Boca Raton: Fence at Wildflower site coming down

By Steve Plunkett

    The first big change at the city-owned Wildflower site after a decisive public rejection of a planned restaurant may be the installation of bleachers to watch the Dec. 17 boat parade.
    A citizen initiative to permit only public uses of city-owned property on the Intracoastal Waterway was the runaway winner on Boca Raton ballots Nov. 8, taking 67 percent of 43,862 votes cast.
    Resident Lenore Wachtel fired the first shot at the Nov. 21 City Council workshop, imploring council members to take down the fence and put in some grass so that people could use the 2.3 acres at the northwest base of the Palmetto Park Road bridge.
    “Why should it be vacant? I mean, we paid for it, we own it. It ought to be able to be used,” she said.
    City Council member Scott Singer said, “There’s a bunch of debris and some brushwork, a lot of foliage, vegetation that’s on the ground, but I think that could probably be cleared.”
    Singer said some temporary bleachers could be positioned at the site for the boat parade. Before the popular vote, the city had been negotiating for years to lease the site to the Hillstone Restaurant Group.
    “That’s one way to open it up, it’s just one evening, and then we’ll go from there,” Singer said.
    Red Reef Park has historically been the viewing point for the parade, Mayor Susan Haynie said. “To have additional bleachers here, we’re going to have to be very careful to preserve the boat ramp parking” at Silver Palm Park next door, she said.
    Council member Robert Weinroth said adoption of the citizen initiative carried “unintended consequences” for activities at parks along the Intracoastal that some people might not view as strictly public, such as the gift shop at the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. He said the council should pass a grandfather ordinance protecting all current uses at the parks, “so we don’t run into a situation where we have to be the bad guys and start saying uses don’t comport with the ordinance.”
    But the rest of the council was content with the status quo and decided to take up the issue of what to do with the Wildflower parcel in January.
    “It’s up to us to interpret this ordinance,” council member Jeremy Rodgers said. “I don’t see someone suing us over Gumbo Limbo.”
    The city bought the parcel for $7.5 million in 2009. Nearby residents led by James and Nancy Hendrey successfully collected enough petition signatures this summer to put the question on the ballot.
    “I’m so glad that everybody stood up to that situation and said, ‘We want our parks to remain for recreation and for boating,’ ” James Hendrey said.
    The Wildflower site was one of three green spaces that council members discussed. The bulk of the meeting centered on 10 proposals by developers to acquire the municipal golf course, which is outside city limits, west of Florida’s Turnpike.
    Council members decided to discard seven. Still on the table are proposals from GL Homes, which would pay Boca Raton $73 million; from Lennar Corp., which would swap the Ocean Breeze golf course around the Boca Teeca condominiums in the north end of the city and also pay $41 million for the main course; and from Compson Boca Argent LLC, which would pay $73.18 million and donate 26.4 acres for a Torah Academy campus.
    “I see great value in maintaining Ocean Breeze as a golf course,” Haynie said.
    Lennar values the course at $10 million. The Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District told the council it could repay the city for the acquisition and pay to upgrade the course, which would be open to the public, and maintain it.
    “Not everyone in this community can afford to write big checks to belong to private clubs,” said Arthur Koski, the district’s executive director.
Koski said famed golfer Greg Norman is interested in putting an eponymous golf school on part of Ocean Breeze like the one he has in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“I would have to say that Boca Teeca would be the ideal location for creating a similar world-class training center,” Norman wrote Koski.
    The council will consider the golf courses again in January.

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