Annexation specter puts island on alert

By Thomas R. Collins

Just south of Briny Breezes, east of the St. Andrews golf course and north of Gulf Stream sit two rarities: pieces of barrier island land that are unincorporated,
belonging to no city.

And the residents have seemed to like it that way.

But lately Boynton Beach officials have been talking about making those areas — “pockets,” they’re called — part of their city, through annexation. That
would likely bring better services but also higher taxes — and a loss of a
sense of independence. It also raises questions about what could be built
there.

The interest in annexing the pockets, the last unincorporated pieces of barrier island in southern Palm Beach County, has put neighboring cities on alert and

prompted the Florida Coalition for Preservation to begin education efforts to
make sure residents there know what’s going on.

Boynton Beach publicly discussed including the pockets as part of an official study — called an interlocal services boundary agreement, or ISBA — that needs to

happen before annexation is possible. But the city, for now, is focusing only
on areas west of the Intracoastal, most of it west of I-95.

Donna Brosemer, a consultant working on the annexation issue for the city, said Boynton Beach considered it to be too complicated politically to include the

barrier island pockets in the study with those western areas.

Kurt Bressner, Boynton Beach’s city manager, said annexation of the barrier island pockets is still up for consideration, just not right now.

“We’re just going to go ahead with the workload we have,” he said. “And then we’ll swing into consideration of the other areas possibly later on this year.”

Boynton Beach and Palm Beach County are in the process of approving an interlocal agreement to provide fire-rescue service to the pockets, to avoid another

tragedy like the choking death of a resident there in November. But that’s
separate from outright annexation.

Annexation of the pockets has to be approved with petition-style signatures from more than a majority of the residents — or 50 percent plus one.

Just because it’s not in the official study plan doesn’t mean annexation of the pockets is not being researched now, said Bob Ganger of the Coalition, a group that
works to protect the barrier island from excessive development.

“In order to make a sensible assessment of future service needs and capabilities, they really have to look at any county pockets that they currently serve and

that would include the barrier island because they serve the barrier island
with water and sewer,” said Ganger, who is also president of the Gulf Stream
Civic Association. “From the point of view of the people who live in the county
pocket, whether or not they’re identified on a map of the ISBA study, they
probably ought to be thinking about how do they feel eventually being annexed
by Boynton Beach, whether that’s a year from now, ten years from now or
sometime in the future.”

Existing development rules allow six to 12 units per acre in the pockets, depending on the size and location of the lot being developed. A resurrection of the Seahorse project north of Gulf Stream

is proposed at 42 units — or 12 per acre and possibly seven stories in
height, or about 70 feet.

An agreement between Boynton Beach and Gulf Stream says that, in the event of annexation of the pockets by Boynton, development there will be capped at six

units per acre and 35 feet in height.

Ganger said the Coalition feels that the agreement should carry the day in the event of annexation, but said island residents need to stay on their toes

nonetheless.

Any close observer of government knows that an agreement that’s approved by one slate of elected officials might be undone by another slate.

County Commissioner Steven Abrams, who represents the area, said he supported annexation of the pockets to get better fire-rescue service. But since that is
being addressed with a separate agreement, he said he is fine with annexation
being considered later.

Ocean Ridge and Briny Breezes recently proposed resolutions that allow them to sit at the table during discussions about annexation.

Briny Breezes Mayor Roger Bennett said the residents in the pockets have generally resisted the idea.

“They feel more like they’re self-governed there,” he said.

Ocean Ridge Town Manager Ken Schenck said the town just wants to keep up with the annexation topic.

“The commission hasn’t taken a stance on it because it hasn’t come up,” he said.

Gulf Stream Town Manager Bill Thrasher said his town also just wants to stay involved.

“We want to know what’s going on,” he said. “We don’t want to wake up one morning and find out something’s happened that would be detrimental to us.”





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