By Antigone Barton
“A stack of letters,” as Mayor William Koch put it — 17 then, with three more on the way —addressed to Town Hall in April may be the most correspondence in recent times to demand Gulf Stream commissioners’ attention, and was all the more unusual because not one of the letters came from a town resident.
And although some of the letters — typed on condominium association letterheads and hand-scripted on personal note cards — bore a return address ending in “Gulf Stream, FL,” they all came from people who currently belong to no town.
The letter writers are neighbors who live in the little corner of oceanside land that belongs to the county (part of the “county pocket”) but is nestled so close upon the town’s northeastern borders as to appear to be part of it already. These neighbors would like to call Gulf Stream home.
The corner comprises about 900 feet of oceanfront land with about 120 residences, of which all except four single-family residences are multifamily or condo buildings.
It would add to Gulf Stream’s current number of residences by about 20 percent, and to its current oceanfront stretch of 9,000 feet by about 10 percent.
The reasons its residents gave were somewhat diverse, ranging from a view of “a good fit economically, socially and culturally,” and already shared memberships in clubs and churches, to a common dread of development and concerns over the “the very dangerous lag in emergency services from the county to respond.”
But the desire to be Gulf Stream residents was the unanimous theme.
And many of the letter writers claimed, or at least hinted, they spoke for more than themselves. That includes at least one dog:
“In addition to the great Town Hall, police force, police station,” a Ballantrae condominium owner wrote, “our West Highland terrier enjoys his morning and afternoon walks through the neighborhood.”
“I can assure you, we feel as one, in our desire to be part of the Gulf Stream community,” Stephen Gross, president of the 3900 N. Ocean Boulevard Association put it.
As it is now, another writer noted, the Ballantrae condominium complex would be an addition not just in revenue, “but in the feeling of charm and gentility which Gulf Stream exudes.”
But adding impetus to that sentiment, other letter writers noted, are fears sparked by recent talk of possible annexations of other “pockets” by neighboring Boynton Beach.
“Without annexation to Gulf Stream, this pocket would be subject to development, as seen in Boynton Beach, of high-rise buildings, commercial shops, restaurants, bars, gas stations, you name it, etc.” Robert Schumann of Ballantrae wrote.
The point was not lost on Gulf Stream commissioners, although the town has a standing agreement with Boynton Beach and Palm Beach County not to annex adjoining land if Boynton Beach maintains limits on new structures of 35 feet in height and no more than six units an acre in density.
“The next thing to do,” Koch suggested, “is get into discussions with Boynton Beach to see if they would object to us annexing the pocket. Because we would object to them annexing the pocket.”
And as Commissioner Chris Wheeler put it: “The pros are our tax base increases and we have control over the land. What is the negative?”
In the end, the commission agreed to give Town Manager William Thrasher permission to “start the process and have discussions,” exploring options regarding the agreement with Boynton Beach, and the possibility of annexation with city officials.
So although not residents — yet, at least — letter writers got a response.
“Right now, they’ve requested and we’re looking into it,” Koch said.
In other action during the April 1 meeting, town commissioners agreed to take a straw poll among residents about burying Gulf Stream’s overhead power lines. The project would cost owners of single-family residences whose lines are not already buried from $18,000 to $22,000, to be paid through assessments.