On Dec. 5 Highland Beach Library hosted 80-plus residents for the first public workshop for the Ocean Walk project. Eight teams offered approaches to address long-standing infrastructure problems, including stormwater management, improvements for the walkway, landscaping, lighting, new crosswalks, underground utilities and safer bicycle lanes along A1A.
The consensus elements that came out of the workshop underwent additional refinements and preparation of a “not to exceed” cost estimate of $45 million by the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council.
The town financial department, in conjunction with its bond counsel, crafted a 30-year payment scenario based on the projected “not to exceed” costs.
If all funds are expended, and that is unlikely, the improvements will cost each household with property valued at $500,000 approximately $48 a month to achieve the engineered solutions. This is an affordable cost for a town that had an estimated mean income in 2016 of $104,232 and per capita income of $98,261 (source: citydata.com).
At a Dec. 18 special meeting, the Town Commission, with forethought for the future of our small barrier island town, approved referendum language for a linked Ocean Walk and stormwater management project and a separate referendum to bury our overhead utility lines.
Both should be supported by voters. This is a rare opportunity for the town to coordinate its desired improvements with the planned improvements to A1A by the Florida Department of Transportation.
If the referendums are not approved, the road improvements will proceed while any future consideration for town improvement would be deferred for the next 20-year cycle of maintenance for A1A.
For this reason, it is imperative that Highland Beach voters approve the referendums to permit planning to proceed in an orderly manner.
We are experiencing historic stormwater flooding due to development relying on swales that can no longer contain stormwater at an acceptable rate. Our roadway bike lanes are overgrown with vegetation creep, our pedestrian pathways are not wide enough for safe, shared use with cyclists, lighting is poor and the crosswalks are dangerous for our older population.
In addition, our town lacks the aesthetic vision of embedded art, quality public pocket parks, signage and similar features of a town that claims to have a vision of quality. Add to this the gargantuan power poles with overhead lines over A1A, while the future points to state-of-the-art buried cables, and you have a scenario for lower property values and deteriorating quality of life.
Voters in March will have a once-in-20-years opportunity to create a new vision for our town. Let’s get this done.