By Steve Plunkett
If change is coming to Ocean Strand, it isn’t coming quickly.
At least not quickly enough for the coastal parcel’s neighbors, who have been asking City Council, the Planning and Zoning Board and the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District to protect the undeveloped site from becoming anything but a park.
Penn-Florida Companies proposed a private cabana club in December to complement a luxury hotel in Via Mizner, a $1 billion redevelopment project planned for downtown.
Since then, the developer hasn’t said much, said Robert T. Langford, executive director of the Beach and Park District, which owns Ocean Strand.
“They just stirred up the pot, then got out of the way,’’ Langford said.
In response to the outcry, the district will hold public hearings to gather ideas on what Ocean Strand should be, then draw up a master plan and ask the city to rezone the 15 acres. But an architect to oversee the process won’t be hired until the new budget year begins in October.
Ocean Strand’s neighbors want the property rezoned first. The city’s land-use plan labels it residential.
“By the time you have your plan, you might not have the land,’’ Sharon Picker, a resident of neighboring Boca Towers, said at a recent meeting of the Beach and Park Commission.
“Get moving quickly,’’ said John Mirrione, also of Boca Towers.
But Paul McDermott, president of the inland Boca Del Mar community, said developing a master plan first made more fiscal sense. “We don’t like to pay for the same thing twice,’’ he said of studies that would be undertaken each time the property was rezoned.
Joe Pedalino, another Boca Towers resident, told commissioners Ocean Strand’s current zoning would allow a 217-room hotel.
But Mitchell Kirschner, representing Penn-Florida, said, “The beach club we are looking for is not a hotel, it’s a cabana club.’’
Kirschner said the public would not be barred from the beach if the club were approved; private memberships would be available. He also presented a petition with 150 signatures supporting development of Ocean Strand.
Commissioner Elaine Kleinman said she wanted the district’s attorney to determine which zoning categories would allow park facilities and what impact the city’s land-use plan has on Ocean Strand.
“’I think expediency is important in this matter,’’ she said.
The Beach and Park District bought the 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, Langford said.
“We never could get anybody to say, ‘Let’s have one of these, let’s have one of those’ — nothing like that,” Langford said.
Pedalino, who urged the Beach and Park Commission “to reach a logical and reasonable solution,’’ said after the meeting that Ocean Strand is the only property the district owns that is zoned residential.
“That is an inequity that should be addressed, and that was not done,’’ he said.