Publish Date: 
Thursday, August 21, 2014 - 10:15am

By Kimberly Miller and Jennifer Sorentrue Aug. 20, 2014 Palm Beach Post

All Aboard Florida was not up for discussion at last week’s Florida Realtors conference, even as local Realtor associations come out against the express passenger rail service and Palm Beach County’s property appraiser is raising concerns over home values.

Bill Hall, president of the Jupiter Tequesta Hobe Sound Association of Realtors, which is opposing the Miami to Orlando train service, said he suggested the statewide Florida Realtors group bypass All Aboard Florida for now, calling it a “local fight.”

“It’s something you can’t win on from a larger association standpoint because there are so many people on all sides,” said Hall, who is also chairman of the Florida Realtors subcommittee on land use, property rights and sustainable growth.

The Florida Realtors, a public policy and trade organization, has 127,000 members statewide and represents 61 local boards or associations. It held its annual conference in Orlando last week.

At least three Realtor associations have come out against All Aboard Florida, fearing the increase of 32 trains per day on the Florida East Coast Railway Tracks will lower property values — a concern bolstered Wednesday by Palm Beach county Property Appraiser Gary Nikolits.

“I think common sense would tell you that if you are living up along the railroad track and you have one or two trains a day going by, maybe that is not so bad, but if you are going to have dozens of trains going by every day that might be a problem,” said Nikolits, who spoke at the Economic Forum of Palm Beach County. “We suspect it is probably going to have a negative impact.”

Palm Beach County has 114 rail crossings and 170,690 people living within 500 feet of the FEC tracks, the easternmost rail line in the county, according to an environmental assessment released last year.

All Aboard Florida has committed to putting in safety upgrades that will allow for quiet zones from Hallandale Beach in Broward County through the Treasure Coast. The private company, which is seeking a nearly $1.6 billion federal loan, is springing for the improvements from 30th Street in West Palm Beach north to Cocoa — where the trains will travel up to 110 mph.

Transportation planners in Palm Beach and Broward counties have set aside $10.8 million to cover additional safety upgrades that are also needed for quiet zones south of 30th Street. Palm Beach County has pledged $6.6 million to help cover the cost of those improvements.

The trains are expected to begin service between Miami and West Palm Beach in 2016, followed by the second phase to Orlando in 2017. The route runs through eight counties, with stops only in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando.

In addition to the Jupiter Tequesta Hobe Sound Association of Realtors, also opposing All Aboard Florida is the Realtor Association of Martin County and the Space Coast Association of Realtors.

“We just don’t see the benefit to Brevard County,” said Mitch Ribak, president of the Space Coast Association of Realtors.

But Ribak said he understands the statewide Florida Realtors group “sitting this one out.”

“It’s a positive to other areas as much as it is a negative to us,” Ribak said.

The Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches is not taking a position on All Aboard Florida.

All Aboard Florida said earlier this month that various studies have shown property values do not decline in areas where trains are added to an existing rail corridor.

“In fact, there are many studies that show property values actually increase within a certain proximity to train stations,” the firm said in a statement.

Experts interviewed previously by The Palm Beach Post said it’s true that home values generally rise within a mile of a train station hub — residences that people are willing to pay more for to make their work travel easier. But the research so far has been based mostly on regional commuter lines where trains shuttle passengers through multiple stops in a condensed area.

Jupiter-area Realtor Maureen Flanagan said she’s already seen an impact from buyers who rejected homes in Tequesta Trace and Old Cypress Village because of concerns about an increase in trains from All Aboard Florida.

“It’s got a lot of people in this area very concerned,” she said.