Truckers Ready To Sue For The Right To Stay In The Acreage

Big-rig truckers in The Acreage have two legal roads they can follow in their fight to park their heavy-haulers at their homes, West Palm Beach attorney Christopher Mills told the Town-Crier this week.

“My clients are not lawbreakers,” said Mills without specifically naming the clients. “They want to follow the law.”

The law, however, is not clear and is being unfairly enforced, said Mills, adding that his clients are ready to let a judge decide the issues if Palm Beach County cannot or will not provide a permitting system that “grandfathers in” current Acreage residents.

“I’d love to see that happen,” said County Commissioner Sara Baxter, who has been championing the truckers’ cause. “I would hope my fellow board members would support it.”

At a Thursday, Feb. 22 meeting of the Palm Beach County Commission, Baxter’s plan to allow two semis on any residential lot in The Acreage was rejected. Trucker homeowners were given until July 1 to find parking elsewhere for their rigs or to file legal action.

At the same time, commissioners voted unanimously to increase the weight of vehicles allowed on properties zoned agricultural/residential from 12,500 pounds to 16,000 pounds and permit two such vehicles per residence. That will allow most home-based lawn maintenance businesses to keep much of their equipment on their property.

Baxter then pushed for county staff to look into ways to grandfather in current trucker homeowners.

The issue is expected to come back before commissioners in May.

Indian Trail Improvement District officials, who are in charge of roads, drainage and parks in The Acreage, have been adamant and vocal in their opposition to a county code change that would have allowed residential semi-truck parking throughout the community — threatening their own legal action to block it, if necessary.

ITID Executive Director Burgess Hanson has said that as much as $2 billion in road improvements could be required if The Acreage becomes a haven for hundreds or even thousands of truckers whose rigs have been pushed out of Miami-Dade, Broward and elsewhere. Allowing the estimated 1,000-plus semis now in The Acreage to remain could add up to $200,000 a year in road maintenance costs, Hanson added.

ITID President Elizabeth Accomando said Tuesday that the board might be willing to accept a permitting plan that would allow current truckers to remain.

“We’d have to see what the parameters are,” she said. “But we’re not going to accept anything that allows changes to all 17,000 lots.”

However, longtime ITID Supervisor Betty Argue disagreed. “You can’t grandfather in something that was never legal in the first place,” she said.

Mills, the attorney for the unnamed truckers, said their lawsuit will attack the ordinance on two fronts:

First, that under previous iterations of the county’s comprehensive plan, semi-trucks always have been permitted in land zoned agricultural/residential, such as The Acreage. Alternatively, if the court finds that not to be the case, the county has been so lax in its enforcement of the code over a long period of time that it has lost the right to do so.

“There’s plenty of legal precedent to support such a claim,” said Mills, adding that victory would have ramifications beyond The Acreage.

That’s what residents of other agricultural/residential neighborhoods are afraid of, said Risa McCarraher, a resident of Heritage Farms, just south of Wellington. She was one of the leaders of the group that in 2022 forced commercial landscaping businesses out of their neighborhood.

The outcome of such a case would affect all the properties in Palm Beach County zoned agricultural/residential, she said.

“I’m very concerned,” said McCarraher, a fourth-generation Floridian and an equestrian. “I don’t want to live in an industrial area.”

However, attorneys she consulted have told her it is very unlikely that a lawsuit brought by the truckers would succeed.

Meanwhile, Natalia Melian, who has led the push by truckers to stay in The Acreage, is hoping that a lawsuit can save her home-based trucking business, although she is not currently a party to possible litigation.

Melian said a permit process that allows current truckers to remain might be workable but that she would have to see the details before getting behind it.

“I’m just waiting to see what happens,” Melian said this week. “I’m scared… I don’t want to lose my business. Honestly, I just wish the county would see what’s at stake.”