By Rich Pollack
Highland Beach’s first new high-rise condominium in more than a decade is one step closer to being built, thanks to a preliminary thumbs-up from town commissioners late last month. But it still will be at least a couple of years before the first residents move in.
Set to be built on what was dubbed “difficult property” after several previous landowners failed to make good on construction plans, the proposed seven-story, 22-unit luxury condominium building is being welcomed by some neighboring residents who say the lot at 3200 S. Ocean Blvd. has become an eyesore.
Town officials and neighbors say the property on the west side of Ocean Boulevard is littered with rusted pilings and other debris left behind by previous owners.
“We’ve been living with this condition for the last 15 years,” said Town Commissioner Dennis Sheridan, who also is president of the condominium association at Monterey House, which borders the empty property. “We’ve gone through three developers and still nothing has been built.”
Lawyers for the latest team with high hopes for the property say the lot would be transformed once the project is out of the ground.
“What you have in the middle of your town is an eyesore,” said former Town Attorney Tom Sliney, now one of two attorneys who represented the developer 3200 S. Ocean Blvd. LLC before the town. “Consider what you have there now and what could be there.”
The commission, following a recommendation from the planning board, tentatively agreed to give the new owners a 12-month extension of a development plan filed by the last owners, as well as a variance that allows the project to be built up to 90 feet, instead of the current 50-foot height limit. A final vote extending the development plan, which lawyers say is little changed from the plan filed several years ago, is expected to take place June 4.
If granted a go-ahead, developers will have a year to file building permits and begin the construction process.
Owner Gary Cohen, who is partnering with developer Mike Kelty on the project, says that once permits are pulled it would be at least a year to 14 months before construction is completed.
Tentative plans, Cohen said, call for each of the building’s 22 units to have 2,500 to 3,000 square feet, a reduction from the previous owner’s proposal. Prices will start at about $1.2 million.
“Most of the units will have Intracoastal and ocean views and will have high-end appliances and other amenities,” Cohen said. “This is going to be the best of the best.”
While Cohen didn’t give specifics, he said his company purchased the property, which had been in foreclosure, for a little more than $2 million and has every intention of completing the project.
“The economic climate turned against the previous owner,” Cohen said. “Now the economy has started to turn around and financing for borrowers is starting to come back.”
Sheridan, one of three members of the Town Commission who live in buildings adjacent to the vacant site, said he believes there is a market for homes in the projected price range.
During the month of April, according to Sheridan, there were 53 real estate transactions in Highland Beach, with prices ranging from $800,000 to $7.2 million.
Town officials say it is hard to get a firm grasp on how much tax revenue the project would generate, but estimate that it could be about $100,000 per year or 1 percent of the town’s annual budget.
Many neighboring residents, however, are focused more on what development of the property would eliminate, not what it would produce.
“It’s pretty ugly in the state it is in today,” Thomas Meyer, who lives next to the site, told planning board members. “We’re really anxious to see something happen here.”