The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council heard a presentation Tuesday, Feb. 1 regarding delays at the Groves Town Center Project on Southern Blvd.
The project has been delayed largely due to a dispute over an equestrian bridge that the developer has promised but was stalled due to the COVID-19 crisis. There has also been discussion over an equestrian trail and a tree mitigation permit, which has held up site clearing.
Dan Zimmer, representing property owner Solar Sportsystems, was joined by Case Bethel, who owns a parcel in Groves Town Center where he plans to build a Culver’s restaurant. Those plans have been held up due to construction delays.
“I’ve been working as a lineman on the power lines to keep the lights on and build the money to invest in this business and get a very large SBA [Small Business Administration] loan,” Bethel said, “The delays in this project have stressed this endeavor to the max, and my SBA loan is in danger of being lost.”
He said that Culver’s franchisees are members of the local community and try to make meaningful differences in lives through sponsorships and donations.
“Culver’s is always looking for ways to support schools, community organizations and agriculture, to name a few,” Bethel said. “I ask that the council consider the small businesses that are being hurt by the delays in this project.”
Zimmer said that from his perspective, there has been progress on the project but it has been slow. “It has been a challenge for everybody involved,” he said. “We’d like to see it move faster, and we’re here to help the process move faster.”
He said he would like Pod B, where Culver’s is, to proceed concurrently as the developer works on permitting and approvals. “That would be an important piece from our perspective, and we ask that the council assist in that,” Zimmer said.
He added that the equestrian trail, which has received criticism from some residents as having poor footing and containing metal debris, is being maintained and is in regular use.
The equestrian bridge is fully designed and was approved for the spot requested by town staff some time ago, Zimmer said.
“The town was very involved a couple of years ago when the bridge was being located, and we relied on that earlier decision for our planning and development efforts, so we’re inclined to keep it right where it is,” he said.
The tree mitigation plan complies with town requirements to the favor of town preferences for live oaks, bald cypress, slash pines and other native species.
“We’d like to respectfully ask that the town allow the clearing and vegetation removal permit administratively without the need to come back to the council,” Zimmer said.
Planning Consultant Jim Fleischmann said one of the points of contention was a possible redesign and relocation of the equestrian bridge.
“Both of the alternatives were looked at during the process,” Fleischmann said.
Time extensions for the project were granted by the state due to the pandemic.
“The extension, which was granted by the governor’s executive order, is now June 20, 2026,” he said, adding that the equestrian bridge also received an automatic extension from Dec. 21, 2020, to Oct. 29, 2023.
“The town really has no ability to say yes or no on those extensions, but by state law, as long as the town is notified within the appropriate time frame, the extensions are automatically in effect,” Fleischmann said. “We don’t approve them, and we can’t deny them.”
Mayor Robert Shorr said there are some issues, such as maintenance of the equestrian trail and removal of exotics, that do not come under the purview of the extension.
“What I’m trying to understand is things that should have been done, holding their feet to the fire, getting them done,” Shorr said.
Vice Mayor Laura Danowski asked Zimmer what he wanted from the council, and Zimmer said he would like to see a faster permitting process.
“We’ve got contractors lined up to do the infrastructure work,” he said. “These things are all in place from our perspective.”
Kayla Parker, the developer’s engineer, said the equestrian bridge had been designed based on plans submitted a year and a half ago.
“We are now being told that everybody wants this bridge to be constructed, but that the location is in question. So, for us to go back right now and redesign that bridge, we have to get a new survey, because it’s not in the area where we have our bridge currently designed,” Parker said, adding that she has had to meet with different town representatives with differing opinions.
She said an immediate solution to the delays would be for the town to grant a mitigation plan for clearing the site.
“We can get out there and start clearing the site and preparing for all of the infrastructure to be installed,” Parker said, adding that the developer has permits in place from Palm Beach County for water, and permits from the South Florida Water Management District for the drainage system. What has been holding up the developer is issues with the town over the location of the bridge and the canal outfall.
She added that businesses such as Culver’s are all dependent on the developer receiving an infrastructure permit.
“They don’t have water and sewer to connect to, they don’t have a drainage system to connect to, so it’s imperative that we get started on all of that as soon as possible so as not to leave them sitting with a building they cannot occupy,” Parker said.
Shorr said his concerns are to remove exotic plants, remove a section of barbed wire and a large piece of metal from the equestrian trail and get the footing up to specifications.
Town Manager Jamie Titcomb acknowledged that the process is taking too long, but he felt the town could work with the developer to find a happy medium to move them along and still hold them accountable to issues that need to be resolved.
“I think what they’re asking for is to give the planner and administrative staff some latitude in helping facilitate what can move forward but won’t jeopardize coming into compliance with what you have expressed is important to you,” Titcomb said.
Danowski said she was sorry that progress had been muddied by disagreements over the location of the equestrian bridge and the footing.
“In 2017-18, not one person who sat up here was an equestrian,” Danowski said, referring to when the bridge was originally approved. “I don’t want to take away from what we did accomplish tonight. I think the consensus of the council up here is it needs to move.”
Zimmer asked for 30 days to come back with options on construction of the bridge.