Garcia Farm to add more worker housing

LABELLE — Hendry County commissioners applauded Garcia Family Farm before approving the corporation’s request Oct. 22 for a special exception amendment that will let it put in new worker housing south of Clewiston.

Commissioner Karson Turner questioned why one Local Planning Agency board member voted against recommending the county approve the project. County Administrator Jennifer Davis said she thought member Orville Howard might have voted no due to concerns he expressed over a sketch and description of the property having been submitted, rather than a legal survey.

“I’m very familiar with this project. I think … this is going to be a Cadillac of sorts for the county,” remarked Mr. Turner.

The applicant is proposing a maximum of nine mobile homes and four duplexes to be provided for the farmworkers at Garcia Family Farm LLC, the staff report says. The petitioner, represented by Rock Aboujaoude, asks for about 7.5 acres to be added to the existing 7.3-acre housing area located on the 640-acre farm at 6605 Garcia Drive, Clewiston.

The applicant is requesting to amend a special exception approved in 2013 for that agricultural worker housing. The site is about 1 mile east of County Road 833 and approximately 2.7 miles south of CR 835 in southeastern Hendry County. The property falls into the agriculture land use category, and surrounding properties to the north, south and east all are zoned for agriculture as well, except property to the west is zoned PUD-mining.

Commissioner Michael Swindle said, “We struggle with housing and we struggle with places for people to live and stay and work and raise families, and they’re taking it on themselves, on their own time to divide that so they can have adequate housing. So God bless ’em.”

And this is an hour from anything, so from a certain standpoint, what this saves — and safety — there’s a whole lot of variables that make this a very positive project,” Mr. Turner said.

Mr. Swindle agreed, and the board voted unanimously to approve the change.

On other matters, commissioners:
• Approved on a 5-0 vote another special exception request to allow a church, Iglesia Casa de Liberacion, to locate in an existing building at 8360 CR 833 in Montura Ranch Estates. It is on a nearly 2-acre property where there already are a convenience store, pet supply store, tire shop and clothing store, will be put in the southernmost building and will consist of 1,870 square feet. Staff specified a few conditions of approval, and there was no public input.

• Approved an expenditure by the Tourism Development Council to spend $1,895 on an advertisement in the publication Destination Lake Okeechobee.

• Heard a request for clarification from County Attorney Mark Lapp regarding a property in Clewiston for which the board had agreed in its last meeting to make an offer. “There was some conversation about an inspection report, and I concluded there was not to be one,” he said. Commissioner Turner said, “My thoughts were … the inspection is going to be whatever it is … we need to try to acquire this strategic property.” Administrator Davis said she had spoken to the owner, and they had submitted a counteroffer, asking $220,000 rather than $200,000. Mr. Turner made a motion to offer that amount and, with title insurance to be provided, execute a contract to buy the property at 1203 S. W.C. Owen Ave. It was approved unanimously.

• Bade farewell to retiring Hendry County Clerk Barbara Butler, whom Mr. Turner called “a woman who has served the county and the region diligently in a wonderful way, has been a stalwart of leadership and unabashed about her leadership or opinion.” Ms. Butler responded that “it’s been great being with the board 19 years. Mark (Lapp) and Jennifer (Davis), you have been great, and I’m really going to miss you two. The board, that’s another story, but I’ve enjoyed it. Nine days and then I’ll be finished.”

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