Gulf Stream: County pocket annexation issues plunge ahead

By Margie Plunkett

Residents of this usually quiet coastal area have lately raised an assertive voice on two separate issues, urging northern neighbor Gulf Stream to annex them and objecting to the latest development of the Sea Horse condominiums that includes a height much greater than the initial plan.

The oceanfront Sea Horse project has been drawing outrage from residents who protest its height, potential drainage problems and an approval process that has provided no forum for public comment. County Commissioner Steven Abrams assures them, however, the issues they’ve raised will be part of a meeting between developers and county officials to hash out some of the concerns.

Meanwhile, Gulf Stream is taking the next step toward annexing the pocket of unincorporated county territory where the Sea Horse project is located, following a study prompted by nearby residents requests to join the town.

At their June 11 meeting, Gulf Stream commissioners voted to support Urban Design Kilday Studio’s recommendation for voluntary annexation of the pocket south of Little Club Road and north of Sea Road, which is next to Gulf Stream.

Voluntary annexation is the quickest method, in which property owners petition to become part of the Gulf Stream. The town would need 100 percent consent by residents
in the pocket.

Urban Design also recommended the town simultaneously pursue a second method, Interlocal Service Boundary Agreement annexation, in case voluntary annexation
doesn’t succeed, according to the report from Joni Brinkman and Marty R.A. Minor. ISBA needs 51 percent approval from owners or voters. ISBA provides for counties and towns to
negotiate agreements and processes for annexation and land use.

Boynton Beach is forming an ISBA, the report pointed out, noting Gulf Stream opted not to take part. Boynton Beach’s move to study annexation of other areas at least in part precipitated the outcry from pocket residents who fear becoming part of that city’s jurisdiction.

The Bellamar House on North Ocean Boulevard submitted a letter to Gulf Stream checking on the status of its request of several months ago to be annexed. The same letter also raised the issue of the 4001 development — formerly called the Sea Horse project, which Bellamar House said it is “vehemently opposed to.” The letter cited the project’s density as well as its design as factors in the protest.

“The design is not in keeping with the surrounding buildings on the barrier island,” said the letter signed by Bellamar House Condominium Association. “Of much greater concern are drainage issues which were brought to the attention of the previous developer and not yet addressed.”

Another property just north of the Sea Horse, the Ballantrae Condominium Association, said that the development’s height should be limited to 35 to 40 feet with a density per acre of six units, said President David G. Frey in a letter. He, too, feared a serious drainage problem.

Frey wanted the project approved consistent with Gulf Stream’s zoning ordinances — or said it should be delayed until “the annexation issue is resolved,” when Gulf Streams ordinances would govern.

Gulf Stream Town Manager Bill Thrasher reported at the June 11 commission meeting that Gulf Stream officials met with the county after a “considerable” amount of resident feedback opposing the Sea Horse project. The project’s height is in dispute at between 70 and 90 feet, Thrasher said. “We feel that’s incompatible with the area and are making that position known to various regulating bodies in the area.”

A recently published plan showed the redeveloped oceanfront condominiums with six stories facing the ocean at 81 feet.

Mayor William Koch said the county is using a fast-track procedure which doesn’t involve public hearings to move the project approvals along, despite the growing objections of residents in the area. “It’s a ballgame we don’t have a bat in,” Koch said.

The county had earlier responded to a letter from Sea Horse developers that the project didn’t have to go through public hearings if its new design constituted only a minor change from a 2006 proposal for the initial project.

“This is a massive change vs. what was there when it was the old Sea Horse and it is a substantial change from what was proposed in 2006,” said Bob Ganger, president of the Florida Coalition for Preservation. “Residents here want to find out how to let the county know that they don’t like what’s being done.”

The coalition wrote Abrams requesting a full public administrative hearing on the fast-track treatment of the controversial plan, which it said could be approved as early
as July 14. County “staff contends that the plan represents ‘a minor site plan modification’ that does not require public review. We take strong exception to this position,” the letter said.

The meeting that Abrams set up, arranged for late in June, was “to address issues related to the project. I’ve gotten tons of e-mails,” Abrams said, noting the neighbors are being represented by the coalition.

While the meeting isn’t a public hearing, Abrams said, “The bottom line: I’m seeing to it that the public’s concerns are being addressed in the process by this meeting.”

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