The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council granted final approval last week to development plan amendments for the Wawa convenience store, Chase bank and Aldi grocery store at the Groves Town Center, as well as a horse trail, at the northeast corner of Southern Blvd. and B Road.
The approval follows a year of presentations and compromise with staff, various committees and the council over conditions placed on the development.
At the Nov. 6 meeting, attorney Matthew Scott, representing the owner of the 90-acre overall site and the developer of the 7.2-acre Wawa, Aldi and Chase parcel, said the evening was the completion of a year of discussions.
“A project of this size requires a lot of conditions, and I think there was an acknowledgement on the part of staff that on other similar projects in the area, they had some items they wish they could have done over,” Scott said. “I think what we [are] presenting to you tonight is a superior project from where we started.”
The developer asked for two waivers from the town’s code, that steel bollards rather than wheel stops be placed in front of the Wawa, and that specially designed parking lot lighting be allowed at the 24-hour convenience store.
Scott said the bollards are safer in that they allow a flush interaction between the parking lot and the pedestrian walkway and prevent cars from accidentally catapulting across the wheel stop into the store.
The town’s code allows businesses to operate 24 hours a day, but it does not allow lighting to continue after 11 p.m.
“We’re asking for a waiver to have very limited, thoughtful lighting for the Wawa only,” Scott said.
The developer also asked for revisions to the master plan, revising some of the pods to comply with Florida Department of Transportation requirements for the location of access points.
At the request of the town, the developer and its clients redesigned the commercial buildings to comply with the town’s architectural guidelines.
“We went back to the drawing board with Wawa and modified it to be consistent with the rural guidelines,” Scott said.
They added a rustic front porch with outdoor seating and planters, and a sloped roof, to give it more of a rural theme.
The Chase and Aldi buildings were also given rural design features.
“We’ve had this collaborative interaction with the town and the planner on a variety of items on this project,” Scott said. “Landscaping is yet another example. What we heard at the workshop initially were some concerns about the landscaping and the buffer, and we were initially kicking around the idea of asking for less than what was required.”
While going through the process of staff review, the town approved new guidelines, which the developer embraced.
“We revised our plans to match specifically what was recently approved for landscaping. In fact, we exceeded it,” Scott said, noting that the landscaping buffer runs along the entire commercial pod.
The landscaping is bigger than the Publix shopping center to the west, and the plan also adds a three-foot berm within it, Scott said.
Scott added that they had enlarged the size of parking spaces as requested by the town to accommodate larger vehicles, as well as landscaping islands throughout the parking lot.
The horse trail site plan has been moved forward at the request of the Roadways, Equestrian, Trails & Greenway Advisory Committee (RETGAC).
“Five years ago, when this PUD [planned unit development] was approved, the thought process was all we had to do was submit a site plan showing you what the horse trail would be,” Scott said. “Interacting with you, hearing from RETGAC that you wanted the horse trails built now, we committed to conditions of approval that it would be included in the first phase of development. What we discussed in the conditions was that the bridge or culvert would be built within two years or so.”
The horse trail will wind along the northern portions of the site and be about eight to 10 feet in width, with clearing on the sides so that trees don’t interfere with riders and signs that they are only for equestrian use. The trail surface will have a compacted and stabilized base.
The only outstanding condition remaining was clearing the easement of Collecting Canal on the north side of the site, Scott said.
Initially, they had proposed making a payment to the town to do the clearing, but the town manager asked that the developer do the clearing with the first phase. “We’re happy to agree on that condition as well,” Scott said.
Planning consultant Jim Fleischmann said that Scott had done a good job of summarizing the applications, pointing out that the town’s Planning & Zoning Committee had recommended approval of the amendments, and the council had approved the amendments at the preliminary reading.
Fleischmann went over some key conditions of the overall development previously approved by the council, which includes a mix of land use, 123,000 square feet of retail space, 44,000 square feet of office space and a 128-bed assisted living facility.
“That’s spread over the entire 90 acres, so that’s a very low intensity of development for 90 acres,” Fleischmann said. “The 300-foot buffers around the property that were approved in the original PUD remain unchanged. One of the key conditions of approval was an improvement agreement, which addresses all roadway, drainage and equestrian trail improvements, which shall be approved by the council prior to the first building permit.”
Fleischmann clarified that the clearing of Collecting Canal is the 20-foot maintenance easement, which the developer has agreed to clear as part of the development of the horse trail.
The horse trail is to be completed prior to issuance of the first certificate of occupancy, and construction of an equestrian bridge or culvert over Collecting Canal must be completed before Dec. 31, 2020.
The council unanimously approved the ordinance amending the PUD, along with two resolutions amending the site plan and approving the horse trail.