Lox Council OKs Plan To Strike Equestrian Trail Fencing Rule

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council, sitting as the Local Planning Agency, recommended approval Tuesday of an ordinance that would remove from the comprehensive plan a fencing requirement on equestrian trails on lettered roads.

Later in the meeting, the council approved the preliminary reading of the ordinance.

The fencing requirement has been a stumbling block for the town to establish equestrian trails along canal easements formerly owned by the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District, which passed the issue on to the town when the district became dependent.

Planning Consultant Jim Fleischmann said that several months ago, the council had directed staff to draft the amendment to delete the policy requiring fencing along canal bank easements where the proposed equestrian trails run.

Fleischmann said the intent of the fencing requirement was to insure the safety of riders and residents.

Councilman Dave DeMarois made a motion to recommend approval of the ordinance.

During public comment, former LGWCD Supervisor John Ryan said he wished that Nina Corning, who sits on the town’s Roadways, Equestrian, Trails & Greenway Advisory Committee (RETGAC) was at the meeting to provide input.

“She spent a lot of time reviewing liability issues with regard to trails, a fence to protect landowners’ property that borders the maintenance roads, and to protect the horses from dogs or other animals inside the fence,” Ryan said. “It was very important in terms of allowing use of the trails throughout the town. I think if you’re going to give up on the trails — and pretty much everything I’ve seen indicates that you’re going to give up on the trails — Nina Corning and the committee ought to be able to make a presentation as to just how critical filling in the fence gaps is.”

Ryan said that creating an equestrian trail system has been a big item of discussion for years, and a lot of effort went into making it possible.

“I know we’ve got some issues out there, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to act on this without a RETGAC presentation on the liability issues and whether this really means the town council is going to give up on the trails,” he said.

Former Councilman Ron Jarriel said removing the fencing requirement was the result of a councilman feeling that the town could not afford to put in fencing, but he said that grants are available for such projects, and the town has already done research on that.

Jarriel explained that the only thing that stopped the town from getting approved the first time was its inability to show ownership of the roads, which has since been resolved.

“We’re not strong on grants, and I’m telling you right now, I went to Tallahassee two times to talk to people about grants for equestrian trails. The money’s up there in Tallahassee,” Jarriel said. “All we have to do is put the [request for] grants in for it.”

He pointed out that many areas designated for equestrian trails do not need fencing.

Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia said that she had put up a fence to keep her dogs in and felt the town should not be obligated to put up fencing for private landowners, so she was going to vote for the change.

Vice Mayor Todd McLendon said the only thing restricting the town from formally establishing equestrian trails is the clause requiring fencing.

“We can put up a fence even without this being in the comp plan,” McLendon said. “It doesn’t prohibit us, it just doesn’t force us to do it, so I’m strongly in favor of this.”

Councilwoman Joyce Batcheler said deleting the fencing requirement would open some areas for equestrian accessibility.

“Because we don’t have any money for fences, the trails might never get opened,” Batcheler said. “It would at least give people some accessibility.”

Mayor Dave Browning said riders can use the roads and felt the easements should be opened to them as well, although fences do not ensure safety.

“If a really nasty dog hits that fence really hard, it’ll scare the daylights out of your horses anyway,” Browning said. “I’m not saying we don’t need fences along there, but I think this requirement for fences takes away… If there’s a berm there, we still have to put up a fence to put a horse trail there.”

DeMarois’ motion to recommend approval carried 5-0, and the council later unanimously approved the preliminary reading of the ordinance.