New livestock market proposed

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee County Planning Board tabled action on a proposed livestock auction site and restaurant on N.W. 160th St., at their regular meeting May 23.

The county staff had recommended approval of the auction in an agriculture zoning district at 1849 N.W. 160th St.

The Cattlemen’s Market of Okeechobee is proposed on 100 acres located about two miles west of U.S. 441 North.

Attorney for the applicant Virginia Sherlock said the project would bring significant economic benefits to the community.

The auctions would be held each Tuesday and Thursday. The project would employ 26 people.

About 15 acres of the property would be used for the livestock market and restaurant. The property is a former orange grove.

Attorney Kate English, representing the Okeechobee Livestock Market, spoke in opposition. She said the project violated the county comprehensive plan.

They found problems in the traffic study, setbacks, and the claim that a restaurant is allowed in agriculture zoning. They also questioned the impacts on route 68 west and the height of the buildings. They also suggested a turn lane into the facility be required.

They argued the economy could not support two livestock markets in the same region. The two would be about 12 miles apart. They also noted that every livestock market in Florida is located on a state road. Route 68 west is considered a county collector road.

Jeff Clemons said economically this county cannot support another livestock market, “We had 15 markets in Florida, now there are nine. Livestock markets are going out of business. This is economics,” he said. “They could not make a profit.”

He said the number of cattle that have been sold by the livestock market has dropped from 125,000 in 2005 to 98,000 in 2016.

Todd Clemons said the applicant had offered to purchase the Okeechobee Livestock Market last year but the offer was rejected.

“He said he would build one and put us out of business,” he said. “That is not the reason to do things.”

He said the additional traffic of semi-trucks, buyers, and spectators on a small country road on a foggy morning could lead to a disaster.

The applicant contends that with 180,000 cattle in Okeechobee, the highest amount in any Florida county in 2016, there is a need for another livestock market. The applicant claimed there are 759,000 head of cattle within 80 miles of Okeechobee.

Board member Mac Worley said two markets won’t create more supply or demand, “I’m about competition, but not if we weaken that sector of our economy. Agriculture is a huge section of our economy.”

Resident Hubert McCollum said he felt the road couldn’t handle the additional truck traffic, “If you don’t do 65 miles per hour they will run you over,” he said.

Other residents complained about noise problems from cooped up cows in distress.

The proposed livestock market would be a state-of-the-art facility, with a one-way load and unload facility. It would operate from 7 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and hold auctions on Tuesday and Thursday from noon until midnight.

The application stated animals would be unloaded and loaded outside and the auction would take place indoors. That would limit noise to typical barnyard noise. The restaurant would operate Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m.

In other business, the board approved a special exception to allow a 300-foot radio tower be converted into a telecommunication tower at 11235 U.S. 98 North.

The tower already exists on an 11-acre property that is zoned agriculture. It was permitted as a radio tower. County regulations have been updated since the tower was first permitted. It requires a larger setback from property lines, a minimum of 450 feet. The applicant, SBA Towers IX, LLC, plans to add cell phone antennas on the tower.

The next scheduled meeting of the Okeechobee Planning Board is Tuesday, June 28, at 6 p.m. at the Health Department Auditorium at 1728 N.W. Ninth Ave.

Charles M. Murphy is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News

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