleischmann congratulated the committee on its hard work. “It was a battle at times, but you all did a good job,” he said.