Dr. Kim DeLaney of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council presented a mobility plan vision to the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council on Tuesday, Dec. 7 and announced that the Palm Beach County Transportation Planning Agency is interested in partnering with the town on projects.
DeLaney, director of strategic development and policy at the TCRPC, also offered to help the town with proper assessments for businesses, many of which are paying single-family residential taxes.
“Funds are available to match the town up to $50,000,” she said. “We would develop a scope that would maximize access to those funds but minimize the cost to the town to the best of our ability.”
DeLaney said she had discussed a number of ideas that can be pursued at the same time. Her particular focus is on ways to protect the many unique aspects of Loxahatchee Groves.
“That’s a unique resource that if we were to make a suggestion to you, preserving those aspects of the county that have unique characteristics is very hard to do, especially in the face of so much development pressure around you,” DeLaney said. “So, as we approach planning projects and work with communities, what we try to be mindful of is the context of that place and maintain and celebrate that place.”
She pointed out that neighboring communities are very suburban and are expanding.
“That makes it harder for adjacent municipalities to be able to protect their sense of place,” DeLaney said. “Development pressure wants to, like water rises, fill whatever avenue is available.”
She suggested thinking about the town’s roadway network as a unique representation of what makes Loxahatchee Groves special and different.
“My sense is that you don’t want to replicate those other conditions, but you want to keep the character of Loxahatchee Groves,” DeLaney said. “It’s why people move here, and why people love your community.”
Other parts of the town’s roadway network also take a lot of pressure, she said, and understanding how the network breaks down into major and minor roadways, and how they should be designed and treated, and how they should be maintained over time, is part of what must be considered in a mobility plan.
“The Transportation Planning Agency wants to be a resource to help local governments and municipalities figure out what it is that they want and assist you in creating the safest, most functional and most connected roadway network,” DeLaney said. “That makes you a connected community.”
The priorities of a plan would be from the residents and property owners in Loxahatchee Groves. “All of the planning work that we do is generated by that community,” she said. “We would do our best in assisting you in that conversation.”
Part of the conversation would be to document what is discussed so that it can be of legislative benefit to the town and make it able to implement the vision, she said, explaining that Loxahatchee Groves has a rural agrarian heritage that is rapidly being lost elsewhere in Palm Beach County and throughout the state.
She pointed to the Indian Trail Improvement District, which recently developed a transportation plan that made it eligible to leverage up to $1 million annually from the TPA.
“ITID is positioned to go after funding every year for the next three, five, seven years until it builds out its roadway network,” DeLaney said. “It gave them more points in the grant application process. The TPA staff was already aware of the projects that were coming on the plate because the TPA was involved in the development of the mobility plan.”
She added that a sidebar to the grant application process is how heavily impacted the town’s roadway network is in key locations where there is more agricultural/industrial use different than residential uses.
“There may be a benefit to the town for taking a deeper dive to understand how assessments are being generated on properties in the area and whether or not the assessments are appropriately identifying the uses that are taking place,” DeLaney said. “If you have two properties next to one another, and they are both being taxed as residential, but one is putting six or eight trips per day on the roadway network… and the neighboring use is paying the same amount of taxes and putting 150 to 200 trips per day on the roadway network, those vehicles are not single-family in nature, they are more industrial in nature. There is inequity in balance that may be there.”
She suggested that conversations are needed to figure out if the town’s plans and codes are appropriately assigning uses and communicating that information to the Property Appraiser’s Office. The TCRPC would be willing to assist the town in rectifying the situation if it so desires. “We could carry that work out at the same time because it’s more efficient for us to do that because we are already mobilized,” DeLaney said.
She suggested that it will take a year to comfortably develop a mobility plan for Loxahatchee Groves.
“Due diligence takes a good two months, public outreach takes a full month of interviews before we’re ready to begin talking about a public workshop,” DeLaney said.
The TCRPC’s cost to provide a mobility plan would be $114,000. With $50,000 from the TPA, the cost to the town would be $64,000.
Councilwoman Marge Herzog said one of the concerns that has come up on several occasions has been the inequity of business ventures that are hiding behind hedges and not paying their fair share. “How could you help us address that type of problem?” she asked.
DeLaney said that in conversations with Town Manager Jamie Titcomb, there is a feeling that there is a disconnect between business activity and the records maintained by the Property Appraiser’s Office.
“The data to enforce that is code enforcement data in part, and observation. It’s tricky, and we have to work as a team and understand how to evaluate that for you,” she said. “One of the disconnects is the occupational license, whether it is present or not, and if it is present, it has a category assigned to it. That is related to the future land use and zoning designations that you apply to property.”
Titcomb asked the council for a consensus to have the TCRPC to come back for a more complete presentation. Herzog made a motion to move forward, which carried 5-0.