By Steve Plunkett
The Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District expects to have a master plan for some kind of park at its controversial Ocean Strand parcel within six months.
Curtis + Rogers Design Studio Inc., the firm hired to gather public input and develop a design, began work on March 21 and should be finished in September, said Art Koski, the beach and park district’s attorney.
But that may be too late to avoid a city ordinance targeting the coastal site.
The Boca Raton City Council told its attorney to open settlement talks with Keep Your Boca Beaches Public, a grassroots group that wants the city to outlaw “development for private uses (including members-only beach clubs)” at Ocean Strand and other public land east of the Intracoastal.
“You can put a rental for your kayaks there, you can sell hot dogs from a stand like you do over at the end of Palmetto Park Road — this is nothing that we’re against,” said Martin Siml, a member of the group. “We’re just against putting a big restaurant there or a beach club. Whether it’s public or private we don’t want that there.”
City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser had told the city not to count 1,522 signatures the group collected because the petition cited both Boca Raton and the beach and park district, an independent body. But a judge sided with the petitioners. The ruling does not become official until it is signed, however.
Grub Frieser said the petitioners’ attorney told her the group would agree to clarifications that the ordinance would not, for example, prevent renting a pavilion for a private party “as long as private, members-only beach clubs are prohibited.” He said the group would drop its petition once the ordinance is enacted.
Grub Frieser also said the beach and park district wants to intervene in the court case because its side has not been presented to the judge.
“I can’t think of anybody better than the greater beach and park district that has a greater interest in the outcome of the hearing,” Mayor Susan Whelchel said before the council voted unanimously to have Grub Frieser ask the judge to reconsider.
The city attorney said she would not seek an expedited hearing once the order is signed.
“Neither party in this action has sought an expedited hearing,” she said. “In fact, if the judge should set it, we could also seek some delay to ensure that some settlement discussion can occur.”
Under its contract, Curtis + Rogers will analyze “opportunities and constraints” at Ocean Strand and attend four beach and park district meetings to evaluate and consider public input.
The firm will be paid just over $80,000 for the master plan, more if extra meetings are necessary.
The Boca Raton City Council in late January ordered its city manager to begin changing Ocean Strand’s land-use designation from residential to recreational, rather than wait for the beach and park district to request it. That process could be completed by August.
The Beach and Park District bought the Ocean Strand property in 1994 for $11.9 million but let it sit idle.
In late 2009, Penn-Florida Companies proposed a private cabana club there to complement a luxury hotel in Via Mizner, a $1 billion redevelopment project planned for downtown Boca Raton.
Neighbors were surprised to discover the city’s comprehensive plan labels the parcel residential instead of