NOTE: The January 17 public hearing on the Briny Breezes Comprehensive Plan has been postponed until early March based on revisions requested by the town attorney.

By Tim O’Meilia

    More than six years ago, Briny Breezes residents voted to remake the town into a resort including 20-story towers, a 350-room beachfront hotel and rows of three-story condos.
    That half-billion-dollar dream would have created dozens of instant millionaires of modest mobile home dwellers. That deal collapsed in 2007 of its own ambition — state regulators said it was too big for its own good.
    Now, the 43-acre town/trailer park is taking its first steps toward designing a more modest future.
    The town’s Planning and Zoning Board has unveiled a new comprehensive land use plan that would allow more than mobile homes in town. The plan would allow traditional one- and two-story single-family homes, a commercial corridor of town-serving businesses and low-rise multi-story condos and rental units on the west side.
    “Our mission is to give Briny permission to evolve if it chooses to,” said planning board Chairman Jerry Lower.
    The board has scheduled a Jan. 17, 4 p.m. public hearing on the plan at the Town Hall.
    Whatever is recommended will go to the Town Council for approval later. The town has an April 2013 deadline to complete the land use plan, which hasn’t been changed since 1989.
    The land use plan is more concept than hard-and-fast requirement. The plan does not specify building types or heights and refers to stores and businesses only in general terms.
    Regardless of what the Town Council eventually endorses, the shareholders of Briny Breezes Inc., the mobile home co-op that owns the entire area of the town, control any change that actually occurs. Mobile home owners hold shares in the corporation based on their size of their lots.
    “This is a blueprint to permit the corporation to do what it wants, to deviate from just a trailer park, if it wants,” said Mayor Roger Bennett.
    The key component of the plan allows “owners to have the ability, with the corporate board’s approval, to replacing existing mobile homes with one- or two-story residential units that are more storm-worthy and insurable than a mobile home,” Lower said.
    The town has survived the hurricanes and tropical storms of 2004 and later with relatively minor damage.
    Briny Breezes was founded in the mid-1950s as a destination for people who drive travel-trailers to Florida on vacation. The town remains a largely seasonal area.
    The A1A commercial corridor leaves much to the imagination. The only businesses in town now are a hairdresser and a family-run drug store. Suggestions have included a barber shop, an urgent care center and an ice cream shop, all requiring little parking.  
    Briny’s high-rise plans of the mid-2000s drew harsh criticism from neighboring towns fearing increased traffic and congestion.
    “I applaud their efforts. They’re giving themselves the chance to grow and change,” said Kristine de Haseth, chairwoman of the Florida Coalition for Preservation, which vehemently opposed the previous plan.
    De Haseth has attended many of the planning and zoning board’s meetings. “The plan absolutely makes sense to us. We’re delighted they’re actually, after 23 years, starting to self-evaluate and plan for the future.”
    Lower said he sees support from officials in surrounding towns. “I‘ve talked to people in Ocean Ridge and Gulf Stream and they’re excited about the idea of Briny evolving over time, especially the idea of more storm-worthy buildings.”
    The plan has been several years in the making. Rather than hire an outside consultant, the Town Council commissioned Town Attorney Jerome Skrandel, who also has a corporate background, to help craft the plan with the Planning and Zoning Board.
    “I’m very pleased with Mr. Skrandel’s work,” Bennett said. “He has an understanding of the town that an outside firm wouldn’t have.”
    Briny is basing its plan on housing and population figures that are at odds with the 2010 census. While the U.S. Census counts 601 residents and 800 homes — a nearly 50 percent increase of both over 2000 — Briny claims only 417 permanent and 488 homes. The town figures a seasonal population of 924 which could expand to 1,161 by 2015.
    The town has filed an appeal of its housing and population figures.                                                                                              

Editor’s Note: Jerry Lower is the owner/publisher of The Coastal Star and a property owner in both Briny Breezes and Ocean Ridge.

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  • The planning board, under Mr. Lower’s leadership, has done a great deal of work to get this far. I join Kristine in applauding their efforts. Briny is a unique place and it will be fun to see the creative solutions they develop to balance the preservation of the community’s character while meeting the opportunities and challenges the town will surely face in the future.

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