Planning board recommends special exception for new livestock market

OKEECHOBEE — After two unsuccessful motions, a third vote approved a special exception for the Cattlemen’s Livestock Market, after a three-hour hearing Tuesday before the Okeechobee County Planning Board.

The board approved the livestock market but did not approve a restaurant.

The board had tabled the matter May 23 to await a traffic impact study on N.W. 160th Street.

This project will be built on 100 acres at 1869 N.W. 160th Street.

The county received the study from the applicant and submitted it to the county consultant for his review. They did not receive a report from the consultant in time for the meeting.

The concerns were N.W. 160th Street could not handle the additional traffic and whether or not a turn lane was necessary to enter the project.

The special exception would cover the entire 100 acres.

Planning board member Joey Hoover said it was frustrating to not have the traffic information, “That doesn’t really get us anywhere.”

Board member Rob Willson said he was impressed with the applicant’s study and felt it was done by an expert. He made two motions in favor that failed before the winning vote.

The applicant claimed the study was submitted June 13 which gave the county roughly two weeks to review it.

Traffic engineer for the applicant, Susan O’Rourke said they inspected intersections at N.W. 160 Street at U.S. 98 and at U.S. 441 north and found they would operate at acceptable levels if the project were approved.

She said the driveway to the project clearly didn’t require a turn lane.

“The volumes on 160th are so low you are not having delays.” She said traffic averages 100 vehicles per hour passed the proposed entrance.

Board member Weston Harvey asked about the mass of the tractor trailers and whether it created a hazard while turning into the site.

Engineer Steve Dobbs said agriculture zones in Okeechobee allow 17 specific uses that include shooting clubs, a race track, a stadium, even a milk processing plant.

“In your code any establishment is allowed in agriculture,” he added.

Another item debated on whether to allow a restaurant on the property and whether it could operate when the market is closed.

Dobbs pointed out N.W. 160th was once a state road built to state standards.

Mr. Willson said the restaurant would not draw customers from existing restaurants in Okeechobee.

Appraiser Matt Simmons, who was hired by the Okeechobee Livestock Market, said livestock markets are typically found in commercial and industrial areas.

“These facilities are oil and water when next to residential.”

Engineer Josh Hildebrand, also employed by the existing Okeechobee Livestock Market, said without a turn lane on U.S. 441 the risk of rear end collisions would increase.

Planning board member Joey Hoover said special exception should not hurt surrounding property.

He said he was concerned with traffic impacts that might affect Okeechobee taxpayers and become a financial burden to them.

Mr. Hoover noted it took a lot of effort to get state revenues to repair the road.

Katie Berkey of Kimley-Horn and Associates argued livestock markets should not be allowed in agriculture. She noted online sales have negatively impacted livestock markets around Florida. She said it was a heavy industrial use that would negatively affect the value of surrounding property.

Mr. Harvey said there doesn’t appear to be a need for a second livestock market and asked whether economic impacts should be considered.

“We should consider everything,” chairman Ted Kelchner added.

Kelchner said the restaurant was similar to the Subway located in the Super Walmart. He said it was basically a snack bar to serve the people at the auction all day.

Board member Mac Worley said a special exception is basically asking for permission to do something. He said he was taught to protect agriculture land and fight urban sprawl. He said the livestock market would serve agriculture but he disagreed with the restaurant.

“I see our agriculture land being gobbled up and I think it’ll be something we’ll be sorry for,” he added.

County attorney John Cassels said they must apply reasonable standards.

“There is a problem with the argument that two of anything is too much,” he said. “Two nuclear power plants are too much and two gas stations might be not enough.”

Dairyman Tommy Rucks owns the land that surrounds this property.

“If I want to develop my property how would it affect it?” he asked.

He said tractor trailers will damage the road. There is no shoulder on the road. The road is also prone to flooding near Otter Creek.

Debbie Clemons, one of the owners of the Okeechobee Livestock Market, said her family has lived off the land in central Florida since the 1860s. She said this project has brought her family together. She argued the project did not meet local and state law.

“The livestock market has been part of our family heritage. I hope the applicant finds something he can build a heritage with which he could pass down to his family.

Nearby residents basically objected to noise, traffic and lights. The facility could be open until midnight three days per week.

Attorney for the applicant, Virginia Sherlock, said the decision is about following the law.

“It’s not about competition or about who’s been here the longest,” she said.

Applicant Greg Isbell said he would address any concerns the county has.

“I feel like it’s the Hatfields and the McCoys,” he said.

He also questioned whether traffic would have an impact.

“I work out there all day and I’ve never seen a turtle killed crossing that road,” he added.

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