Boca Raton: New push to keep Ocean Strand public

By Steve Plunkett

Boca Raton residents are mounting another assault in their campaign to ensure that Ocean Strand becomes a park.
A new group, Keep Your Boca Beaches Public, is circulating petitions to place an ordinance and a charter amendment targeting the coastal parcel on the March ballot.
 “We started collecting signatures aggressively this weekend, and I have to say that we have hundreds of them already,’’ Martin Siml told City Council members at a Dec. 13 workshop. “It looks very much like we are going to meet the deadline.’’
Siml, who lives on Driftwood Terrace west of U.S. 1, said the group’s proposal is “very simple.’’ The language doesn’t mention Ocean Strand and is the same for both the proposed ordinance and the proposed amendment:
“All public-owned lands owned by the City and the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District located between the Intracoastal Waterway and Atlantic Ocean shall be limited to public uses and public services provided for the general public, and development for private uses (including members-only beach clubs) on these public-owned lands shall be prohibited.’’
The next evening, resident Joe Pedalino told the council at its regular meeting that the group had been told they could not hold the petition drive in city facilities.
“We have been denied access to public places, places that belong [to] and are run by the city,’’ said Pedalino, who lives in Boca Towers just south of Ocean Strand.
City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser said the incident at the Racquet Center on St. Andrews Boulevard was an oversight that would be corrected “right away.’’
“We have a lot of employees and perhaps everybody did not exactly know the rules,’’ she said.
The Beach and Park District bought the Ocean Strand property in 1994 for $11.9 million. Since then it has sat idle, partly because there was no push from the public to build any facilities, a district official said.
But in late 2009, Penn-Florida Companies proposed a private cabana club there to complement a luxury hotel in Via Mizner, a $1 billion redevelopment project planned for downtown. Boca Raton’s comprehensive plan labels the parcel residential instead of recreation and open space.
Residents want the city to change the designation. The city says the beach and park district must ask for the change; the beach and park district has said first it will hold public hearings to see
what residents want there.          

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