By Sallie James

    A controversial plan to build an upscale restaurant on a 2.3-acre parcel near the Intracoastal Waterway and East Palmetto Park Road is moving forward.
    Deputy Boca Raton City Manager George Brown announced plans for the Wildflower property during the May 24 City Council meeting. The on-again, off-again project is slated to come before the city’s Planning and Zoning Board on June 9.
    Boca Raton purchased the waterfront property in 2009 for $7.5 million so residents could have access to the waterfront. After the city began negotiations to lease the land to the Hillstone Restaurant Group, the property was fenced off from the public with locked gates.
    Original plans called for a Houston’s restaurant on the water, but current plans describe the proposed eatery only as a “full-service restaurant . . . compared to Hillstone’s other operations.”
    No dock is proposed, but a lease summary says Hillstone would not oppose a dock if it were installed by the city and as long as it did not obstruct patrons’ views of the water.
    The project, which would put millions of dollars into city coffers, has drawn ire ever since it was proposed. Residents who live in the area have cited concerns over increased traffic problems in an already congested area, while others are adamant about preserving the area for a park.
    An earlier proposed lease agreement fell through late last year when Hillstone withdrew from negotiations.
    Under the most recent proposal, Hillstone would initially pay $600,000 a year for five years, with the payments rising every five years to nearly $700,000 annually in years 16 through 20.
    The proposal includes five-year renewals, with payments increasing every five years for a lease total of more than $33 million. The city would pay all of Hillstone’s property taxes and the city could get added rent if gross sales exceed targets.
    According to Brown, the Planning and Zoning Board will review the project’s site plan on June 9 and make recommendations to the City Council on any land-use changes, rezoning, conditional use approvals and the lease. The project is expected to come back before the City Council on June 14, with a final public hearing at its next meeting on July 26.
    Meanwhile, more than 60 residents are carrying petitions in hopes of getting enough verifiable signatures by June 24 to put a referendum on the Aug. 30 primary election ballot. The referendum would demand that city-owned parcels adjacent to the Intracoastal Waterway be used only for public recreation and boating access.
    “All we want is for citizens to be able to share their voice on the use of the property and the city has refused it,” said longtime resident James Hendrey, a city activist. “What we are trying to say is ‘Please let the citizens express their wishes,’ and the best way we know of getting that done — legally we are forced — is to develop [a question] we can put on the ballot.”
    The group needs at least 1,500 signatures, but Hendrey said it is hoping for 2,000.
    Citizens would vote “Yes” if they would like the properties on the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway to be used for recreation and boating. Citizens could vote “No” if they were amenable to other types of uses, Hendrey explained.

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