By Sallie James
The future of a four-story mansion proposed for a pristine stretch of beachside property is up in the air, even though the project was rejected last month by Boca Raton’s Zoning Board of Adjustment.
The property owner, Natural Lands LLC, has appealed the board’s refusal to approve two variances that would have allowed the house to be built on a narrower lot size with a reduced front yard setback.
A public hearing is scheduled at 6 p.m. on Dec. 8 during the Boca Raton City Council meeting.
The 10,432-square-foot, four-story house is proposed for the east side of 2500 N. Ocean Blvd.
The board rejected both variances after residents claimed the structure proposed would forever change the face of the beach, disorient nesting sea turtles, and set a precedent for future development.
“The beach-going public and the sea turtles lose another piece of the last natural beach in all of South Florida,” warned resident Kevin Meaney at the Nov. 12 meeting attended by about 30 residents. “Please don’t open Pandora’s box.”
Natural Lands LLC had sought two variances to build the house: an 11.5-foot variance from the minimum lot width of 100 feet; and a 14.7-foot variance from the minimum front yard setback of 25 feet.
After hearing concerns from residents, the board denied both. The lot-width variance was denied with a 3-3 vote (four votes are required for approval) and the front-yard-setback variance was denied with a 5-1 vote.
Attorney Michael Marshall, who represented the property owner, called residents’ claims “rank speculation” and “unsubstantiated facts.”
“We have a right to build on the property and we have the right to seek a variance,” Marshall said.
Board chairman Spencer Siegel said if a smaller house were built on the property, the front yard setback would be unnecessary because the house could be placed closer to the ocean.
Board member Hendrik DeMello said the zoning allows the property owner to build a smaller house without requiring variances.
“What is the hardship, given the location of the property?” DeMello wondered. “It does not have a hardship. I don’t see a hardship. The applicant is required to prove a hardship.”
Board member John Purland noted the property owner bought the land in 2011 knowing full well what sort of building limitations existed.
“If the property was purchased and the setbacks had been different at that time, it would be different. But this opens up the door for every property owner,” Purland said. “I don’t see how you could put that (house) in there and justify the variance.”
Attorney W. Tucker Gibbs, who spoke on behalf of the nearby Ocean Club Condominium residents, said the need for two variances was the direct result of a property owner purchasing an unbuildable lot. He urged denial of both.
“The applicant has not presented any special conditions that require the setback variance,” Gibbs argued. “He doesn’t have to build a 10,000-square-foot building. He could build a smaller one.”
Resident Ryan Dick worried that approving the variances would “open up the floodgates” for even more beachside development.
“It opens up a huge can of worms for the future,” Dick said. “When is it going to end? We are granting all these variances for the benefit of a few and it always seems that the few are financially motivated.”
Resident Mark Mannix, who also spoke at the Nov. 12 meeting, was pleased with the result. “It’s a victory for the people,” Mannix said afterward. “Along that whole beach there are tons of sea turtle nests and there aren’t many places where the sea turtles can go where it’s that dark.”
He acknowledged the decision could be appealed.
“I would like to see the city of Boca Raton pay a half a million dollars and make sure no one ever builds on that piece of property,” Mannix said.
The property has an active history. The Zoning Board of Adjustment first considered the matter in August 2015, voting 3-2 in favor of the project. But approving a variance requires four “yes” votes so the matter failed.
Natural Lands LLC filed an appeal, which was heard by the City Council in September 2015. The council remanded the case back to the Zoning Board of Adjustment for consideration a second time and the project was denied.