County denies zoning change at busy intersection

OKEECHOBEE — In a split decision, the Okeechobee County Commission Thursday rejected a request for a zoning change that would have allowed a commercial ice machine on the southwest corner of the intersection of Southeast 32nd Street and Southeast 18th Terrace.

The applicant requested a change from Planned Development to Neighborhood Commercial.

At the Dec. 12, 2017 Planning Board meeting, planners recommended the county deny the zoning change. The property owner appealed to the county commission at their Jan. 11 meeting.

A group of about 20 area property owners attended the Thursday hearing and voiced concerns about the proposal, including the fear that if the zoning is changed the business might not be limited to an ice machine, and concerns about increased traffic problems and increased noise. Some mentioned the theory that once the zoning is changed, a mini-mart could be built on that property. Others were concerned that a stand-alone ice machine would be left littered by the users and that corner could become an eyesore.

“This idea that it is going to turn into a minimart or a gas station,” is not the intent of the applicant, said Jeff Sumner with Sumner Engineering, representing applicant Danny Marsocci.

“This applicant has two other ice machines in Okeechobee County, one of which is a stand-alone business,” he said.

He said Charles Harvey Highway was built to handle commercial traffic.

“There is a reason Mr. Coker and Mr. Walpole donated the property for that road to be built,” Mr. Sumner said, noting the road was built for commercial traffic. He said the high traffic on that road is one of the reasons it would be a good spot for an ice and water dispensary.

He said a stand-alone ice and water facility on State Road 70 is owned by the same applicant, is monitored by remote camera and is not allowed to become an eyesore.

“People are not going to come from all over town to that machine,” said Mr. Marsocci. “It’s going to be the same people who are driving by there every day.”

”Looking at the site, it looks like it takes about half the site. It seems to me the site would not be enough property for a convenience store, and definitely not for fuel,” said Commissioner Brad Goodbread.

“We could certainly put an ice machine on a smaller piece of property,” said Mr. Sumner.

He said the current landowner did not want to sell a smaller parcel.

Commissioner Bryant Culpepper said he spoke to a number of people who live in the area.

He said he is concerned that the noise in the very early hours of the morning could affect the quality of life for the residents.

He said other ice machines are not in areas surrounded by homes.

Commissioner Culpepper said the commission wants to do what is right for the community, and to protect the way of life for Okeechobee residents.

If anybody thinks that property is going to stay a cow pasture forever, they are mistaken, said Commissioner Goodbread. Eventually it will be developed for more housing or commercial uses, he continued.

“Of all of the commercial businesses you could have, this is one of the lowest impacts,” he said.

“There is a very delicate balance here and I understand both sides,” he added. “We hear everybody saying we need growth. We need to improve our tax base. We need jobs. We need industry. Sooner or later Mr. Coker’s property is not going to be a ranch anymore.”

“We place people on the planning and zoning board to do a job,” said Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs. “We don’t usually go against what the planning board votes on.
“I don’t like the 18th Terrace and Charles Harvey intersection,” he said, adding that he has had a lot of conversations with the sheriff about the traffic problems there.

He said he does not believe placing an ice machine is in the best interest of the community.

Commissioner Kelly Owens said the planning board recommended denying the zoning change.

“We need to look at future land use,” she said. “I have a planning board telling me they don’t agree with the change, and I have staff telling me the same. I have to look at what potentially could be the use of this property.”

Commissioners David Hazellief and Goodbread voted in favor of the zoning change.

Commissioners Owens, Culpepper and Burroughs voted to deny the zoning change.

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