By Steve Plunkett
All planning and design efforts for a park at Ocean Strand have been stopped.
The Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District, which owns the oceanfront 14.85 acres just south of Spanish River Park, ordered a halt to Ocean Strand work on Feb. 21 “until a documented recreational need is recognized.”
Curtis+Rogers Design Studio Inc., the consultant hired to plan a park for the parcel spanning the Atlantic to the Intracoastal, recommended the work stoppage.
“Basically they looked at the amount of recreation amenities that we have compared to the rest of the world,” said Robert Langford, executive director of the beach and park district. “This property is just so unique. You can plop a ball field almost any place you want to.”
“We shouldn’t squander it on just whatever recreation need might pop into our heads.”
Langford said he agreed with the Curtis+Rogers recommendation “that we stop spending money on this site, on this planning and development until we find something that really, really is what we need for our town.”
The proposal was not wholeheartedly endorsed.
“There is, in my opinion, a very serious need in this town for a park specially designed for people with disabilities … for instance, people who cannot go out into the sun,” said Joe Pedalino, who lives in the Boca Towers condominium next to the site and is chairman of KeepYourBocaBeachesPublic.org.
Beach and park commissioners voted unanimously to stop planning and design of a park.
Separately, the Boca Raton City Council voted Feb. 14 to send a comprehensive land-use amendment to the state Department of Economic Opportunity for review. The change would reserve the Ocean Strand parcel for Recreation and Open Space uses instead of its current Residential Medium status.
The Residential Medium land use and its accompanying zoning would have permitted up to 80 residential units on the barrier island, acting Planning, Zoning and Development Manager Jim Bell said.
The Recreation and Open Space designation would allow only park-related structures no more than about 51,000 square feet and cut a potential 544 daily automobile trips, he said.
Bell said the parcel is the last vacant property stretching from the ocean to the Intracoastal in the city. The Economic Opportunity review should take about 60 days, he said.
“I just want to thank the neighbors and the citizens for their advocacy to make this happen tonight,” Deputy Mayor Susan Haynie said. “Everyone in this room will be pleased with putting this area aside for a future park.”
The property was discussed at a number of beach-park district and city meetings after Florida-Penn Cos. in late 2009 proposed putting a cabana club there to augment a luxury hotel planned for downtown.
Neighbors were shocked to learn the city’s comprehensive plan labels the parcel Residential Medium.
The city and the beach-park district are waiting for the 4th District Court of Appeal to schedule a hearing for KeepYourBocaBeachesPublic.org’s lawsuit seeking a special election to bar private clubs on public land on the barrier island.
The beach and park district bought the property in 1994 for $11.9 million, but never developed it. Ú