Often times we allow emotions to rule, as opposed to facts. The issue of the 770 E. Palmetto Park Rd/Chabad approval on Boca Raton’s Barrier Island has been one of much passion, emotion and acrimony.
Recently a reader submitted a comment on the BocaWatch Hot Topics Blog article Citizens File Federal Lawsuit asking “Would these resident’s have objected as vehemently if a church had chosen to buy the site?”
This is how BocaWatch is intended to work! A platform for all opinions to surface and be discussed.
To answer that reader’s question, probably a question on the mind of many…we will respond with a letter supplied to BocaWatch. This letter was written and sent to our City Council almost one year ago, regarding the variance approval for the 770 property, expressing the concerns of local neighboring residents…a fact most others are not aware of.
The following is the compelling letter written by renowned Religious Land Rights Attorney Marci Hamilton. Please read Ms Hamilton’s letter and decide for yourself….
Marci A. Hamilton, Esq.
36 Timber Knoll Drive, Washington Crossing, PA 18977
(215) 353-8984 (cell) • (215) 493-1094 (facsimile)
April 7, 2015
Mayor Susan Haynie, Deputy Mayor Robert Weinroth, Councilman Mike Mullaugh, Councilman Scott Singer, Councilman Jeremy Rodgers – Boca Raton City Council, Boca Raton City Hall, 201 W Palmetto Park Rd, Boca Raton, FL 33432
RE: Application for Harry and Celia Litwak Chabad Center and My Israel Tourist Attraction
Dear Mayor Haynie and Members of the Boca Raton City Council:
On behalf of residents of the Por la Mar neighborhood in East Boca Raton, I am writing to express deep concerns regarding the extremely intense, combination use that is now being proposed for the .87-acre lot at 770 E. Palmetto Park Road.
By way of introduction, I am one of the leading church/state scholars in the United States and hold the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University. I am the author of GOD VS. THE GAVEL: THE PERILS OF EXTREME RELIGIOUS LIBERTY (Cambridge University Press 2014) and frequently advise cities, towns, local governments, and neighborhoods on issues involving religious land use. Before joining the faculty at Cardozo Law School, I clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where I served as Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review.
The neighbors have not previously expressed serious concerns, because the scale and scope of the proposed multi-use project was not fully disclosed until the recent release of an online video and brochure for the tourist attraction, “My Israel.” The neighbors, many of whom have lived in East Boca for decades, assumed that this relatively small lot was to be the new home for a house of worship, which they welcomed.
Unfortunately, they were not fully informed of the project’s scale and scope until theprocess was relatively far down the road. According to the online brochure, “MyIsrael will be situated on the new, .87-acre Harry and Celia Litwak Chabad Center, adjacent to a new synagogue and community center.” My Israel is further described as “a dynamic, interactive, state-of-the-art experiential Center” with numerous spaces, including: Prologue Hall, Main Square, Inspiration Hall, Interactive Hall, The Explorium, Virtual Reality Theater, Mini Israel, The Spark Outdoor Playground, and Epilogue Hall. www.chabadbocabeaches.com
This is an extraordinary proposal. In my experience advising local governments and neighborhoods on religious land use issues and researching these issues on a routine basis for my scholarly work, I have never seen an application for such an intense use on such a small lot. Nor have I ever seen a religious entity attempt to roll into a house of worship application a tourist attraction.
The Por La Mar neighbors’ concerns are appropriately focused on the numerous uses proposed for this single small site: a house of worship including a chapel and sanctuary, a community center, a rabbinical school, and, most surprising, a tourist attraction that is being advertised as a “one of a kind” destination for believers and non-believers alike to educate the world about the virtues and values of Israel. It is inconceivable that these uses will operate on mutually exclusive schedules and, therefore, the impact will be extreme. Even if the tourist attraction were the only proposed use for the lot, the impact would exceed reasonable use.
The video invites school field trips, travelers from all over, and depicts a wedding, indicating that it is intended to be a destination wedding location. www.chabadbocabeaches.com
The most obvious problem will be intense traffic congestion, particularly on the weekends when East Boca Raton already attracts crowds to its beautiful beaches. But there are other legitimate land use concerns as well, including the adequacy of the parking for the number of visitors and the type of vehicles, including buses, and the construction of an underground parking garage on a barrier island. Nor has there been adequate concern regarding spillover parking and its impact on local roads, businesses, and homes.
The neighbors now ask the City Council to take the time to gather more information on the actual impact of all of the uses proposed for this project and to more carefully consider the impact on the neighborhood next to the project and East Boca Raton as a whole. Studies need to be done regarding actual impact seven days/week. It is my expectation that under ordinary land use principles, as proposed, this multi-use project (as currently configured in its plans and further delineated in the My Israel brochure and video) is inappropriate for this size lot at this location.
The Council recently announced the initiation of a traffic study at the intersection of Palmetto Way and Northeast Fifth Avenue. It would be sensible and sound land use practice to delay decision on the 770 Palmetto Park Road project until the results of this study are received: the area under study immediately precedes entry onto the bridge, which then empties immediately in front of the proposed project. All agree that the traffic patterns at the intersection under study are problematic and need a solution, and the Por La Mar neighbors applaud the initiation of this study. But these traffic issues are the tip of the iceberg if the project at 770 Palmetto Park Road as currently proposed goes forward.
The neighbors thank you for your service to Boca Raton, especially East Boca Raton, and hope to be able to work with you in bringing to this lot a use that is appropriately scaled to the area, roads, and nearby uses. Again, they welcome these believers to the diverse religious community of Boca Raton and simply ask for consideration of the land use principles that create the best East Boca Raton for everyone.
I would be happy to discuss these concerns or answer any questions at your convenience.
Marci A. Hamilton
Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law
Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law