Donation By Sod Farm Could Lead To More Paving In Lox Groves

A possible $250,000 donation from a business had the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council both excited and a bit concerned at a meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 9.

At issue was whether to accept a donation from South Florida Sod Farm LLC, a company owned by the Miami Dolphins. The donation is still in the negotiation process between the town and the company’s management, and it is tied up with a number of issues, including a possible paving project in front of the sod farm, located at the north end of the town, north of North Road between B Road and C Road.

While a companion item wasn’t specifically a quid pro quo, it did call for the town to approve a paving contract with J.W. Cheatham LLC for the paving of B Road and a portion of North Road at the cost of $230,364.80.

The Miami Dolphins organization has owned the sod farm in Loxahatchee Groves since 2018. It uses the sod to keep fresh grass on the field. According to Town Manager Francine Ramaglia, the sod farm has been a good neighbor, donating the sod necessary to put on town canal banks and offering an extra place to store town supplies and equipment.

The town is in negotiation with the sod farm on a number of issues, and the donation/road work concept is among the items under discussion.

While the donation would not be specifically earmarked for a paving project, the goal would be to accept the money and add a segment on to a nearby road paving project.

“These two items are not items in tandem. You may vote to accept the $250,000,” Ramaglia said. “The second item is to decide if we would ask Cheatham to continue to stay mobilized and do additional paving in that area.”

Ramaglia added that the Dolphins organization may be coming forward in the future to provide conservation easements to the town as part of the need for tree mitigation.

Resident Cassie Suchy didn’t like the entire concept.

“A gift is a gift, and there should not be strings attached,” she said. “I don’t think a quarter million dollars should buy you to the front of the line.”

Ramaglia noted that the town approached the Dolphins about partnering with the town, not the other way around, adding that the town is also discussing an additional buffer on the sod farm property, which sits on the border between Loxahatchee Groves and Westlake.

Councilwoman Marianne Miles called the donation “a godsend” and that road work on North Road is a long time in coming and necessary. “$250,000. How many residents would we have to tax to get that?” she said.

Miles noted that the sod farm has been a good neighbor, adding that they set up a helicopter pad there so that residents can be airlifted out if necessary.

Vice Mayor Robert Shorr asked that the storage area at the site become a formalized easement, and town staff said that is one of the items under discussion.

Ramaglia concurred with Shorr that the informal agreements with the sod farm need to be put into writing.

Mayor Laura Danowski did not like the idea of agreeing to accept the donation before all the contingencies were worked out.

“I don’t want to accept one dime without getting everything in writing,” she said.

A motion to accept the possible donation was approved 4-1 with Danowski dissenting.

When it came to the road work, the council did not want the B Road and North Road work to be approved as part of a stand-alone contract, instead incorporating it into all the roadwork being done in 2024.

Shorr liked the fact that town staff agreed to use the existing contract with the existing paver to do additional paving.

“I don’t have a problem adding more to the paving, as long as we are contracting all of the paving due in 2023 and 2024,” he said.

Shorr suggested adding all the previously approved work through fiscal year 2024 to the order with Cheatham. Once that is done, he would be fine adding the B Road and North Road work.

Resident Virginia Standish said that the item should be a line item in the general fund. She also felt that the canal and culvert work in that area needs to be done before a paving project.

Ramaglia noted that the sod farm has agreed to fix the culvert issues before any paving.

After getting council direction, Ramaglia said that the next step would be to amend the paving plan with the additional roads, then approve a contract with Cheatham for the entire scope of work.

A motion to do so was approved unanimously.