The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council heard Tuesday, Dec. 3 from Scott Bryson, head of surveying for the town’s engineering firm, Keshavarz & Associates. Bryson passed out GIS maps of B Road as reference for paving and road improvements in response to criticism that the road has crept out of its correct alignment.
The town has recently been improving B Road with new rock, but calls from property owners that the project is encroaching onto their property has led the town to stop the project until a solution can be found.
The improvements to B Road have long been planned, but now that they are underway, issues are emerging over what was once a matter of courtesy with drivers going off the road to yield to canal-side traffic.
Councilwoman Lisa El-Ramey, who lives on B Road, said the road has crept onto her property over the years due to grading and people driving off the road.
“I used to be able to run my lawn mower in front of my property, and whenever the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District at the time would cut the road too wide, I’d call them up and say, ‘My mower’s falling off the front of my property again, stop doing that.’ They’d stop doing it for four, five or six months,” El-Ramey said. “I fought it for several years, but with the new material, I’ve got a six-inch grade over my grade, where I used to have a 10-inch grade below my grade in places. So, I’m going to have a flooding problem, and I have no way to stop people from driving off into my easement.”
Assistant Town Manager Francine Ramaglia said the project has been stopped temporarily in response to several phone calls from B Road property owners.
“Our workshop last night was mostly a discussion of North B Road,” Ramaglia told the Town-Crier on Wednesday. “Several meetings ago, the council directed staff to go ahead and proceed with re-rocking close to two miles of North B Road.”
After receiving the phone calls, the town stopped the project and staked the road based on the original 1929 plat of the community, which showed the original dedicated right of way.
“Then we staked the property line for each property owner based on where we believed their property line is,” Ramaglia said. “The third thing we staked was the eastern border of the maintenance easements recorded by the [LGWCD] in 2014. What those maps show are that we are any place from three to 12 feet or more into the maintenance easement, and if you went down the street when we staked it where the edge of the road was, we actually were on private property, in some cases beyond the maintenance easement.”
Ramaglia added that she believes residents calling attention to the easements is a good thing, and the town is addressing the issue, although the final B Road alignment might not be a perfectly straight line.
During the meeting on Tuesday, Councilwoman Laura Danowski said she did not see a clear and inexpensive solution to the problem.
“The solutions are almost like a three-headed monster,” Danowski said. “If my property frontage was taken, and it’s now used as a roadway, option one is buy it from me. Option two is spend tons of money restoring dirt, figure out some way to protect it and put some sod over it. Monster option number three is put the road width back to where it was and pave it, so now you have a clear delineation. All of those are unwieldy, cumbersome and really expensive solutions.”
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia added that selling easements to the town would result in some property owners having less land.
Resident Ken Johnson, who lives on Collecting Canal Road, said the issue has implications for all roads in the town, pointing out that the LGWCD gave up its rights to a maintenance easement to a nursery that operates on the south side of the canal opposite his property.
“They penalized us, but they didn’t do what they should have done to the nursery across from us,” Johnson said.
Maniglia added that the nursery failed to maintain the easement, resulting in trees growing down into the canal.
“That has always been a maintenance easement,” she said. “It’s the same thing on D Road. It appears that certain people didn’t have to do what other people did. Other people had to give way for the machinery to come in and keep the canal clean, so I think that is a problem.”
Maniglia explained that not having a clear maintenance easement will cause serious issues in the event of a catastrophic storm.
El-Ramey suggested working with staff, public works and the residents to come up with an equitable solution.
“Being an east-sider on the road and watching our frontage taken… and the west side, we can’t open gates because we don’t have legal width of the canal bank to grant a multi-use trail, so what’s fine for the east side is not good for the west side,” El-Ramey said. “We have west-side boundaries that are also in question, at least from these surveys.”
She pointed out that one resident of B Road was able to prove that about 13 feet of her property had been taken as a result of grading.
“This is serendipitous in some ways that we have this all over town,” El-Ramey said. “When Ken’s road gets material, he’s going to experience the same thing we did if we don’t have a way to go down each road and deal with where the road has crept wider, not make the road wider with road material, because people are going to just keep driving wider and faster.”
B Road resident Cassie Suchy said she felt some residents were being taken advantage of for allowing drivers to veer off the road onto their property to allow the right of way to canal-side drivers.
“Putting all this money in for grass or whatever, maybe you need to look at these rules in place — these rules that take people’s property and take advantage of the neighborly aspect of people,” Suchy said. “Maybe go back to the original map. Put your road improvement over the original one, or ask people, ‘Do you want to widen it.’ Some people do, and they might sign it over.”
She added that some people won’t want to sign over the easement rights but are willing to allow drivers to go off the road as a courtesy to other drivers.
“But understand that the map is not correct,” Suchy said. “It still shows that 13 feet of my property is taken.”