County Commissioner Robert Weinroth (left) toured property next to the development site with residents and county engineers. He says the county is working to identify and consider fixes to potential drainage issues. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star
By Dan Moffett
The pace of construction has picked up for the Gulf Stream Views townhouse development in recent weeks, and so has the project’s pursuit of required permits and government approvals.
On April 25, Palm Beach County building officials rejected an appeal submitted the day before to the Construction Board of Adjustments and Appeals by four residents of the County Pocket.
Karl Hoffman, Paul Lambert and Glenn and Marie Chapman, citing concerns about drainage problems for neighboring properties, asked the county to issue a stop-work order for the project “until a comprehensive stormwater master plan and funding strategy can be approved for the area.”
The county attorney’s office denied the request without comment.
The same week, project engineers for the developer submitted a revised flooding map for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The map identifies the site between Briny Breezes and the County Pocket as an area with a 1 in 500 annual chance of flood hazard, a favorable assessment that would allow the project to go forward.
The current FEMA rating is a 1 in 100 annual chance of flood hazard, which would stop the development from getting a certificate of occupancy.
If FEMA accepts the revised map, then a 120-day period of public comment begins before the designation becomes official.
On April 9, newly seated District 4 County Commissioner Robert Weinroth inspected the construction site, along with county zoning and engineering officials, and Briny Breezes Council President Sue Thaler. Residents from Briny Breezes and the County Pocket told them about their concerns that the project will cause drainage problems in the neighborhood.
“I think one of the things the town recognizes is that their infrastructure is very old,” Weinroth said afterward. “As we did that tour, we recognized that even the drainage that was in place was not properly maintained.”
He said it’s “unfortunate” that the historical use of the development’s lot as a drainage field would not continue, but the county is listening to residents.
“I think the county is working with the town to try to identify the drainage issues there to see what can be done,” Weinroth said. “But as far as the landowner that’s doing the development, I think they’re doing what they can to address the drainage on their property.”
The revised area flood map sent for FEMA approval would give the construction site a 1 in 500 annual chance of flood hazard as opposed to the 1 in 100 annual chance of surrounding areas shown in blue. Map provided
New Jersey-based NL Living wants to build 14 townhomes on the 2-acre parcel south of Briny Breezes Boulevard that for decades has absorbed runoff from the neighborhood.
Last month, contractors began installing 79 catchment chambers, designed to capture up to 84,000 gallons of storm-water and then release it slowly underground. Project engineers have assured residents the development will hold all the stormwater that comes onto it.
Rachel Streitfeld, the Miami-Dade County lawyer who represented the four pocket residents, isn’t so sure. Streitfeld called the county’s decisions to give the developers permits “erroneous, dangerous and injurious.” She requested an expedited hearing to argue the residents’ case — which the county denied.
Streitfeld said the project presented an “egregious incompatibility with the surrounding existing residential communities.”
Cited in the appeal request was an analysis by Jim Bolleter, an engineer with Ecology and Environment Inc. of Wellington, whom the residents hired.
“Regardless of how Gulf Stream Views handles their drainage,” Bolleter wrote, “increasing the site elevation is anticipated to worsen the flooding problems to the north, south, and immediately west of the site since stormwater from the surrounding area has less surface area to percolate into.”
Kristine de Haseth, executive director of the Florida Coalition for Preservation, organized the tour with Weinroth and other officials. She said the coalition does not oppose the project, but it does want residents’ concerns to be taken seriously.
An event to raise money for legal fees has been organized by neighborhood residents and will be held 4-9 p.m. May 25 at Nomad Surf Shop.
De Haseth, who is also an Ocean Ridge town commissioner, said the county can’t simply tell residents “sorry, your neighborhood’s old, so we’re done here.” She said there’s still time left to deal with potential problems.
“This is the beginning of a conversation,” she said. “It’s not the end of a conversation.”