By Steve Plunkett
The verdict for the latest proposal to develop Ocean Strand: Too much.
“My impression is we’re trying to be too many things to too many people,” Steve Engel, vice chairman of the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District, said after seeing a consultant’s concept for the vacant beachfront parcel.
“It’s got to be very passive. It cannot be intense,” District Commissioner Craig Ehrnst said.
The reactions came as Kona Gray, of architecture and planning consultant EDSA Inc., presented a plan July 17 for the nearly 15-acre parcel that included docks, a lookout pavilion, restrooms, trails, a playground, a drop-off area for the beach and educational treehouses.
Ocean Strand “is really a place that sort of lends itself toward something eco-friendly, very natural,” Gray said. “That connection to the environment is very rare. A lot of people are missing that right now.”
Gray said the concept his firm developed was just an idea and he wanted commissioners and members of the public to suggest improvements. At a meeting at the downtown library the week before, people said the proposed development seemed too intense at the Intracoastal Waterway and too close to single-family homes to the north. They also wanted only nonmotorized vessels at the dock, botanical gardens and someplace to eat, Gray said.
EDSA is in the midst of developing a comprehensive plan for Boca Raton’s waterfront parks. In May Gray suggested a restaurant at Ocean Strand like Guanabanas in Jupiter, which once was interested in building a sister site at the city’s Wildflower property.
“That is not necessary here. We could do something way scaled down, that’s just offering some hot dogs, hamburgers or something more healthy so that when you come and you have your kids and you want to stay a little bit longer, you don’t have to leave,” Gray said.
The crowd in the commission chamber, mostly neighbors from just north and south of the site, would have none of it.
“We definitely don’t want to have any restaurants,” said Andrea Stekloff, who lives in Boca Towers directly south. “We don’t want the noise from the band like Guanabanas, we don’t need any smelly food cooking, any rowdy bars, any boat dockage and valet parking and music until 2 a.m.”
Stekloff said the Intracoastal side of Red Reef Park could be the model.
“You have one little gazebo, one little grill so one little family, whoever gets there first, gets it, and you don’t have 5 million people cooking,” she said.
Commissioner Erin Wright agreed.
“I would prefer actually no restaurant or food. I don’t think it’s necessary,” Wright said. “Love all the walking trails and back-to-nature type of things.”
Sharon Picker, also a Boca Towers resident, compared the parcel to the world’s rainforests.
“If you just put pathways to walk through and a couple of other things and make it accessible to the public to just see its awesomeness and its natural state, that might be enough,” Picker said.
Gray said because the proposal is only at the conceptual level, his colleagues didn’t really anticipate a hard number of parking spaces at the site.
“From what we’re hearing, we shouldn’t have more than 10 spaces,” he said.
Engel also said Ocean Strand does not need a playground.
“I want to see something where the development is limited, where the accent is really on the flora and fauna … almost a nature preserve, and make it congruent with what’s going on at Gumbo Limbo so that one almost is an extension of the other,” Engel said.
Commission Chairman Robert Rollins said any talk of developing Ocean Strand starts with a concept.
“You have to have some design in order to move forward, and the conversations that we’ve had here tonight I think will be invaluable when it comes down to our discussion at this commission what we wish to do with our park,” Rollins said. “I can almost assure you, it’ll be a very passive park. As someone said, [Gray’s proposal is] a little too busy.”
District commissioners agreed to give the city $50,000 to start developing a master plan for Gumbo Limbo. The city wants an additional $200,000 in the coming budget year to complete the plan.
EDSA and another consultant, Cambridge 7 Associates, will do the work.