The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council approved a resolution to remove obstructions from town-owned equestrian trail easements last week, as well as the mailing of letters informing property owners along the trails of the plan.
On Wednesday, Dec. 5, the second session of the council’s regular meeting that started on Dec. 4, Town Manager Bill Underwood said he had drafted a letter to property owners on the west side of the canals where equestrian trails could be placed, since the town recently obtained ownership of canal maintenance easements from the now dependent Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District.
“We are trying to be accommodating, so I drafted this letter for your review, because I would like to get it out and let everybody know we’re trying to open these trails,” Underwood said.
He explained that part of what they had seen the previous evening from information technologies consultant Steve Murray was that the letter would give information so that property owners could look online at their property and see where the town believes it owns strips of land on the west side of canals that can be used for trails.
Newly appointed Councilwoman Anita Kane said she had only recently had the opportunity to read the letter while speaking with Underwood earlier.
“I liked the tone,” Kane said. “But I suggested… where he specifically means ‘obstructions,’ that he add ‘vegetation,’ and that we might be able to get rid of some of those spots like on D Road that are completely overgrown.”
Vice Mayor Todd McLendon was concerned whether signs along the trails on private property would be considered an obstruction.
“I don’t have an issue with somebody having a sign on, let’s say, their perimeter fence, because it’s not obstructing,” McLendon said. “I think the only things that need to be taken out are specifically things that are obstructing, and this doesn’t necessarily say that. It just lists a bunch of items. I think it needs to be ‘any obstruction.’ We could say like a gate, or something to that effect, but it needs to be limited to something that obstructs.”
Mayor Dave Browning said the letter lists gates, fences, signs and other obstructions, but McLendon said he wanted to be clear that a property owner with a sign on his fence would not have to take it down.
“It’s only within property that the town owns,” Underwood said.
McLendon also questioned where there are culvert crossings, adding that there could be an issue with where some properties have placed their mailboxes.
“That’s within the town’s 60 feet but is not obstructing the trail,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to take that down. According to this, they would. Somehow, it needs to be limited to actual obstructions.”
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia said that she agreed that specific references to gates, fences and signs should be deleted and only indicate that “obstructions” to safe passage on the trail need to be removed.
Regarding a question about gates constructed on the easements, McLendon said they could stay as long as the gates are open.
Maniglia pointed out that there are also some driveways on the easements that need to be resolved. “It’s going to take a while,” she said.
McLendon said he is also aware that the town has gates constructed on the easements.
“Like at F Road, those need to be open within a week,” he said. “We need to be the first one out there getting rid of our own obstructions.”
McLendon added that signs like “no horses allowed” also need to come down.
During public comment, Finance Advisory & Audit Committee Member Laura Cacioppo said she favored replacing “obstruction” in the letter and removing specific references to gates, fences and signs, but was concerned about what could be defined as an obstruction.
“It leaves it open enough that you can interpret it how you want it,” she said. “A gate, whether it’s there open or not, is an impedance.”
She added that she did not want to have people airing their grievances to the council about opening the trails. Cacioppo noted that a 4-foot gate, even if open, might not be wide enough to accommodate a horse with a rider aboard.
Town Attorney Michael Cirullo pointed out that the easements are the town’s property.
“Even if you go in those crisp, manicured cities, they have swales, and you see people put little trees in there or rocks or decorative features,” Cirullo said. “However, it’s in that city’s property. You guys have a right to clear all that out.”
Cirullo felt an initial letter telling property owners to remove obstructions is appropriate.
“If we determine it’s an obstruction, and we want it moved, it’s our property,” he said. “It’s hard to define in every case, so I think in the first letter, you send it out and say if it’s obstructing this purpose, then we want it moved. If it’s determined that there are things in the right of way that are not only obstructing the trail, but obstructing other things that the town or the district needs to do, or it becomes a liability because people can get hurt… we can absolutely have it removed.”
Maniglia asked if the town can give adequate notice to property owners when it determines they have obstructions that they have not removed.
Cirullo said if someone has questions, town staff can go out and talk with them.
“You’re going to get a lot of different feedback from this letter regarding what is an obstruction,” he said.
He recommended using the term “obstruction” in the initial letter and dealing with it case by case. “Ultimately, the town can say, ‘Get it out of our property,’” he said.
McLendon said he favored adding a line to the letter clarifying that it does not apply to private property.
Kane clarified that the canal easement is no longer a right of way and the town owns it. She made a motion to send the letter to property owners as amended, which carried 4-0 with Councilman Dave DeMarois absent.
McLendon then made a motion to approve a resolution allowing town-owned property for equestrian trail use, which also carried 4-0.