With only two weeks left in the 2023 session of the Florida Legislature, it appears that any glimmer of hope for the incorporation of the Indian Trail Improvement District area is gone, at least for now.
The negative handwriting already was writ large in early March when the incorporation referendum bill — House Bill 1113, sponsored by State Rep. Rick Roth (R-District 94) — was not reported favorably out of the House’s Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee.
“After almost three years of hard work, hundreds of hours away from our families, we are disappointed that once again, our request to have a referendum on determining our own future has been denied by our own state government,” Bob Morgan, one of the three leaders of the VoteLox citizens group behind the bill, recently wrote on the organization’s web site (www.votelox2022.com).
The bill would have called for a referendum of qualified electors residing within the proposed “Village of Loxahatchee.” The new municipality would not be created unless the voting residents supported the referendum.
A look at the bill’s legislative journey shows that five individuals registered to lobby regarding the bill — three representing ITID and two representing developer Minto Communities, according to the House web site. Minto is the major developer and landowner in the City of Westlake, which sits in the middle of the ITID area.
Not everyone is disappointed by the outcome.
“Honestly, what I mainly feel is relief,” said John Rivera, a longtime area resident who ran unsuccessfully for the ITID board in 2022 on an anti-incorporation platform. He lost to incumbent Michael Johnson.
“I just don’t think it is the right thing to do,” said Rivera and repeated his view that the time when incorporation would have been valuable or feasible has passed.
Now, proponents of the proposed Village of Loxahatchee are left wondering: What’s next?
“We’re still figuring that out,” said Elizabeth Accomando, a Santa Rosa Groves resident who also is part of the VoteLox group.
Accomando is also an ITID supervisor but serves on the VoteLox committee only in her capacity as a district resident.
“We’re not done,” Morgan said. “We’re looking at options.”
One option would be to bring another incorporation bill to the House in the future, but Morgan said that would require a new feasibility study. The study, plus a publicity campaign to inform the public, would cost $75,000 to $100,000, said Morgan, who is also president of the Acreage Landowners’ Association.
“That’s our biggest hurdle,” he said. “We’re looking for donors.”
Speaking only as an interested observer, ITID Executive Director Burgess Hanson said another option would be ITID’s legal “conversion” from a special district to a municipality, which would require a petition signed by 40 percent of the district’s registered voters.
This is the second time that an effort to pass a Village of Loxahatchee referendum bill has failed. In 2021, a similar bill did not gain the necessary support from the Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation and so did not even make it to Tallahassee.
Although the ITID board was not directly involved in the effort to pass the latest referendum bill, the group will have decisions to make whether it will continue to support VoteLox citizens’ initiative concept, Hanson said.
“I think the board will have to look at the entire process again,” he said.
“VoteLox will continue to inform the public,” Accomando said. “But it’s important to take a step back.”