Boca Raton: Lawsuit over Ocean Strand park reaches an impasse

By Steve Plunkett

 

The city’s attempt to settle a grassroots group’s lawsuit over the proposed Ocean Strand park lasted only one session.

Joe Pedalino, co-chairman of Keep Your Boca Beaches Public, said attorneys for Boca Raton and the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District asked his citizens’ group if they would object to having a 100- or 200-seat restaurant at the coastal site.

When the group replied “absolutely,” the lawyers said, “Then we’re reaching an impasse,” according to Pedalino.

The city filed a motion for a rehearing of the case, while the beach and park district filed a motion to intervene. Both were denied, City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser told City Council members at their late April meeting. 

“Fortunately or unfortunately, the courts in this country do not have to give explanations for things,” Grub Frieser said.

Keep Your Boca Beaches Public wants a special election on whether “development for private uses (including members-only beach clubs)’’ should be outlawed at Ocean Strand. The 15 undeveloped acres lie almost midway between Red Reef and Spanish River parks at State Road A1A and Ocean Strand Drive.

The judge has told Boca Raton to accept the group’s petition. Council members directed Grub Frieser to appeal the decision.

Meanwhile, the beach and park district and the city will have a joint meeting at 4 p.m. May 9 in the Boca Raton Community Center, adjacent to City Hall, 150 Crawford Blvd., to discuss Ocean Strand and other issues that affect both jurisdictions.

The beach and park district has also scheduled a special meeting May 23 to get its first report from Curtis + Rogers Design Studio Inc., its Ocean Strand consultants. By that time the firm will have spent eight weeks determining what engineering, environmental and geographical limitations its designers will face.

The initial report will not include a conceptual plan, said Robert Langford, the district’s executive director. “They will tell us what data they have accumulated,” he said.

After that, Curtis + Rogers will schedule meetings to get input from the public.

“There will be three or four of those [meetings]?” beach and park Commissioner Earl Starkoff asked.

“As many as needed,” replied Art Koski, the district’s attorney.

Keep Your Boca Beaches Public prepared a “vision” statement on what it thinks Ocean Strand should become: ‘’a park specifically designed to accommodate our citizens who are physically and/or mentally challenged.’’

The park would have a covered, central pavilion, wheelchair-accessible walkways and a wheelchair-accessible dock, the group said. A small parking lot would be open only to vehicles with handicapped permits. 

The public could walk to Ocean Strand along State Road A1A from lots in Spanish River and Red Reef parks and from metered spaces along Spanish River Boulevard or get dropped off at the pavilion.

Pedalino said group members released the statement because they feared city and district officials were trying to label them obstructionists.

The beach and park district bought the Ocean Strand property in 1994 for $11.9 million but never developed it. Penn-Florida Companies proposed a private cabana club there in late 2009 to complement a luxury hotel in Via Mizner, a $1 billion redevelopment project planned for downtown Boca Raton. 

Neighbors were surprised to discover the city’s comprehensive plan labels the parcel residential instead of recreational.                           Ú

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