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To Sell or Not to Sell?

Seven beachfront properties have been identified for possible purchase by the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District, under a new initiative to set them aside for a public park.The properties would ideally be used to create a park, with a parking lot and a tunnel under North Ocean Boulevard for better beach access, district director Arthur Koski said.These parcels are a rarity in Boca Raton, being among the few remaining privately owned beach-side properties ripe for development or redevelopment. The district, acting on the city's request, would buy them for public use instead. Koski said the seven already identified parcels are just a jumping-off point. More properties could be named as early as next week. Once the district finalizes its list, then district commissioners will decide which landowners to contact about selling.

The seven properties are between the Intracoastal and the Atlantic Ocean. Four are side-by-side, just north of Ocean Strand Park. The other three are just footsteps away from the rest. All are between East Palmetto Park Road and Spanish River Boulevard.

Greater Boca beach district identifies properties for possible acquisition - So far, two property owners plan to build four-story houses on their land.

"It's a special piece of property," Philip Gori, 55, said of his lot at 2330 N. Ocean Blvd. "Of course I don't want to sell."

Mayor Susan Haynie said it's always better to have a willing seller, but the city will work with the district to evaluate what options are available to make sure the land is preserved from development.

Whether the city would use eminent domain, which allows governments to take private property for public use and compensate the owner, hasn't been discussed, officials said.

Boca to greater beach district: Consider buying more beachfront land in our city. There are about five miles of beachfront property in the city, three of which are currently public. In all, the district is looking to buy 2.59 acres, said Briann Harms, the district's assistant director.

Terry Story, an agent with Coldwell Banker in Boca, said of the city's beachfront: "It's extremely valuable, and over time, it's only going to become more valuable because there is no more beachfront."

Story said she supports the district's initiative to buy up more beachfront land, especially "because they've overdeveloped downtown."

"We need more [public] beachfront property," she said. "That's one reason why people are attracted to the Boca Raton area. It only enhances the community."

The beach district's goal is to further preserve the city's gem by creating a continuous stretch of public land, beginning with Ocean Strand Park and moving north. "The small parcels by themselves wouldn't be useful," Harms said.

Ocean Strand, the city's last sizeable piece of undeveloped oceanfront property, was secured for public use in 1994 at a cost of $11.88 million, saving the 15-acre site near Gumbo Limbo Nature Center from development. The swath of green real estate stretching from the ocean to the Intracoastal is now owned by the district and remains undeveloped.

Any newly bought land would serve to further extend the oasis, with one of the properties possibly acting as a parking lot, officials said.

How the district will pay for the properties has not been determined. Harms said commissioners likely will look at the budget and projects moving forward, then shift the funds accordingly. "Getting an idea of how much it will cost is the first step," Harms said.

These properties could sell for substantial amounts. In 2013, Gori paid $900,000 for his slice of land at 2330 N. Ocean Blvd. "It's irreplaceable," Gori said.

In January, the Boca City Council passed a resolution that "requests that the district expeditiously evaluate and consider" obtaining the oceanfront properties for preservation and public use.

The move came shortly after the council reluctantly agreed that a property owner can build a 10,000-square-foot, four-story house on the beach at 2500 N. Ocean Blvd.

"We have partnered with [the district] in the past, and it's created the type of preservation and public use of our beachfront properties that our residents have relied on," Mayor Susan Haynie said when the resolution passed.

With that, the district pinpointed which properties made the most sense to buy, narrowing it down to seven parcels so far. Harms said the district has been gathering contact information on all owners but has not reached out yet.

Attorney Keith Poliakoff said his client, whose property at 2500 N. Ocean Blvd. is listed under Natural Lands LLC, bought the land because he fell in love with it. "He bought it for his summer house," Poliakoff said. "He bought it to enjoy it and use it. He's not seeking to develop and flip the property. Right now he has the legal right to build his house on this property." Though, a sale is not out of the question. "Of course with anything else, if there's a legitimate offer … we'd entertain it and respond accordingly," Poliakoff said.

On the other hand, Al Petruzzelli said selling his land at 2330 N. Ocean Blvd. is

not an option. "I've been here for 70 years," he said. "It's my homestead."

President of the Ocean Club Condominium's board, Naeem Mady, said the association is never going to build on its beachfront property at 2401 N. Ocean Blvd. He said it would be wiser for the district to instead put the money toward buying the 2500 property and others that may be developed.

"If they want to give us money, we'll take the money, but it's a waste of taxpayers' money," Mady said. "It would not serve a purpose."

Staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.

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