By Dan Moffett
Neighbors in Briny Breezes and the County Pocket have watched with growing unease as the pile of fill dirt between them has risen in recent weeks.
Construction is about to begin in earnest on the 2-acre parcel that separates the two communities. It has sat vacant for decades, but by the end of 2019, New Jersey-based developer NL Living hopes to have 14 luxury townhouses ready for use.
The worry for surrounding neighborhoods is that the elevated development site is going to send stormwater streaming onto their streets and yards.
Palm Beach County inspectors have expressed stormwater runoff concerns, too. On Nov. 30, inspectors halted work at the site and ordered the developer to submit an updated drainage review.
The county’s coastal development code requires that “an engineering analysis be prepared by a qualified, registered design professional demonstrating no harmful diversion of floodwaters or wave run-up ... would increase damage to adjacent buildings and structures.”
Briny Breezes Town Manager Dale Sugerman said the project is stalled “for the time being” and won’t move forward until the permitting impasse over the drainage analysis is resolved.
The levels of concern in Briny and the pocket have been rising steadily with the artificially enhanced elevation of the project site. The many truckloads of fill material hauled to the site will allow the six buildings to sit roughly 7 feet above the existing grade. The lot has served as a drain field for runoff from nearby homes, but that figures to change.
Residents want to know where the water will go when the heavy rains and the king tides come, as they always do.
“I think the construction is going to radically change the behavior of the water that falls on us,” said Judy Kraft, who lives on Briny Breezes Boulevard just north of the site, citing years of experience with flooding on her street. “They will not be able to control the torrent of water that comes between the buildings and goes to the lowest denominator — which will be us on Briny Breezes Boulevard.”
During a November meeting with developers in Briny’s clubhouse, NL Living representatives said their project will comply with all Palm Beach County drainage regulations. Michael LaCoursiere, the project engineer, told residents an underground catchment system will collect water and “less water is going to run off the site after construction than before it.”
But the project managers didn’t make promises about where runoff from neighboring properties would go, after the former drain field is filled with buildings and concrete walls.
LaCoursiere and Glenn La Mattina, NR Living vice president, did say they were willing to consider installing additional drainage devices along the property lines if problems arise.
“I don’t think they’re going to do any more than they have to do unless they feel strongly about being good neighbors,” Briny Breezes Town Council President Sue Thaler said during the council meeting on Nov. 29. “It’s a tough situation. They’re building it on county property. They’re not building it in our town and it’s going to impact our town. They don’t have to follow our rules.”
Sugerman said the county’s building code requires the project to contain the first inch of stormwater that falls on the property.
“If that project gets 8 inches of rain during a storm event,” Sugerman said, “then we’re all going to get 8 inches of rain during the event. I’m not sure that project on its own is going to add to drainage problems in Briny Breezes.”
Alderman Chick Behringer said, “If they’re catching 1 inch during that 8-inch storm, we may end up getting their additional 7 inches.”
In other business, Town Clerk Maya Coffield said Thaler and Behringer have qualified for another two-year term on the council. No other candidates came forward, so Briny will have no election in March.