Boca Raton: Planned seaside mansion leads city to explore beach property acquisitions
A city decision to allow construction of a four-story beachside mega-mansion on an undersized oceanfront parcel is having a ripple effect.
In the wake of the controversial Dec. 8 City Council decision, the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District has agreed to identify all privately owned, buildable beachfront properties, obtain available market values for the parcels and find out if council members would support an acquisition if it had public value.
“I am certainly not opposed to evaluating the possible acquisition of what beachfront property is available and how it could be used by the public,” said Commissioner Robert K. Rollins. “Let’s make sure we have the consensus of the City Council for us to move forward with this. They are our partner and would be responsible for going through with a bond issue.”
The discussion on beachfront property was spurred by a Dec. 16 letter from Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie requesting the district take such action. What could be built on privately owned oceanfront property has been a hot topic in Boca since the mega-mansion was approved for 2500 N. Ocean Blvd.
City Council members on Dec. 8 reversed a Zoning Board of Adjustment decision that prohibited construction of the 10,000-square-foot house. The Zoning Board of Adjustment had refused to approve variances for property width and front yard setbacks.
City Council members defended their decision, claiming the city would likely face litigation because more than a dozen such variances had been approved in the past.
Outraged residents warned that the four-story house would forever change the face of the beach, disorient nesting sea turtles, and set a precedent for future development.
Originally, property owner Natural Lands LLC had sought two variances to build the 10,432-square-foot house: an 11.5-foot variance from the minimum lot width of 100 feet; and a 14.7-foot variance from the minimum front yard setback of 25 feet.
When the issue was appealed to City Council on Dec. 8, the request for a front yard setback was dropped. Natural Lands LLC attorney Charles Siemon told the council the house was a “reasonable” use for the nonconforming parcel and the width variance was essential to make an economically beneficial use of the property.
Resident George O’Rourke said the city’s decision to approve the huge house on a nonconforming lot instantly increased the value of other beachside properties. “What they have effectively done is made the (undeveloped) property more valuable. And now the mayor is suggesting that another entity (the district) buy remaining surrounding properties,” O’Rourke said. “What they have done is create extra value in these other properties now.”
Jack Fox, president of the Beach Condominium Association of Boca Raton and Highland Beach, was pleased to learn the district will begin researching the availability of undeveloped, privately owned beachfront properties. “We were shocked the city would vote 4-1 to reverse the decision of their own zoning board,” Fox said. Fox said his condo association had worked with the city to get beach lighting reduced to better protect nesting sea turtles, noting that the city had even embedded lights in the roadway to help reduce area lighting. “Here we are, after doing all that work, and someone wants to plop a 10,000-square-foot residence right on the beach that will have big windows and spread light everywhere,” Fox said. “The last thing we wanted was this monstrous residence built on these beaches.”