As the new year begins, local truckers are only two steps away from gaining the legal right to park their big rigs on their property in The Acreage community.
The first reading of a change to Palm Beach County zoning regulations comes before the Palm Beach County Commission later this month. If it passes, a second and final vote will be held a month later.
Ahead of that, County Commissioner Sara Baxter plans another town hall meeting to focus on the issue, set for Thursday, Jan. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the Royal Palm Beach Cultural Center.
“I want to give residents another chance to express their feelings on this issue,” said Baxter, whose district includes The Acreage/Indian Trail Improvement District area. “I also want an opportunity to correct some wrong information that has been put out.”
Meanwhile, a petition being promoted on Change.org opposing the plan to allow Acreage residents to park up to two large commercial vehicles on their property is gaining steam. Posted Sunday by Heritage Farms resident Risa McCarraher, it had 153 digital signatures at midweek.
McCarraher was one of the leaders of the group that in 2022 forced commercial landscaping businesses out of her neighborhood south of Wellington.
If the county commission approves the change in The Acreage, McCarraher said that she believes it will open the door for the same in other areas of the county that are zoned agricultural-residential and create a residential gold rush for truckers.
“This is not allowed in Miami-Dade or Broward [counties],” said McCarraher, an equestrian and fourth-generation Floridian. “[Truckers] will come in droves.”
According to the petition, the changes would allow as many as 40,142 commercial vehicles to pack into the ITID area and wallop its taxpayers with an $8,000 per year annual tax increase to pay for the maintenance and upgrade of roads to accommodate the tractor-trailer rigs that often weigh 80,000 pounds or more.
ITID gets no county, state or federal funds for road construction or maintenance.
Pia Skoran, who started a petition against semi-truck parking in the area last summer, said this week, “I respect the truckers. They’re an important part of the economy. But they should not be allowed in an ag-residential area.”
Skoran, a former equestrian who has been an ITID resident for 34 years, said there always have been a few truckers parking their rigs in the area but “now it has become abusive. Our roads are not capable of handling them.”
Canal and ground water contamination from the trucks or spilled cargo also is a serious concern, she said.
County staff has estimated the number of residences with tractor-trailer rigs parked on them to be 179. Others have put the number of actual rigs parking in the area at closer to 500.
Adding more to that number, “will have a devasting impact on the roads,” ITID Executive Director Burgess Hanson said.
ITID is responsible for 96 miles of paved roads, 283 miles of dirt roads and 57 miles of milled roads. Hanson has said that the code change could add as much as $232,000 a year to district road maintenance costs.
Natalia Melian, who has been leading the “Save Our Truckers” movement, said, “I’m still feeling good. But it’s still a challenge. It could go either way.”
Melian, an Acreage resident, owns a trucking business with her husband.
Despite several well-attended press conferences and multiple appearances before the county commission and the ITID Board of Supervisors, Melian said the biggest challenge is helping the public to understand the issue and getting elected officials to pay attention.
Melian and Baxter appeared before the ITID supervisors at their Dec. 6 meeting and requested that the district withdraw a letter to the county opposing the code change. The supervisors did not act on the request. The board meets again Jan. 17.
“I feel like we’re being ignored,” Melian said.
ITID President Elizabeth Accomando said whether the May 2023 letter is withdrawn will be up to the other four board members.
Supervisor Betty Argue said she would be “absolutely opposed” to rescinding the letter.
If the county commission does give final approval to the change, it could face a legal administrative challenge from ITID or from one or more Acreage residents, Argue said. “I know there are people who are very concerned,” she said.
Hanson and Skoran, among others, have suggested that the county should create large truck parking lots easily accessible from state or county roads designed to handle the big trucks rather than allowing them in residential neighborhoods.
“Our roadways are not built for heavy commercial use,” Hanson told commissioners in November. “Even our paved roads aren’t designed to handle this.”
Truck lots “would be a win-win,” Skoran said.
Baxter, however, said she does not support the truck lots idea because the issue goes beyond feasibility and government convenience to what she considers a core value — the ability to use one’s property as one sees fit, within reason.
“I want to stand up for the residents and find a balance,” said Baxter, who lives in The Acreage. “But in the end, this is about private property rights.”