As the Village of Wellington pursues what could be its first annexation on the north side of Southern Blvd., Town of Loxahatchee Groves officials are concerned about how it could harm the rural lifestyle of residents who live on the western edge of their rural community.
At issue is approximately 250 acres of land at the northeast and northwest corners of Southern Blvd. and Seminole Pratt Whitney Road known as the Sluggett property and Entrada Acres.
The Sluggett land, on the northwest corner, is the largest single parcel at 65 acres. Entrada Acres is a collection of 37 parcels in a grid pattern at the northeast corner.
While Wellington has discussed the annexation with many of the property owners involved, the annexation application will be village initiated, according to Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Building Director Tim Stillings.
“It is not something the property owners are submitting,” Stillings said. “We do have several letters of consent from a few of the property owners.”
While Wellington will need to work with Palm Beach County on issues surrounding the annexation, it does not need to specifically get approval from the Palm Beach County Commission to move forward since it will be an involuntary annexation, Stillings said.
“Our understanding is that the county charter refers to voluntary annexations only, so we do not believe that the county commission needs to vote to approve the annexation,” he said.
If all goes according to plan, the Wellington Village Council will approve the annexation in December, which will set up an annexation referendum of electors in the area to be annexed, which the village hopes to accomplish concurrent with the March municipal election.
Given the small number of electors, coupled with the number of parcels that are not in residential use, Stillings said that the village will also need to show annexation consent from at least 50 percent of the area’s acreage. However, according to maps supplied by Stillings, that part of the process is already well underway.
Wellington has already garnered support from 20 of the 38 parcels (53 percent), representing 149.6 acres (64 percent) and support from 16 out of 32 total property owners (50 percent), according to the maps.
While the Sluggett property has long been considered likely for future commercial use, the village also intends to propose a future land use map designation of commercial on 12 other parcels that front on either Southern or Seminole Pratt. The interior parcels will remain residential.
“We’re in the process of drafting the feasibility study for the annexation, as required by statute,” Stillings said.
Not surprisingly, the possible annexation has raised concerns in Loxahatchee Groves, which lies immediately east of Entrada Acres.
At the Tuesday, Oct. 3 meeting of the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council, the council heard a report from consultant Patricia Behn on issues surrounding the annexation.
Behn is a consultant with PB Maps and Data, but previously worked as Palm Beach County’s planning director, where she was the go-to person on county annexation issues for 18 years.
“This is to give an update on what is going on with the potential annexation of the 249 acres directly to the west of Loxahatchee Groves,” Town Manager Francine Ramaglia said in her introduction of Behn.
Behn broke down the 38 parcels by current use. A total of seven are single-family residential parcels with two in equestrian use. There are 16 agricultural parcels, along with two that are county owned with large drainage lakes. There are three institutional parcels, primarily churches, and eight vacant parcels, all according to the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office.
It is currently unincorporated land within the county’s rural tier, with most parcels zoned for rural residential use at one unit per five acres. Some parcels are listed as commercial low.
“The intent of the county’s comp plan is not to have much development in this area,” Behn said, adding that commercial use by Wellington’s standards would provide for much more intense use than the county’s rural tier standards.
As Stillings noted, Behn agreed that the county’s charter amendment only protects unincorporated areas from voluntary annexations without county approval through a supermajority vote on the county commission. “This particular annexation, however, is proposed as an involuntary annexation,” she said.
Behn said that to proceed with an involuntary annexation with a referendum, the village would need to file an urban services report with the county. Once the village files the preliminary annexation ordinance, then challenges can be filed to it within 30 days, she added.
If the majority of the parcels don’t have electors, then the majority of parcels must consent to annexation. “There’s a lot of boxes they need to check before they are able to finalize the annexation,” Behn said.
She suggested that the council could take three courses of action. First, the council could decide not to take any action. Next, it could continue monitoring the situation and engaging with the county and other jurisdictions in discussions. Finally, it could provide a letter of objection focused on the protection of rural lands and rural lifestyles.
Ramaglia said that there is not currently an official application for the annexation and that everything is currently in draft form.
“We have not pursued or had any conversations with the property owners regarding annexation,” she said. “We are bringing this to the council is with respect to protecting the rural lifestyle.”
If the town was going to send a letter of objection, Vice Mayor Robert Shorr asked who it would be sent to.
Behn said that a letter of concern would go to the annexing municipality, or alternatively, to the county.
Ramaglia recommended the county. “The county is the entity with standing,” she said. “As a neighboring community, we can’t do much more than issue an intergovernmental type of objection.”
Ramaglia added that an annexation of rural land adjacent to Loxahatchee Groves is a potential threat to the lifestyle of town residents.
“Our reason for incorporation was to protect urban encroachment on rural communities,” she said. “This being right next to us warrants the conversation on protecting the rural lifestyle.”
Ramaglia said that she expects the annexation to move forward.
“It is set for a Dec. 5 meeting,” she said. “If we wish to weigh-in with the county, we would want to do that sooner rather than later.”
Ramaglia added that the town could take action to mitigate it now with a specific focus not on the Sluggett property, but on Entrada Acres.
“If we care to state a position at this point in time, it gives the Village of Wellington and the county the ability to work on changes that might better serve both communities,” she said.
Ramaglia noted that some of the property owners spoke to the town previously, but Wellington offers greater development potential.
Shorr was very concerned about the additional commercial property being proposed.
“Even if we were to annex this area, there is no one on this board who would take property out of an agricultural residential situation and build on it,” he said.
The council’s decision was to continue monitoring the situation and have town staff draft a letter of objection to be discussed at the next council meeting. Meanwhile, Ramaglia plans to meet with several representatives of the property owners and Wellington officials on the topic.