The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council asked its manager and attorney Tuesday, Nov. 1 to get more aggressive regarding the town’s southeastern border with the Village of Royal Palm Beach, perhaps even exploring the idea of getting property owners there to de-annex from the village and annex into the town.
The focus is the area near Folsom Road, Crestwood Blvd. and Southern Blvd., where the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District provided drainage services before it became dependent and had its borders merged with that of the town.
The council heard an update from Town Engineer Randy Wertepny of Keshavarz & Associates regarding negotiations on an interlocal agreement with the Village of Royal Palm Beach over the handful of commercial parcels that get their drainage from the town but are located in the village.
At issue are the LGWCD assessments for drainage. Palm Beach County has agreed through an interlocal agreement to allow the town to continue LGWCD assessments in unincorporated areas. Royal Palm Beach does not have that type of agreement with the town. Instead, the village would prefer to separate that area from the town’s drainage system. That would require the town to move its drainage infrastructure from the corner of Southern and Crestwood.
Several meetings have taken place between town and village staff members over the past year to discuss this issue. A few ideas have been suggested.
The village has agreed to pay half for the design and installation of a new drainage control structure on town property, but it would need to be manually operated, not remotely operated.
“That doesn’t work for us,” Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia said. “We need to be able to open our gates.”
Wertepny said that it’s the remote telemetry and electrical work that would be the most expensive part of this, which the village will not pay for. Public Works Director Larry Peters said that a fully functional remote structure will cost at least $100,000.
Another option would be for the town to get a small drainage assessment from Royal Palm Beach.
Town Manager Francine Ramaglia said that she believes that the village may agree to pay as much as $5,000 for the service, but the town does not believe that is a fair amount for the service provided. She looked to the council for direction.
“It is time for our council to weigh in,” she said. “We need to take whatever our stance is on this, because Royal Palm Beach’s council has given their manager a very strict edict relative to how to treat districts operating within their boundaries.”
During public comment, former Councilman Todd McLendon suggested that the town play hardball with the village and speak to the property owners about de-annexing from Royal Palm Beach and become part of Loxahatchee Groves.
“We’ve been playing games with Royal Palm Beach for far too long,” he said. “They are constantly taking advantage of us.”
Maniglia agreed with a more aggressive stance.
“I have heard from several property owners who would prefer to be part of our town, and I’d be curious to find out what Palms West Hospital wants to do,” she said.
The hospital, which remains unincorporated, has been noncommittal when approached by both communities on annexation.
“The hospital has been a holdout for all of these years,” Councilwoman Marge Herzog said. “They are weighing which way to go.”
Town Attorney Elizabeth Lenihan said that Loxahatchee Groves could decide not to do anything, leaving everything as is and just not assess those properties.
Mayor Robert Shorr favored the more aggressive stance.
“I would like to explore the idea of having those properties de-annex from Royal Palm Beach and annex into Loxahatchee Groves,” he said. “Times are a lot different today than when this happened back in 2005. We now have other commercial properties on Southern, and I really think these properties would feel at home in our town in our present-day situation.”
Maniglia agreed. “This is something that I would pay attorneys for because this is not against our residents, this is dealing with another municipality that is using our drainage,” she said.
Lenihan said that she would need to explore the law regarding how that would work.
Getting back to the idea of moving the existing control structure, the council agreed that is not a workable solution without the telemetry.
“To shut down an existing structure and build one that is less than what we need is a ridiculous idea,” Vice Mayor Laura Danowski said.
The council opted not to move forward with either of the proposed options — moving the drainage structure or accepting a small assessment — at this time but to explore speaking to the property owners regarding de-annexation and annexation. Lenihan said that she would look into how that would work and get back to them.