By Steve Plunkett
Ocean Strand, 15 acres on State Road A1A that the public has owned for decades but not been able to enjoy, will open in six months as a limited-use park.
The Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District, which paid $11.9 million for the property in 1994, voted unanimously March 2 to install benches, a rock road and a portable restroom on the acreage west of A1A with an eye on opening the gates by September.
“I think it’s important to get it open now to the public so that the public is clear, 100%, that we are not selling this property, we are making it a park,” said Erin Wright, the commission’s vice chair, who proposed the $75,000 expense.
Commissioners also tasked their attorney, Sam Goren, with drafting a declaration stating that Ocean Strand will be held “in perpetuity” as open space not to be developed.
“I’m tired of listening to the innuendos and the rumors that are going on out there that the property might be for sale because it’s not. Never has been, never will be,” Commissioner Robert Rollins said.
Last September developer Robert Comparato offered the district $67.5 million for Ocean Strand with a plan to build a 171-room hotel, 110 condominiums, 30 villas and 35 boat slips there.
“We summarily turned him down.” Rollins said. “I don’t see anybody on this commission that has any appetite for doing anything but making it a park. Let’s put a stake in the ground and make it clear that we’re not interested in selling this property.”
Briann Harms, the district’s executive director, presented estimates from the city’s Recreation Services Department for work that would be needed to open the parcel, which now has a gate blocking access.
“This plan is just for the west side. It’s minimal parking, minimal everything,” she said.
The oceanfront east side will remain off-limits.
Included in the estimates was money for two picnic tables, two benches, two trash cans, signs, fencing and labor.
The most expensive item was $18,000 to clear the site of exotic plants.
Wright asked for “as simple a plan as possible” with perhaps just benches instead of picnic tables and possibly a kayak launch.
“I think this is great,” Commissioner Steve Engel said. “We have a purpose. We want to open up the property to the public, and this gives us a starting point.”
District officials will discuss safety issues and operational details with their city counterparts as the plan progresses. Commissioners said they might seek volunteers to help with mulching and cleaning up the property to keep costs down.
Commissioner Craig Ehrnst asked Wright, and she agreed, to amend her motion to include developing a long-range plan for a fully functioning park. Ehrnst said the district will seek input from the community on what features Ocean Strand should have.
“Don’t know what that’s going to cost, but that’ll put forth a plan for the future and it’ll be a multiyear plan. It’s not going to be implemented right away or anything,” Ehrnst said.
Goren said he would bring the perpetuity declaration back for commissioners to consider at their March 16 meeting. The document, he said, can be recorded at the county Clerk and Comptroller’s Office after it is approved.
“That’s a very strong signal” of commissioners’ intent, Goren said.