Groves Council Postpones Decision On Okeechobee Overlay

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council agreed Tuesday, Sept. 21 to postpone final approval of a comprehensive plan amendment creating an Okeechobee Blvd. overlay for up to a year so it can allow the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council to review it, as well as get feedback from town residents on the plan.

“The ordinance was on the Aug. 3 council agenda and was deferred until tonight for second reading,” Planning Consultant Jim Fleischmann said.

At the Aug. 3 meeting, the council made one text change, deleting funding methods for different classifications of roadways, Fleischmann said.

In addition, town staff made a change to the Okeechobee Blvd. corridor map at the request of a property owner to increase the size of parcels on the northeast corner of D Road and Okeechobee Blvd. by adding what was previously a 10-acre parcel north of three parcels that front on Okeechobee Blvd.

“That has a lengthy history dating back to 2017, when the owner of that parcel requested that it be split and 5 acres be added to the parcel at the corner and 5 acres be added to two lots east of that intersection,” Fleischmann said.

At the time, town staff determined that the request, by the owner of a nursery, would comply with the town’s regulations.

“The owner waited until June of this year to file the request with Palm Beach County, and the request was essentially approved on Aug. 4, the day after the council meeting last month. So, based on the county’s statement that they will create two new parcels… we amended the map to include that 10 acres within the overlay,” Fleischmann said.

Other than those two changes, the overlay remains the same as it was at the August council meeting. Fleischmann said that town staff recommended approval.

During public comment, Deborah Markham expressed her opposition to commercial enterprises on Okeechobee Blvd.

“You talk about trying to restrict traffic and trying to divert traffic, and commercial would actually draw traffic onto Okeechobee Blvd.,” Markham said, explaining that she had reached out to people experienced in agricultural and commercial enterprises who said commercial on Okeechobee Blvd. was not a good idea. “One of the things that they did come up with was to strengthen our agricultural guidelines.”

Loxahatchee Groves Landowners’ Association President Virginia Standish said she was puzzled by the overlay.

“I understand the premise. I understand the time put in, but as with all things, just because a great deal of time has been put in, doesn’t mean it’s ready for prime time,” Standish said. “This is a low-impact, non-residential development project. That is how it has been presented, yet no traffic or impact studies have been done.”

She said her biggest concern is that landscape services have been permitted and there is no restriction on the number of vehicles allowed. She also noticed that the category of historical legacy uses had been changed from 2006 to 2020.

“What I see here is you’re allowing more operations with lots of vehicles,” Standish said. “We have to acknowledge that agricultural is commercial. Agricultural ventures have large vehicles as well.”

Cassie Suchy said she felt the overlay is being rushed.

“This is an extremely important issue for this town,” Suchy said. “There haven’t been any studies. Has anybody spent a weekend to see what kind of commercial traffic goes in and out of Red Barn on Okeechobee? Has anybody done any crime analysis? Has anybody tried to see what the potential is if the 71 properties as they exist all divide up into the minimum requirement?”

She suggested an impact study to answer those questions and that a referendum be held for all voters in the town.

After several more speakers, Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia made a motion to postpone the overlay and ask the state for an extension.

“This is time sensitive, and during that time, ask the Treasure Coast [Regional Planning Council] to review the overlay and overlay design and give us comments, and give the residents of this town more time and the opportunity to find out and ask questions and let us know what their desires and visions are for Okeechobee Blvd.,” she said.

Fleischmann said there is no limit to time extensions to a comp plan ordinance, and Maniglia suggested up to one year. The motion carried 5-0.