By Steve Plunkett
An online blog report of a proposal to build a Ritz-Carlton hotel on the Ocean Strand park property caused ripples of concern among neighbors of the undeveloped barrier-island parcel.
Joe Pedalino, a vocal activist against a 2009 idea to build a members-only beach club at Ocean Strand, returned to the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District’s meeting room March 18 seeking assurances that the land would not be sold.
“Would you ever entertain selling the property to a private developer knowing that he’s going to develop it?” asked Pedalino, who lives in the Boca Towers high-rise just south of the nearly 15-acre property.
Andrea Stekloff, another Boca Towers resident, was amazed by the scope of the proposal, which would have twin 11-story towers.
“How are they going to be getting away with this when we can’t even add two docks to our condominium? Something is wrong here and needs to be protected,” she said.
Steve Engel was the only beach and park commissioner to take a firm position against selling the parkland.
“This is an OMDB issue as far as I’m concerned — over my dead body,” Engel said.
District Chairwoman Susan Vogelgesang and Commissioners Robert Rollins and Craig Ehrnst wanted more input from constituents.
“I don’t want to say yes, I don’t want to say no,” Ehrnst said, noting that the district has multimillion-dollar obligations to build a golf course. “I think we have to look at all of our options.”
When asked for a copy, Vogelgesang emphasized that the proposition from Boca Raton-based Compson Associates was informal and delivered via discussion. “There is no proposal; I have no proposal,” she said.
No one brought up the Ritz idea at the Boca Raton City Council’s workshop March 25, including Boca Save Our Beaches founder Jessica Gray, who was there to support a city ban on plastic straws. No one brought up Ocean Strand at the council’s regular meeting the next evening, either.
Afterward, council member Andy Thomson said about 50 Boca Towers residents had emailed him. “It doesn’t seem like the Beach and Park District is interested in selling, so it appears to be a moot point from the city’s perspective,” Thomson said.
The hotel that Compson pitched to city and district officials would also have underground parking, a tunnel under State Road A1A and a marina on the Intracoastal Waterway. The marina would be open to the public.
City code bans development for private uses on property owned by the city or the Beach and Park District on the barrier island. But no rules prevent the district or Boca Raton from selling public land.
The district bought the ocean-to-Intracoastal parcel in 1994 for $11.9 million to save it from becoming a residential development similar to the Boca Raton Yacht and Racquet Club farther north.
In other business, beach and park commissioners will meet with the City Council for a workshop April 22 and a joint session May 13 to discuss building and paying for the planned Boca National Golf Course.
Commissioners approved the design of the new course and detailed estimates of its $27.6 million construction cost Feb. 25, having been told that city staff would need only two weeks to review the material and schedule a joint meeting. But council members decided they wanted a workshop first to absorb the numbers, with a second meeting to take action.
The district hopes to open the course in September 2020.