The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council on Tuesday, Oct. 15 postponed the preliminary reading of a plan that would have changed the configuration of the Groves Town Center site, asking that an equestrian access point be removed, that the developer show a stormwater plan and that a civic area be moved back to a more central location.
The developers of Groves Town Center, a multi-use planned unit development located at the northeast corner of B Road and Southern Blvd., were before the council asking for amendments to their plan, moving what they had originally designated as a circular “town commons” area at the entrance to the 90-acre site to a more northerly location.
Council members took the opportunity to request other changes to the site, including reconsideration of a senior living facility that some council members felt could change the voting base of the town. Some council members were unhappy with a proposal to relocate the civic area and did not want a proposed equestrian connection to the Brier property further north on B Road.
Matthew Barnes, representing property owner Delaware North, said they are seeking an amendment to the master plan approved in April 2018, which allowed a Wawa convenience store, Aldi grocery store and a bank at the southwest corner of the site.
“The proposed amendment doesn’t change anything that was approved in the first phase,” Barnes said, “Instead, we’re seeking to reconfigure the internal layout of the rest of the pods and the internal roads of the master plan.”
He said the main changes being asked for would make the layout more functional for the commercial uses along Southern Blvd. and provide for a larger and better-located civic pod, with access to the equestrian trail that will wind through the wooded buffer encircling most of the site.
“The access points into the master plan from B Road, from C Road and from Southern Blvd. do not change in this amendment, and the uses do not change at all,” he said. “The overall development does not increase… It’s just a reconfiguration of the internal layout.”
Bradley Miller with Miller Land Planning said he has been involved with the project since before 2013, explaining that the southern portion of the site had been approved for commercial use then.
“When it was originally approved, there were essentially three categories of uses,” Miller said, explaining that it included commercial retail limited to 103,000 square feet, commercial office space of 44,000 square feet and a 128-bed assisted living facility on a 40-acre plot in the internal portion of the site.
“Around the perimeter is a conservation track and buffer, including an equestrian trail, and then there are perimeter buffers along the adjacent roadways,” he said.
A circle in the original rendering was designated as a “town commons” area, which did not yet have a defined use.
“The thoughts were to have a space available for farmers’ markets or events,” Miller said. “It looks pretty on the plan, but once we started getting into it, we realized that there were some problems with the function of it. Where do you park? How do you cross that circle?”
This lack of functionality led them to a reconfigured plan that flattens Tangerine Blvd., places the office space to the north of the road and flattens the proposed commons area south of Tangerine and north of the commercial retail.
“We feel like it’s a better location for that type of activity, takes it away from the intensity of Southern Blvd. and gives it some additional space,” he said, noting that it has increased in size by 1.4 acres.
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia said the original approvals were given by a different council that may not have had the same opinions about the development.
“This is our opportunity, perhaps, to make suggestions to them because they would like some things from us,” Maniglia said. “One thing I would like to mention is that the 128-bed assisted living facility, possibly they would consider a hotel or something to that effect, instead of assisted living.”
Maniglia also expressed concern that wetland mitigation enabled the developer to relocate wetlands outside the town. “I’m just wondering if some of our wetlands and our natural areas could stay,” she said.
Councilwoman Lisa El-Ramey said she was unhappy with the outcome of the nearby Loxahatchee Commons Plaza.
“It’s has a very high-intensity commercial look with lighting and a lack of landscaping that really doesn’t, I think, communicate the rural nature of the town,” El-Ramey said. “As I look at this configuration… and I look at the town commons area, it’s so far back off the road and when you drive by, all you are going to see is the 24-hour lights at Wawa, you’re going to see Aldi and it’s going to look like a Publix. While we can’t really do much about what currently exists at that corner, I think that we have to be very cautious moving forward.”
She agreed with Maniglia that creating a residential situation on the property could be dangerous to the town. “I think this is a death-knell for this community when we bring in 128 potential votes in a community of so few votes that sway elections,” she said. “You dangled the equestrian carrot, and we’re all supposed to jump and put our ears up and tippy-toe around.”
Councilwoman Laura Danowski asked the applicants if they had an idea of the types of commercial going in, and Barnes said that besides the Aldi, Wawa and bank, a car wash and dental office have shown interest, but there had not been a great deal of interest shown by office users.
Danowski said her interest in the development had been piqued because of the roundabout design of the civic area, and she did not find the new design inviting.
Barnes said that although the old design looked good on paper, the new design was farther away from the noise of Southern Blvd. Danowski asked about landscaping for the development, and Barnes said all landscaping would meet the town code.
She asked about the developer’s plans to build a bridge over Collecting Canal for equestrian access, and Barnes said the bridge, near the top end of the development near C Road, was approved in the 2018 plans.
Danowski added that she is a proponent of the assisted-living facility, having cared for her recently deceased mother for several years.
“I’m not scared of votes, but I’m more than open to hear what the public and the rest of the council has to say on that,” she said.
Mayor Robert Shorr was concerned about trees being preserved, in the aftermath of land clearing for Pod A of the development that will contain the Wawa, Aldi and bank.
“It kind of broke my heart to see them just level Pod A and not relocate a single 50-year-old palmetto tree,” Shorr said. “I would probably come over there with my backhoe and relocate it for free just to see it happen. There’s going to be a rude awakening to the people looking across Collecting Canal, because there is nothing on the other side of that 20-foot easement.”
During the public input portion of the meeting, almost a dozen people spoke, mostly against the proposed changes.
Town engineering consultant Randy Wertepny of Keshavarz & Associates pointed out that provisions had not yet been made for stormwater retention. Council members also expressed concern about an equestrian connection that had been included to the Brier property.
After more discussion, Maniglia made a motion to bring the ordinance back to a future meeting for preliminary reading with the cut-through to the Brier property removed, showing plans for water retention and the civic area reconfigured closer to the original drawing with better visibility from Southern Blvd. The motion carried 5-0.