By Tim O’Meilia

    For the first time since the $510 million Ocean Land sale collapsed in 2007, the town of Briny Breezes took a careful first step toward allowing the town to be more than a mobile-home park.
    After four public hearings and questioning by residents, the Town Council unanimously approved, in a series of votes, a new comprehensive land use plan that would allow traditional one- and two-story single family homes, a commercial corridor of small businesses and low-rise multi-story condos and rental units on the west side of State Road A1A.
    But only if Briny Breezes Inc., which owns the park, wants to make changes in the future. The corporation is a co-operative of residents who own voting shares based on the size and location of their lots.
    “The provisions set forth in the plan are simply suggestions and permissions to the corporation so that, if it chooses to make changes in the business district or replace their housing units with some other type of housing, it could,” said Planning and Zoning Board Chairman Jerry Lower at the March 28 meeting.
    Much of the four public hearings was spent trying to dispel rumors that the plan required the mobile-home park to change. All four were held in the park’s community center rather than the smaller Town Council chambers. More than 60 residents attended the first hearing, but attendance dropped gradually until the conclusive vote on March 28.
    “It’s still an entirely corp-oration decision to make these changes. There is no mandate to make the changes,” Lower said.
    Any changes are not likely to come soon, according to three members of the corporation’s recently revamped board of directors who were among the dozen or so residents who attended the final meeting.
    New board President Joe Coyner said the directors have not discussed any zoning changes and are first concentrating on updating corporation operations and procedures and considering maintenance and repair projects in the park.
“We’re interested in bringing Briny back to the jewel it has been,” said board member Michael Gallacher. “Before we can look at the big picture of what the future holds, we need to stabilize a solid foundation.”
    All three were supportive of the town’s effort. “I personally am grateful to the Planning and Zoning Board for putting this forward. It can only help,” said board member Marcia Malchuski.
    The planning and zoning board worked five years on the 117-page document after being ordered by the state to update the town’s 1989 plan.
    The planning board focused on two primary goals: increasing the property values and enhancing hurricane protection for mobile homes that are uninsurable for storm damage.
    “One of my goals was to have the opportunity to have a safer environment for everybody,” said planning board member Ira Friedman during the March 7 hearing.
    More traditional single-family homes might allow owners to obtain windstorm coverage.
    Board members concluded that a narrow corridor of businesses such as a barber shop, an ice cream shop or an urgent care center catering to local residents would increase land values without attracting too much traffic.
    “Hallelujah,” exclaimed Alderwoman Nancy Boczon after the final vote.
    State planning officials have 60 days to evaluate the plan and suggest any changes. It was the opposition of the state and neighboring towns that killed Ocean Land’s plans to buy out the 43-acre park and erect 20-story towers, a 350-room beachfront hotel and rows of three-story condos. Many residents would have become millionaires.
    The revamped comp-rehensive plan is not likely to draw the ire of neighbors in Ocean Ridge and Gulf Stream.
    “You have been thorough, investigative and innovative in looking outside the box,” Kristine de Haseth, executive director of the Florida Coalition for Preservation, told the planning board at the March 7 meeting. The coalition opposed Ocean Land’s plans six years ago.
    Ocean Ridge architect Digby Bridges told the board, “You are absolutely on the right track in concentrating on your corridor. Briny Breezes has an absolute gem sitting here. You can really make a first-class development here and help your property values.”                                
Editor’s Note: Jerry Lower is publisher of The Coastal Star.

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