Related story: A Line in the Sand: At issue is whether building should continue east of the Coastal Construction Control Line
By Steve Plunkett
The Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District is considering dusting off its power of eminent domain to block construction on the beach of a four-story house and a four-story duplex.
District officials also would negotiate with the owners of two long-occupied, neighboring properties, seeking to raze the structures and connect the undeveloped parcels to Ocean Strand, 15 acres stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Intracoastal Waterway they have been saving for a future park.
The vacant parcels are 2500 N. Ocean Blvd., which has permission from the state but not yet the city to build a four-story residence east of the Coastal Construction Control Line, and 2600 N. Ocean. The city is awaiting a final report from its environmental consultant on the duplex planned at 2600 N. Ocean.
The district also has its eyes on a duplex at 2330 N. Ocean Blvd. Longtime resident Al Petruzzelli lives in the northern side; Philip Gori, who lives in the Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club, owns the southern half.
Petruzzelli’s nephew David, who lives on nearby Lago Mar Lane, said his uncle was not aware of the district’s proposal and that the property has been in the family for more than 70 years.
“I don’t think his position has changed at all,” David Petruzzelli said. “He is not a willing seller.”
Lawyer Keith Poliakoff, who represents Natural Lands LLC, owner of 2500 N. Ocean Blvd., said the state found its proposal will have no environmental impacts and his client has the “absolute legal right” to develop the parcel.
“In the event that the [district] attempts to ‘take’ this property, my client will not hesitate to protect its legal rights,” Poliakoff said. “The [district] will have the herculean effort to demonstrate that this taking has a legitimate public purpose or necessity.”
Boca Raton City Manager Leif Ahnell sparked the discussion on eminent domain, calling it “an option available to acquire properties for public use, when there is not a willing realistic seller.”
“As you know, the city has a strong desire to preserve oceanfront properties in the city for public use,” Ahnell wrote in a late August email.
District commissioners asked Arthur Koski, their executive director and lawyer, to investigate the process. At their Sept. 5 meeting he reported “significant pre-suit requirements” must be met, chief among them getting an appraisal of each parcel and sending it along with a notice of intent to the owner.
Then both sides negotiate, with the district filing a lawsuit to condemn the property only if they cannot settle on a price.
“If there’s going to be a fight over it, that’s what the fight will be — over the valuation,” Koski said.
The district also must show a need to take ownership of the property, “which could very well be the simple desire to acquire beachfront property or the preservation of the dune, protection of A1A,” Koski said.
Beach and Park Commissioner Susan Vogelgesang worried about the occupied parcel.
“One of these properties does have a home on it,” she said. “How does that work? Do you condemn it and just move the poor person out of his home?”
Koski said one solution would be for the district to take title but agree to let the property owner stay in the home for the rest of his life.
“I am in favor of doing whatever can be done to acquire those properties,” said Golden Harbour resident Al Zucaro, who leads the BocaWatch website. “The beach is important, it needs to be preserved, and the general sentiment that I’m aware of across the board in the city of Boca Raton is that it’s a travesty that buildings are going to be built on the beach.”
Because 2500 N. Ocean and 2600 N. Ocean are undeveloped, they would be subject to a “quick taking,” in which the district takes possession of the properties and a jury sets their value afterward. The district has the power of eminent domain in its 1974 enabling legislation, but has never used it.
Mayor Susan Haynie asked the district in December 2015 to investigate buying any undeveloped beachfront parcels a week after she and the rest of the City Council reluctantly granted a zoning variance allowing the home at 2500 N. Ocean to be built. That same month furious residents formed the Boca Save Our Beaches group to fight the proposal.
The state issued 2500 N. Ocean a “notice to proceed” in October 2016, ruling that the project would not “weaken, damage or destroy the integrity of the beach and dune system.”