The wheels of Palm Beach County government are turning slowly for big-rig truckers in The Acreage, but they are turning.
On Wednesday, Nov. 29, the Palm Beach County Commission held a zoning hearing and voted 4-3 to move forward with a proposal that would allow up to two tractor-trailer rigs to be parked on properties in the agricultural-residential neighborhood.
“This one meant a lot,” Commissioner Sara Baxter, an Acreage resident, told her fellow commissioners in thanking them for their yes votes. “Not everyone understands our area. It’s so unique.”
Under the plan that now moves forward to a Jan. 25 meeting, residents of The Acreage who wish to park a vehicle heavier than 16,000 pounds at their home would have to apply to the county for an administrative waiver and have a driveway of at least 24 feet. Most tractor-trailer rigs weigh approximately 80,000 pounds.
What remains a sticking point is whether the truck waivers would apply only to those truckers living in The Acreage as of August 2023 or whether the area will become one of the very few in southeast Florida where any owner-operator can legally park a big rig at his or her residence.
County staff told the commissioners there are currently 179 residences in The Acreage where tractor-trailer rigs are being parked.
Baxter said she does not believe there should be a cutoff date.
Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Maria Marino and Commissioner Gregg Weiss pushed back, saying they feared an open-ended change to the zoning regulations would create a rush by truckers from across the region to move to The Acreage — in theory flooding the area with as many as 30,000 big rigs.
“I can’t accept eliminating the date,” Weiss said.
Marino expressed concern that other areas of the county, such as Caloosa and Jupiter Farms, might push for similar zoning changes.
Palm Beach County Mayor Maria Sachs said that limiting the waivers to only truckers in residence as of August would damage the resale value of their property.
“I don’t see any compelling reason to limit use [based on a specific date],” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair, and I don’t think it’s just.”
Baxter suggested a one-year “pilot program” to see if the zoning change created a rush of truckers to the area.
Commissioner Michael Barnett suggested grandfathering in current truckers in the area while requiring a more stringent and expensive waiver process for any truckers moving into the area in the future.
In the end, the commissioners asked members of the county’s Planning & Zoning Department to work out a compromise proposal to be presented at the January meeting, which will be the first reading of the proposed changes.
Representatives of the Indian Trail Improvement District, which is responsible for roads and drainage in that unincorporated area of the county, stepped to the podium and strongly opposed the proposal, suggesting that it could add as much as $232,000 a year in road maintenance costs.
ITID is responsible for 96 miles of paved roads, 283 miles of dirt roads and 57 miles of milled roads.
“Our roadways are not built for heavy commercial use,” ITID Executive Director Burgess Hanson told the commissioners. “Even our paved roads aren’t designed to handle this.”
He reminded commissioners that ITID receives no federal, state or county funds for construction or maintenance of its roads, and that any additional costs created by allowing big rigs free access to them will have to be borne by all ITID residents alone.
Weiss agreed, saying that the zoning change would create an “unfunded mandate” for ITID.
Hanson suggested that a storage lot for big rigs should be created nearby off a state or county road that is built to handle heavy vehicles.
When Natalia Melian — a leader in the Save Our Truckers movement that has been pushing for the change allowing the big rigs — took her time at the podium, she told commissioners that having to remove the trucks she owns with her husband Ricardo Alonso would end her small business.
“Please don’t put me out of business. I don’t have anywhere else to go,” she said in a mantra that the truckers have been repeating for a year and a half since the county began aggressively enforcing the no-big-rigs regulations in The Acreage.
Some truckers have accumulated fines of more than $100,000 for continuing to park their rigs at their residences, Melian said previously.
The issue of how to resolve those fines was not addressed at Wednesday’s meeting but is expected to be part of the January discussions.