The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council on Tuesday, Dec. 17 rejected a request for a comprehensive plan amendment that would have allowed the owner of an approximately 15-acre parcel on B Road to operate a feed store.
The amendment would have changed the land use and comp plan from low density residential to multiple land use for the purpose of incorporating low intensity commercial uses on the property, located on the east side of B Road about 0.2 miles north of Southern Blvd.
Attorney Al Malefatto, representing property owner Seth Brier, said the council had already approved multiple land use, commercial and institutional land uses on three sides of Brier’s property.
“To the immediate south, you have approved commercial, the Aldi, Wawa and office space, and to the immediate east, you’ve also approved development,” Malefatto said, pointing out that also adjacent to the Brier property is the Palm Beach State College campus, and farther south is the Loxahatchee Groves Commons retail plaza.
He noted that the town’s Land Planning Agency recommended approval of 30,000 square feet of commercial use on the southwest corner of the Brier property earlier this month.
“While we believe this was a positive development, we’re going to ask you to approve a little bit more tonight, because they approved much less than what we originally asked for, which was 79,000 square feet covering the entire property,” Malefatto said. “Our request is actually going to be for 39,000 square feet, just a little bit more — 9,000 square feet utilizing buildings that are already on Mr. Brier’s property, the existing feed store that was shut down that is 4,400 square feet and an existing home, which he would convert to some additional commercial.”
Malefatto asserted that the value of Brier’s property had been devalued as a result of the council’s action, approving commercial and institutional uses around him. “You can fix that by approving what we’re presenting tonight,” he said.
Land planner Josh Nichols, representing the property owner, said they had accepted staff’s recommendation to reduce the floor area ratio (FAR) to 0.067, or 43,000 square feet, which was comparable to surrounding land uses.
“The LPA went a step further and said, ‘We want to limit you to the southwest quadrant because that’s where the commercial core is.’ What we’re proposing today is to take that 30,000 square feet of what the LPA was looking at, so we have the 30,000, and then the 9,000 is for the existing feed store, which is 4,400 square feet, plus two dwellings,” Nichols said, explaining that there is an existing principal dwelling on the south property, as well as an accessory dwelling.
He pointed out that the property owner’s request kept commercial uses on the southwest quadrant, as asked for by the LPA.
“Basically, the ask would be for 30,000 square feet of new development within that quadrant,” Nichols said. “The other uses there are all to remain, so it can still exist as an equestrian facility. We have the commercial stables and barns, the equestrian riding rings, wholesale and retail nurseries, so that will remain.”
He explained that the multiple land use would consist of the commercial he had just described, conservation along the top of the property line, which includes an equestrian trail, and 10 acres of rural residential, which already exists.
The commercial use would have been limited to the remaining 4.46-acre southwest quadrant. “That’s where we’re showing that 39,000 square feet,” Nichols said.
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia asked about permits granted by Palm Beach County to operate the feed store, and Malefatto said the town’s special magistrate had shut down the feed store due to having no access to Southern Blvd., which is in violation of the comp plan.
“The store is not open because of code enforcement,” Malefatto said. “We believe, and made an argument legally, that we could operate. The code enforcement magistrate did not agree to that, so the store is closed. If this is approved, we will be able to re-open the store.”
Maniglia, who is a Realtor, said that horse farms are highly sought after, and that stables are collecting high rental rates, so she did not believe that the property had been devalued. “There is no reason that this cannot be an equestrian facility, and I want to remind you that it is not on Southern Blvd.,” she said.
Councilwoman Lisa El-Ramey said the only reason Brier was able to apply for the use before the council was due to a special policy that had been approved by a council whose majority is no longer sitting.
“I’m, frankly, not inclined to go along with something like this,” El-Ramey said, pointing out that the requested use was about three times the size of the Red Barn feed store on Okeechobee Blvd. “He’s asking for forgiveness, not permission until now.”
Councilman Dave DeMarois said he favored approval of the request, explaining that previous councils had made changes to the comprehensive and land use plans.
“I always thought that we were going to have commercial all the way to Collecting Canal down Southern Blvd. within our town boundaries,” DeMarois said. “Apparently, past councils had made changes. Now we’re addressing some of those changes, and we’ll have more in the future.”
Councilwoman Laura Danowski asked Brier what he had in mind when he purchased the property in 2004 before the town incorporated, and Brier said he had wanted equestrian stables and to run a business.
“I went down to Palm Beach County, and they had occupational licenses back then, and I applied for an occupational license and zoning approval prior to Loxahatchee Groves being incorporated and becoming a town,” Brier said. “I came here to run a little business and have fun with horses, and I thought we were an equestrian community.”
DeMarois made a motion to approve the application, but it failed for lack of a second.
Mayor Robert Shorr said he was surprised that the applicant had come to the council asking for more than the LPA had approved. Shorr passed the gavel and made a motion to deny the request, which was seconded by Maniglia. The motion carried 4-1 with DeMarois dissenting.