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Quest to preserve Boca's beachside land still alive, says mayor

It's not over yet." That's what Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie said after hearing from the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District that it's decided not to buy up the city's privately owned beachside land at this time.

The district this week, responding to a request from the city, said it has too many other financial commitments to buy the land right now and to buy small pockets of land is not in line with the district's mission to develop parks.

The district's "enabling legislation doesn't limit it to only active uses," Haynie said. "That seemed to be the excuse. In my mind, we are asking [the district] to acquire the land for preservation."

Late last year, the council reluctantly agreed that a property owner can build on the beach at 2500 N. Ocean Blvd., prompting public outcry. As a result, the city turned to the district to look into buying up oceanfront properties for preservation and public use.

The goal in the district's mind was to further preserve the city's gem by creating a continuous stretch of public land, beginning with Ocean Strand Park and moving north, district director Arthur Koski said. District staff reached out to the owners of properties east of A1A that are north of the park and south of Spanish River Boulevard. They learned just one 0.42-acre parcel owned by Grand Bank National Association would be available for purchase.

Last week, the district commissioners decided it is not in the district's best interest to spend taxpayer dollars on isolated parcels. Though, they're not closing the door on the subject.

"It would have to be part of a whole plan," District Commissioner Dennis Frisch said. "It doesn't make sense to buy a property and pay taxes on it if we can't get everything else. I think land will get pricier and pricier. I don't see how we could afford to do it."

Greater Boca beach district moves forward with plan to buy beachfront properties

But Frisch said if the city could take the property off the tax roll, then it may make more sense. He said the decision of what's next for the properties is up to the city.

"They're going to have to either use some eminent domain or not give variances," he said. "If you don't give variances, you can't build on it.

Deputy Mayor Michael Mullaugh said he does not see the city buying properties right now or getting involved with eminent domain, which allows governments to take private property for public use and compensate the owner.

Instead, he said the city should review the development rights of the properties along A1A and find out their statuses. The 2500 property, for example, still has more approvals to get before ground can be broken, he said.

"Certainly now is the time to be looking at it," he said. "I don't think now is the time to actually talk about making bids on properties."

Also this past week, the city's planning advisory review discussed a proposal for a four-story, 14,270-square-foot duplex on the Grand Bank National property.

"I think that once the first building goes up, it will pretty much be impossible to do what we're trying to do," Frisch said. "I would say that would be the end of it."

The latest beach-property proposal submitted to the city, and another in the works at 2330 N. Ocean Blvd., is "what everybody feared" would happen after the 2500 decision, Frisch said.

"The snowball is starting to roll from the top of the hill," he said. "As it gathers speed, it's going to be harder to stop."

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