Okeechobee Board of Adjustments approves special exception for new livestock market

OKEECHOBEE — The Health Department meeting room was packed Tuesday for the meeting of the Okeechobee Planning Board/Board of Adjustments. Those in the audience who had come to speak on the only item on the agenda, the special exception for the Cattlemen’s Market of Okeechobee, were quickly disappointed. County Attorney John Cassels advised the board, seated in their capacity as the Board of Adjustments, would not take public comment before the vote.

“In 2017, the board of adjustments heard an application for special exception for Cattlemen’s of Okeechobee Livestock Market,” explained Bill Royce, director of the county planning and zoning department. The board of adjustment granted special exception subject to certain terms and conditions, he said.

That special exception was appealed to the circuit court, Mr. Royce continued. “The circuit court said the board did not follow the rules the way they were supposed to.”

The administrative order is done after the meeting, explained county attorney John Cassels. He said the court decided the county had not properly included findings in the original administrative order.

Mr. Royce said county staff recommends approval of an amended administrative order to allow the special exception. Like the one approved in 2017, administrative order does not include a restaurant in the special exception.

Each of the seven board members at the meeting had been given a thick binder of documents related to the special exception. They were advised that no new information would be presented.

Attorneys representing Cattlemen’s Market of Okeechobee and the Okeechobee Livestock Market (which appealed the 2017 special exception to the circuit court) were allowed to speak, but only to verify that documents were included in the record.

Board member Joey Hoover asked if anything had changed in regard to the traffic study. He was advised it had not. “My vote originally was based on the fact that I didn’t believe adequate transportation analysis was made,” he said.

Board member Frank Cunningham abstained from voting due to conflict of interest. “I was the engineer from day one on this project,” he said. “If Mr. Isbell has a problem tomorrow, I have to respond. I’m still in the picture.”

Weston Harvey was absent from the meeting, so alternate Brian Trimble was allowed to vote.

Mr. Trimble, Matt Buxton, Ted Kelchner, Lawrence Fipps and Paul Howell voted in favor of the special exception. Mr. Hoover was the lone vote in opposition.

Of those who voted on the special exception in June 2017, only Mr. Kelchner and Mr. Hoover are still on the board. The newest members, Mr. Trimbel and Mr. Howell, were appointed by the Okeechobee County Commission at their April 25 meeting.

Public comments were allowed after the vote. Only one man stood to speak.

“For five generations the Clemmons family has served this community with honesty and integrity,” said Jeff Clemons, one of the owners of the Okeechobee Livestock Market. He said the hardworking people of Okeechobee have helped the business stand strong.

“What concerns me is the fact that those same hardworking people have put their trust in various elected and appointed officials who have failed to do their homework,” Mr. Clemmons said.

“As for my own family, though slandered and abused, we will continue to draw closer together,” he said. “I hope you will join me in thanking God for showing us our weaknesses and shortcomings so that we can do something about them in the future.”

“Now we’ve been approved for the second time, it’s time to move on and get this facility open. We’ve had enough delays,” Greg Isbell posted on Facebook after the hearing.

The ribbon cutting for Cattlemen’s Market, 1849 N.W. 160th Street, is set for Saturday, May 11, at 11 a.m.

Can “Florida’s Cowtown” support two livestock markets? Statewide, Florida’s cattle population is decreasing as ranch land is sold for development, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, which was released in April. Okeechobee County had 180,538 cattle on the 2012 census and 133,975 cattle on the 2017 census. Hendry County had 65,780 cattle in 2012 and 57,367 in 2017. Highlands County had 122,336 in 2012 compared with 85,875 in 2017. Palm Beach County had 9,333 cattle in 2012 and 7,114 in 2017. Of the big lake area counties, only Glades County reported an increase in cattle in the five-year period, with 63,007 cattle in 2012 and 65,136 on the 2017 census.

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