The Coastal Star

Along the Coast: Mainland building boom prompts renewed call for unified fire-rescue

By Steve Plunkett
    A new potential for heavy growth on Federal Highway at the Woolbright Road and Ocean Avenue intersections has the barrier island-based Florida Coalition for Preservation sounding the alarms.
    Boynton Beach has changed its comprehensive plan, future land use map, zoning and all its land development regulations to permit much denser growth than before at the bases of the bridges to the island, said Kristine de Haseth, the coalition’s executive director.
    All four quadrants at Woolbright and Federal are zoned “multiuse high,” which allows buildings up to 150 feet tall with 80 units per acre. By comparison, she told Gulf Stream town commissioners at their May meeting, Gulf Stream’s single-family neighborhoods have about 1.5 units per acre.
    “So 80 units per acre is quite a difference,” de Haseth said.
    The situation is more congested at Ocean Avenue, which is part of a “transportation overlay district” that gets a 25 percent bonus on density.
    “So rather than having 80 units per acre, they could have 100 units per acre,” de Haseth said. “Now we’re talking real urbanization. … Those are the type of numbers you see in Fort Lauderdale and Miami.”
    A new developer recently bought Las Ventanas apartments for $109 million. “He could add an additional five stories to the five-story buildings that he has. And he could also increase his density, which is now 33, up to 80,” de Haseth said.
    The same thing could happen at the foot of the Woolbright Road bridge, where the “functioning obsolescent” Bermuda Cay rental development and neighboring, 60-year-old Snug Harbor Gardens Villas are probably the next parcels to be redeveloped, de Haseth said.
    “That doesn’t mean that is what will happen. But that is what Boynton has said their 20-year planning operation is moving toward, and that’s what they would like to see there,” she said.
    Architect Mark Marsh, at the Gulf Stream meeting for another issue, shared de Haseth’s pessimistic outlook. “What’s ahead is pretty scary,” said Marsh, who lives in Ocean Ridge.
    De Haseth said the main concern is access to the barrier island for emergency vehicles. Boynton Beach fire-rescue’s Station 1 across the Ocean Avenue bridge responds to the northern end of Ocean Ridge, while Station 4 across Woolbright covers the southern end of Ocean Ridge and Briny Breezes.
    “So it’s one thing to have increased traffic; it’s one thing to have increased foot traffic over your bridge maybe not being respectful to your dunes or your beaches. It’s one thing to have petty crime that increases because of increased density and pressures from the west to the east,” de Haseth said. “It’s another thing if you have a heart attack, God forbid, and the fire-EMT station can’t get to you, and then furthermore, it can’t get back to the other side.”
    De Haseth said the coalition will pursue three initiatives to unite the island from Manalapan to Delray Beach: a unified fire-EMT department, a contiguous license plate recognition system and a barrier island traffic study.
    The idea of a unified fire-EMT department won’t gain traction until the municipalities do the second phase of a study and determine how much it will cost, she said.
    “There’s been talk of putting a heliport on top of St. Andrew’s [beachside club]; there’s been a bunch of different, really interesting ideas that are out of the box,” de Haseth said.
    The license plate recognition program was dealt a blow when Briny Breezes ended its fire-rescue agreement with Ocean Ridge, which had planned to put cameras at the town’s south border, she said.
    Delray Beach has instituted a program, Ocean Ridge is budgeting for it and Manalapan has had one for years, she said. Briny Breezes’ town marshal, Chris Yannuzzi of the Boynton Beach Police Department, told the Briny council several months ago that he would explore the feasibility of tying into Boynton Beach’s tag-recognition system.
    “It has to be a continuity with all the municipalities, not just one or two,” de Haseth said.
    And with Ocean Ridge talking about making some streets one-way and Briny Breezes taking ownership of its section of Old Ocean Boulevard, the island towns should undertake a comprehensive traffic study, she said.
    “I think there has to be a realization that each of these municipalities — whatever one does affects the other obviously,” de Haseth said.
    De Haseth made a similar presentation in Ocean Ridge.
    She also said the coalition will sponsor lunches for barrier island mayors and town managers at least once a quarter “to get everybody together outside the League of Cities … and just sit down and talk about what is happening in their municipalities. Chances are it’s happening in the one right next door.”

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