After Protest, Roth Working To Pause Fines Against Truckers

State Rep. Rick Roth addresses the hundreds of people who showed up at a Dec. 19 rally in downtown West Palm Beach.

State Rep. Rick Roth (R-District 94) is talking individually this week with members of the Palm Beach County Commission in an effort to tamp down the flames of resentment and frustration that has been ignited in The Acreage by what some residents see as overly aggressive code enforcement by the county.

“With the holidays, it has been difficult, but I’m starting to have conversations with key people in my group,” said Roth, who represents most of the Acreage/Loxahatchee area. “I’m developing some talking points that I intend to share with each of the commissioners.”

He has no plans to formally address the commissioners at their next meeting Jan. 10 but has not ruled it out, he said this week.

Whether publicly or behind the scenes, Roth will be seeking a moratorium of code enforcement/zoning regulations and fines that the area’s long-haul truckers claim are wrecking their livelihoods. Fines can run to $1,000 per day, per vehicle for parking a tractor-trailer at their residence in the semi-rural community.

Roth and some 200 others supporting the moratorium or outright rollback of regulations had plenty to say, loud and clear, when they gathered Monday, Dec. 19 in the green space outside the county’s government building in downtown West Palm Beach.

Wearing red T-shirts and carrying signs, truckers, their spouses and some children chanted slogans such as “Save Our Truckers,” “Save Our Ag” and “Give Us Freedom.” Through a bullhorn, they heard from Roth and Natalia Melian, an Acreage resident who has been organizing much of the resistance to a 2019 change in the county code that they say took away their right to park their big rigs on their property.

With the onslaught of the pandemic in early 2020, the change went mostly unenforced. But now, enforcement has increased — and aggressively so, Melian said.

“Why are we here? We’re here to be heard,” Melian told the crowd. “They’re putting us out of business… We won’t let that stand. Together we can win this.”

This week, Melian said, she was pleased by the turnout for the protest. “But I’m not happy that the commissioners did not come down,” she said. “That was disappointing.”

However, Jon Carter, chief-of-staff for newly elected Commissioner Sara Baxter, intends to request from the county commission a “zoning in progress” designation for this issue that would provide a moratorium on enforcement and fines for up to one year so that the issue can be studied.

Under existing county code, residential storage/parking is allowed for one commercial vehicle — defined as registered and belonging to a resident of the property, and not exceeding 12,500 pounds and 26 feet in length. A tractor-trailer rig is often more than 60 feet long and weighs 80,000 pounds or more. Restrictions within municipalities vary. Owners of dump trucks, smaller commercial vehicles, recreational vehicles, swamp buggies, airboats and more, who often park them in the multi-acre yards common to unincorporated areas of the county, potentially run afoul of the ordinance.

Lawn maintenance businesses already are being forced from locations in areas such as Heritage Farms, said Roth, who introduced Keely Haverland at the rally. Haverland is the former owner of Haverland Ag and a third-generation nursery owner. She reached out to Roth in April 2022 and got him interested in the issue, which is affecting that industry as well.

“I was the next generation, but Palm Beach County officials stormed in and took that from me,” Haverland said in a press release from her group, Farms Under Fire.

Reversing changes to the zoning codes that disadvantage various aspects of the agriculture industry “is a fast-growing mission that includes many hardworking families, now fighting together to end the unlawful actions and impossible demands that local government is impressing upon them,” Haverland added.

Lou Colantuoni, a longtime resident of Indian Trail Improvement District, attended the protest. He also is a member of the VoteLox group that is seeking to gain permission from the state legislature to hold a referendum on Acreage incorporation.

“Change is upon us, and more is rapidly coming at us,” he said after the rally. “People want to preserve their rural lifestyle.”

The only way to do that is through incorporation, Colantuoni said.

ITID Vice President Betty Argue said this week that as an unincorporated special district, the area’s 45,000 residents “don’t really have a voice” in zoning or code enforcement.

“As many people who are upset about code enforcement, there are others who feel different. [But] it’s clear we have a lot of small business owners affected in our community,” she said. “We want to maintain our rural, agricultural, equestrian lifestyle… [but] we need to have a real discussion about how we do that.”