This article, originally published by Al Zucaro on BocaWatch.org, is preserved for historical purposes by Massive Impressions Online Marketing in Boca Raton.
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Another day and another item crossed off my bucket list. On December 21st I attended my first Greater Boca Raton Beach and Parks District board meeting! This raises two questions: Why was this on my bucket list? What was the compelling topic that inspired me to attend that particular meeting? To the former, I have to admit, I made that up. It was never on my bucket list. To the latter, it was due to the main agenda item of addressing the issue of protecting additional beachfront property from further development.
I was duly impressed by the tone of the board members. Again, this was my first meeting, but I felt they were committed to preserving and enhancing our beautiful natural resources. Further, the board appeared to be less political then some of our City’s prominent boards – and that is good. At the end of the meeting I left feeling as though more questions had been raised as opposed to answers being provided, which was no fault of the Beach and Parks District.
The reason the beachfront property issue appeared on the agenda, according to one board member, was a “surprise letter” received from Mayor Susan Haynie requesting that Beach and Parks consider the purchase of remaining, undeveloped beachfront properties within the City. The Mayor’s letter was written in reaction to pushback she received for voting in favor of a variance to accommodate building a ten thousand square foot mansion on a pristine ocean front parcel at 2500 N. Ocean Blvd. Without the variance the mega-mansion could not be built. This attempt at crisis management begs the first question.
Question 1: Madame Mayor, if you truly care about our fragile dunes and beachfront, why did you vote to approve the variance in the first place?
During City Council’s discussion prior to the vote at the December 8th Council meeting, it was stated that numerous variances had been granted in the past for properties east of the Intracoastal Waterway. None of which compare to the unique property at 2500. The prior variances for this stretch of N. Ocean Blvd were granted for properties WEST of N. Ocean Blvd, not to the EAST of N. Ocean Blvd which is where the subject property lies. Further, all variances are discretionary and each variance stands on its own merit with precedence not a determining factor.
There was additional evidence that worked in favor of not approving the variance: The City’s Zoning Board of Adjustments, not once – but twice, denied the Variance for valid reasons. That fact alone gave Council the necessary cover to take on the fight against approval.
However, Council’s favored land use attorney, Charles Siemon, threatened a lawsuit if the variance was not granted and that appeared to make four Council Member votes cower. Correction: The votes of the Mayor Haynie and Council Member Scott Singer cowered. Anti-resident Council Members Robert Weinroth and Michael Mullaugh votes were already in the bag for development – which is always the case. Only Council Member Jeremy Rodgers made the courageous “NO” vote, which apparently represents the sentiment of many of Boca’s residents.
Question 2: Why is the City Council so eager to spare the City from a potential legal battle and cost against a development issue but will go the full distance and legal expense to battle residents when the latter protests development issues?
Such was the case for the infamous Archstone Project, a.k.a. Palmetto Promenade. The sad irony is the City uses the resident’s tax money to fund the legal expense.
Question 3: What was the case for the “Greater Good” of Boca Raton by approving the variance when the purchaser of the property knew upon acquisition that the land was not suitable to build the ego-satisfying mansion?
Bringing this back to the Beach and Parks District meeting, the majority appeared to favor initiating a dialogue with the full City Council to see if there is an appetite by all Council members to further pursue the idea of purchasing remaining beachfront property, since the letter received from the Mayor was unilateral and not the official position of the City Council. If Council so desires, an evaluation of costs to acquire, maintenance expense, safety issues, etc. would then be the next steps in the process. Based on prior acquisitions, these costs would no doubt be funded by the issuance of bonds paid for by the taxpayer.
Question 4: Do you find it curious, or frustrating, that due to the granting of the variance all the remaining surrounding property has higher value and now the idea of purchasing the property comes forward at what will be a higher cost?
Through her own statements at the December 8th meeting, Mayor Haynie suggested that this could encourage adjacent property owners to request development rights on the dunes.
It would be quite simple to cast Mayor Haynie in the same light as the other anti-resident Council Members. Despite her rhetoric and campaign flyers, the Mayor’s votes have been solidly in favor of high-density development during her time in office. It’s no secret that the development community goes to great effort and expense to fund campaigns in order to place the right politicians in power. It helps to have friends in high places.
Questions 5 and 6: Is the Mayor sincere in this endeavor to protect beachfront property? Is she simply “passing the buck”, or is it an attempt at damage control to appease an upset and energized constituency so as not to jeopardize her future political ambitions?
Her most recent vote provides the most likely answer. As always . . . It’s not what they say – It’s how they vote that matters.