By Steve Plunkett
The Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District can’t sell the undeveloped Ocean Strand parcel, the district’s lawyers determined last month.
“The expressed intent under our special act is to acquire, operate and maintain beach and park property. Noticeably absent from our enumerated powers is the power to sell or to convey,” attorney Jacob Horowitz told commissioners Oct. 7. “We have the power to acquire; we do not have the legal authority to convey or otherwise sell.”
Municipalities and some special districts do have the power to sell property, Horowitz said. “We don’t have that authority under our special act,” he said.
Commissioners immediately directed their staff to notify developer Robert Comparato that they could not consider his unsolicited offer to buy Ocean Strand for $67.5 million. The 15-acre property straddles State Road A1A from the Atlantic to the Intracoastal Waterway.
“I can’t tell you how delighted I am to hear this,” said Commissioner Steve Engel, who in the past promised residents that the property would be sold only “over my dead body.”
Gabriel Banfi, a resident of Boca Towers adjacent to Ocean Strand, had first questioned whether the district could sell the property in September after he studied its enabling legislation.
“It doesn’t say anywhere that this board can sell property,” he repeated at the Oct. 7 meeting.
The district bought Ocean Strand in 1994 for $11.9 million.
In his Sept. 11 proposal, Comparato said he “holds or will hold” contracts to purchase 2500 and 2600 N. Ocean Blvd., two beachfront parcels that were denied variances this year by the Boca Raton City Council to build four-story residences.
Comparato proposed swapping the two parcels for Ocean Strand and giving the district $51.5 million — enough, he said, to build a new golf course, expand and renovate the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, and create a new “Parks for All People” inside the city-owned Spanish River Park.
The developer planned to build a five-star 171-room hotel, 110 condominiums, 30 villas and 35 boat slips at Ocean Strand.
The deal would have allowed the district to “ensure that the 2500 property and the 2600 property will remain undeveloped,” Comparato’s offer said.
Horowitz’s pronouncement that the Beach and Park District cannot sell property seemed to undermine related proposals to possibly sell or lease a small part of the district’s planned Boca National Golf Course property to a hotel operator or even to sell the property to the city.
But Horowitz’s law partner, Sam Goren, backtracked on the definition of the district’s powers at the commission’s Oct. 21 meeting.
“We believe based on our review of the law that you cannot sell property. Whether or not you can convey property or have any governmental exchange of property is an open question. We limited our opinion strictly to sale,” Goren said.