Boca Raton officials are looking to the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District to buy up all the privately owned vacant beachfront property in the city to preserve it for public use.
The push comes shortly after the City 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.
This week, Mayor Susan Haynie sent a letter to Susan Vogelgesang, chairwoman of the district's board of commissioners, asking that the district "identify all privately-owned vacant buildable oceanfront properties in the city and evaluate the possible acquisition of these properties by the district for preservation and public use."
Arthur Koski, executive director of the district, said any request made by the mayor is subject to the district commissioners, but history would dictate the entities would work together to purchase available land. He said the commissioners will likely discuss the mayor's letter at Monday's 5:15 p.m. board meeting at the Sugar Sand Park Community Center, 300 South Military Trail.
There are about five miles of beachfront property in the city, three miles of which are public, Koski said. Of the remaining two miles, some smaller pieces to the north of Red Reef Park may be able to be bought, he said.
Elected officials agree: Better collaboration needed between city of Boca and beach district
Once Koski pinpoints which properties are of interest to the city, he then will be able to determine the cost of buying them.
"We will be required — if the district buys properties — to have appraisals done on the properties," Koski said. "So, we'll at least have an appraisal as a starting point."
During a two-hour hearing on Dec. 8, opponents to developing the 2500 property argued it would destroy everything the city and its residents have done to preserve the beach, opening the door for more property owners to come forward with requests to build on their beachfront properties.
"What we've got is special," Boca resident Mark Mannix told the council. "It's a pristine, gorgeous beach, and it's your charge to protect it."
Objections also included the light that could disturb sea turtles and the construction plans that "are not in line with the character of the neighborhood."
The 2500 lot was created by combining portions of two properties through a series of annexations and transfers. It has remained untouched since it was unified under a deed in 1963.
In Boca, the minimum lot size required for development of land is 100 feet. The parcel falls short by 11.5 feet. To be granted an exception to the rule, the property owner had to prove the request met six criteria.
In July, the city's Planning and Zoning board unanimously supported the development of the parcel. The Zoning Board of Adjustment voted 3-2 in favor of the owner's request, but four affirmative votes are needed for approval.
The land owner appealed to the City Council, which remanded the decision back to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. When the board again did not reach four votes in November, the owner appealed to the City Council for a second time.
At the hearing, city staff told the council the owner met all of the necessary criteria to be able to build on the lot and offered examples of six other properties in the area where similar requests were approved.
The owner's attorney, Charles Siemon, told the council both federal and state law give his client the rights to build on the private land. "[City] code provides a vehicle for dealing with substandard lots," he said. "This is not out of the ordinary."
Council members pointed out that single-family homes had been built on the beach in the past, though most have gradually gone away. Officials also said since the late 1980s, 19 similar requests were made, and all were granted.
City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser said such requests stand alone, and it's up to the council to determine whether each property owner meets the required criteria.
Councilman Jeremy Rodgers called allowing building on the site "a special favor that should not have been expected at the time of purchase."
Ultimately, the council voted 4-1 to allow the development. Rodgers was the dissenting vote. "We are bound by our code and the law," Haynie said. "We may not like something, but it doesn't mean we have the right to impose our personal opinions on it." Haynie said at least two other beachfront lots are buildable. One is to the north of the 2500 property and opposite of the Blue Water Townhouses. Another is a duplex property south of the 2500 property that can be redeveloped.
The beach and park district was created in 1974 in part to enable the city to acquire what is now known as Red Reef Park. Similar joint agreements were made to pay for land for Patch Reef Park, Sugar Sand Park and Ocean Strand.
"The relationship between the city and the district has been the reason the city has the reputation it does," Koski said.
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