By Dan Moffett
The Palm Beach County Zoning Commission unanimously approved a variance request for the developer of the Gulf Stream Views townhouse project on July 3, allowing the construction of 14 small swimming pools on the property.
The approval came over the objections of two dozen residents of Briny Breezes and the County Pocket who attended the hearing — and the objections of the commission’s own staff.
County planners and plan reviewers had recommended that the request from New Jersey-based NR Living be denied, asserting that the developer failed to satisfy several criteria necessary for allowing the exception.
Rachel Streitfeld, an attorney who represents the residents, said they are considering an appeal of the decision.
“We may want to take it to the County Commission,” Streitfeld said. “We have other options we want to think about as well.”
The zoning board’s ruling allows the installation of a 7-foot-by-14-foot plunge pool behind each of the development’s 14 units, seven along Briny Breezes Boulevard and seven along Seaview Avenue. County code calls for a 28-foot setback between swimming pools and the street, but the zoning commissioners approved a variance that allows a setback of about 17 feet.
Developers say they need the swimming pools to attract buyers for the units. County planners had opposed the exception, saying essentially that the pools were an amenity, not a necessary part of the plan, and their absence wouldn’t create a hardship for NR Living.
Commission Chair Sheri Scarborough and Commissioner Robert Currie disagreed, arguing that because the county months ago required a central roadway into the project, the developer was left with nowhere else to put the pools. Denying them now would present a hardship for the developer, the commissioners said.
“There is no need or hardship requirement met for adding 14 pools,” Kristine de Haseth, executive director of the Florida Coalition for Preservation and an Ocean Ridge commissioner, told the commission. “There’s no reason for adding this to the project this late in the game.”
Residents complained about flooding problems since late last year when dozens of trucks of fill were hauled into the 2-acre site to raise the grade to 16 feet.
But commissioners dismissed those complaints, saying the issue before them was the swimming pools — not drainage problems or runoff from the site.
“This is not a hardship for developers. The hardship that is happening is to neighboring residents who now are experiencing flooding,” said Liz Loper, who lives on Winthrop Lane in the Pocket. “Now I have to place sandbags at my front door when it rains.”
Said Streitfeld: “With the fill, they’ve created a fortress. And these folks are about to become the moat.”