Heritage Farms residents win fight to oust landscaping companies

WEST PALM BEACH – Three major landscaping companies at Heritage Farms need to find other places to store their gear and trucks.

After more than two hours of emotional testimony claiming residents were living in “nightmarish” conditions, district officials unanimously concluded Thursday that landscapers do not belong in the 2 square mile enclave west of Lake Worth Beach.

The commissioners denied the landscapers’ request for exemptions necessary to allow them to continue working at Heritage Farms.

The vote ends five years of efforts by Heritage Farms residents to evict the landscapers.

The chairman of the zoning commission, John Kern, took the unusual step of testifying before the county commission. He implored them to “do the right thing and preserve this community and its way of life”.

Landscaping equipment and other vehicles drive through Heritage Farms in the early morning of May 2019.

Kern said he personally visited the site. “Wave after wave of vehicles along with a heavy stream of vans in the morning and this was repeated in the afternoon,” he noted.

More:Why some residents aren’t happy that a landscaping company fine was reduced by $ 114,000

More:Can Landscapers Stay on Heritage Farms? County hearing scheduled for Thursday

This month, Kern and his colleagues voted 6: 1 for the exemptions to be rejected. The employees of the district zones were also decidedly against it. According to the staff, the landscapers had to meet four conditions in order for the exemptions to be granted, and they did not meet any of them.

Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who has long called for the landscapers to be removed, admitted that she did not expect “today’s result” and added: “We represent the people of Palm Beach County. And we did that today. ”

McKinlay was at times faced with an uphill battle. The landscapers’ argument that they are providing a necessary service to the ever growing number of developments in the western part of the county seemed to resonate with some commissioners. They also argued that they were in heritage farms long before the residents. But McKinlay disproved that position, finding that the vast majority of residents were there before 2000.

Residents gave compelling testimonials to show negative effects. They presented a video showing a caravan of landscaping vehicles clogging the single lane private road in and out of heritage farms. In 14 hours, more than 1,500 vehicles were using the road, and most were landscape vehicles.

“They’re ruining our quality of life,” said Risa McCarraher, Heritage Farms resident.

Michele Burns, a resident who led the fight to rid the community of landscapers, said she was still “in shock” at the commission’s decision. “We’re delighted. It shouldn’t have taken that long, but it looks like we’re getting our neighborhood back.”

Since 2017 there have been 35 meetings with district planners, landscapers and residents to discuss the problem of landscapers in rural and residential areas.

Residents say it can take up to 20 minutes to leave the community if they get stuck in countryside traffic. They also complained about litter and speeding by landscapers.

The landscapers have violated the county zone code that requires them to be directly on a main road like 7 State Road. The rule was developed to keep lawn cutting vehicles away from residential streets.

BET Holdings, Dixie Landscape and Bermuda Landscape filed for exemptions, arguing that they should be grandfathers since they have been in business for 20 years.

The County Commission allowed landscapers already on Heritage Farms to apply for exemptions from the existing rules. Some landscapers, like Top Cut, chose not to request the waiver. It has purchased land on State Road 7 several miles south for its landscaping operation.

However, the companies requesting the exemptions claimed that Top Cut had not yet departed and that most of the vehicles in the video belong to Top Cut and other landscaping companies that had not requested the exemptions. Top Cut faces fines in excess of $ 400,000.

Heritage Farms Road, west of State Road 7 near Hypoluxo Road on Lake Worth Beach with no legal personality, was never built to withstand the weight of the heavy landscaping vehicles. The Lake Worth Drainage District has warned that a culvert through which water from the canals can flow under the road is “in a state of extreme decay and impending failure.”

BET Holdings previously said it would add a fund to help improve the road, but residents said they will do it themselves once the landscapers leave.

Mayor David Kerner praised the presentation by the residents. “This is how democracy works,” he said. “We have to give weight to their position.”

So what happens now

Robert Santos-Alborna, director of code enforcement, said the fines on Dixie Landscape and BET Holdings would continue to rise. The balance for each company is more than $ 220,000 as of Thursday. Bermuda Landscape has sold its site to HFarms who were hoping to run a landscape operation.

“Our goal is always compliance,” said Santos-Alborna. “We want to get things back to normal on Heritage Farms. After the process is complete, the said companies cannot be fined unless they close. So we are confident that this will happen quickly. Otherwise, they may find it difficult to reduce these fines. ”

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