The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: Environmental board rejects variance for coastal project

By Steve Plunkett

The owner of the vacant beachfront lot at 2500 N. Ocean Blvd. had a different lawyer and different experts from those representing a vacant lot two parcels north but got the same result — a recommendation to deny permission to build anything seaward of the Coastal Construction Control Line.

Attorney Neil Schiller, representing property owner Natural Lands LLC, told Boca Raton’s Environmental Advisory Board at its April 10 meeting that the evidence he would show was more “competent and substantial” than what the city had prepared. Natural Lands wants to build a 48-foot-tall, 8,666-square-foot single-family home.

But after a three-hour meeting that included 14 members of the public condemning the proposal, advisory board members voted 5-0 to urge the City Council to deny a variance. City staff also recommended denial.

The neighbors’ comments did not please Schiller.

“Multiple times during the public testimony they said, ‘This is our beach. Our beach — I walked on that property, I took those pictures.’ Ladies and gentlemen, for everybody in the room, this is private property. You may not like it, but it’s private property,” Schiller said.

The environmental board in January similarly voted to recommend denying a CCCL variance for a duplex proposed at 2600 N. Ocean Blvd.

But 2500 has something 2600 doesn’t — approvals from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and its Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Jane Herndon, a former division deputy director at the DEP, explained what the approvals mean.

“This document is stating the department’s conclusion that this project would have no significant adverse impacts to the beach dune areas or to the adjacent properties and that the work is not expected to adversely impact nesting sea turtles, their hatchlings or their habitat,” Herndon said.

The Natural Lands proposal went through 16 reviews at her agency before it was issued a notice to proceed, she said, “a very significant level of review.”

The approval, originally set to expire in October, was recently extended to 2022.

Schiller said the state’s OK raised no red flags.

“After that approval, no one filed an appeal — the city didn’t file an appeal, the neighbors didn’t file an appeal, the U.S. Department of the Interior did not file an appeal here,” Schiller said.

He also showed an aerial photo of the affected stretch of State Road A1A.

“It’s interesting to note that just down here there are two single-family homes built at 2330 N. Ocean Blvd. with no reported environmental impacts,” Schiller said.

He said Boca Raton’s experts, consultant Mike Jenkins of Applied Technology & Management Inc. and city marine conservationist Kirt Rusenko, produced reports that were “flawed” and that neither was a true expert, assertions that both men disputed.

“Of the projects that I have personally been involved with that have involved beaches in the state of Florida, 100 percent of them have had some relation to turtles and nesting,” said Jenkins, who has 20 years’ experience in coastal construction.

Rusenko said his reports, one made for the developer and another for the city, did not contradict each other.

“If you look at the report I at no point say that this project should go ahead. I would never agree with anything like that,” Rusenko said.

He also said simple physics explains the effect of lights near the ocean.

“The closer you are to the beach, the brighter it’s going to be,” Rusenko said.

Natural Lands’ application next goes to the City Council, which in February denied a CCCL variance to build a four-story duplex at 2600 N. Ocean Blvd. That applicant has asked the Palm Beach County Circuit Court to review the EAB and City Council decisions for irregularities.

A court review is a prerequisite to filing a Bert Harris Act lawsuit for damages resulting from a government taking of private property.

The City Council caused a public outcry in late 2015 when it approved a zoning variance at 2500 N. Ocean to allow something to be built on the 85-foot-wide lot. City rules normally require lots at least 100 feet wide. 

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