By Rich Pollack

With a Feb. 1 meeting hosted by county leaders just weeks away, Highland Beach condo presidents from nearly two dozen buildings gathered last month to brainstorm a strategy aimed at stopping the county’s long-delayed development of Milani Park on the beach at the south end of town.

When it was over, the solution — accented with a few nuances — boiled down to a plan from a much-used playbook: Show strength in numbers by getting residents to show up en masse.

“Just the fact that there are massive amounts of people there will send a message that we don’t want a park,” said Evalyn David, a town commissioner who lives in the Boca Highland Beach Club and Marina, which borders the future park site.

Set for 6 p.m. at the town’s library, the public meeting will include presentations by county officials including Commissioner Marci Woodward, whose district includes Highland Beach, and Parks and Recreation Director Jennifer Cirillo.

It will be followed by public comments, and the county leaders can expect an earful, with the bottom line being that Highland Beach residents don’t want the park.

“There is probably no one in Highland Beach in favor of a park,” said Ron Reame, president of Dalton Place, a Boca Highland Beach Club and Marina building. “Our goal is to get residents to the meeting and convince county commissioners we don’t want this park.”

Purchased from the Milani family in 1987 for $4 million, the 5.6-acre property straddling State Road A1A has remained vacant for decades, first tied up in a legal battle that ended with a settlement agreement and then allowed to remain dormant as county leaders kept deferring decisions on development.

That changed over the summer when county commissioners agreed to move forward with the project, which includes about 40 parking spaces on the west side of A1A and a boardwalk leading to the beach through a largely preserved natural area.

During the meeting of condo presidents, leaders from buildings in the northern portion of town said their residents weren’t as familiar with the Milani Park issue and needed to be better informed.

The group is looking at several suggestions aimed at getting the word out, including coming up with a letter that the presidents can share with their residents.

In addition to developing strategies to pack the meeting, the group discussed how to deliver key messages that include reasons why the park shouldn’t be built. One suggestion is to identify residents who will each research one of several key points and serve as point-people to deliver those messages to county leaders.

“We need to have people at the Feb. 1 meeting who are assigned to discuss specific issues,” said Eve Rosen, a Boca Highland resident.

Among the issues the presidents want to address are environmental concerns, with the beach area of the park a prime sea turtle nesting area, and safety and security issues.

To get from the parking lot to the beach, visitors will have to cross A1A, which raises concerns about pedestrian safety.

“I think it’s going to be extremely dangerous,” Reame said.

Concerns that the park would be used by vagrants and drug users also surfaced, as did discussion about the small amount of beach available during high tide and the inclusion of Yamato Rock on the property, which could present safety issues when exposed at low tide.

The condo presidents also endorsed a strategy discussed by the Highland Beach Town Commission to reach out to individual county commissioners and let them know that the county could be better off selling the property and putting the money to better use.

The town has hired a lobbyist and the presidents are hoping to coordinate with the town and the lobbyist on consistent messaging.

Reame said that he has also reached out to Lucia Milani to see if she would be amenable to using the property for something other than a park but said that if asked, she would continue advocating for a park.

The future park would be named after her late husband, Cam Milani.

In response to an email from The Coastal Star, Milani said she would prefer not to speak publicly given the ongoing public processes.

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