By Rich Pollack
The sign proclaiming the large open space at the south end of Highland Beach to be the future location of Cam D. Milani Park is likely to remain there for at least another five years.
What will happen to the 5.6-acre property — and adjacent parcels to the north still owned by the Milani family — after that time is still up in the air.
Last month, Palm Beach County commissioners voted 4-3 to follow a staff recommendation to extend a legal agreement and delay breaking ground on the county-owned parcel until 2025.
In the interim, the county Parks and Recreation Department will begin legwork that will make it easier for the park — with beach access on the east side of State Road A1A and parking for up to 120 cars on the west side — to come out of the ground quickly once the extension expires.
That is not sitting well with nearby residents who for decades have argued that traffic and safety issues would abound with a park development.
“There’s absolutely no need for a park there,” said Doug Hillman, president of Boca Highland Beach Club and Marina, which is next to the planned park’s parking lot. “Highland Beach and Boca Highland have a major issue here. We need to begin developing a strategy now.”
Back in 1987, developer Cam D. Milani’s wife, Lucia, sold the property to the county for $3.9 million after his death with the caveat that it be used as a park and be named after him.
Legal wrangling, including a lawsuit filed by the town, blocked development. The settlement of the suit in 2010 delayed construction of the park for 10 years, with two five-year extensions available to the county.
During a County Commission meeting last month, Milani’s son, also Cam Milani, told county leaders that his mother sold the property to the county in order to honor her husband.
“I don’t think she imagined it would be 32 years before this happened and it sounds like it may be even a few years more,” he said.
County Commissioner Robert Weinroth, who represents the district that includes the property, was a strong opponent of the extension and of continuing to kick the can down the road.
“We should be giving the clear and unambiguous signal we are ready to move forward with a park,” he said.
Weinroth, who reported receiving $4,000 in contributions from the Milani family and business in his 2018 campaign, has said the county has an obligation to honor the family’s wishes.
“I don’t think we’re being fair to the Milani family,” he said.
In the end, commissioners agreed to start the ball rolling so development of the park can begin in five years.
“The intent during the five-year period is to do the design work so development of the park can move forward following this five-year extension,” county Parks and Recreation Director Eric Call said.
Weinroth said that could be acceptable.
“If that’s the way it goes, I won’t be thrilled but I’ll be happy it’s moving forward,” he said.
In addition to urging development of the park, Lucia Milani went to the Highland Beach Town Commission asking for a 20-year extension of a 30-year agreement that gives the family favorable zoning and height conditions on parcels they own north of the park site.
Under an agreement signed in 1995, the Milanis’ Highland Beach Holdings could build nine three-story townhouses on the west side of A1A with a height limit of 40 feet. The agreement also would allow for four units east of A1A.
The current height limit on those properties is 35 feet and new zoning for townhouses is six units per acre and for single-family 1.5 units per acre.
The two parcels owned by the Milani company on the west side of A1A total about .58 acres, according to town officials. The east property, Lucia Milani’s beachfront estate, is about .87 acres.
Although the current agreement doesn’t end for five years, Lucia Milani is asking the town to grant her the extension of the favorable zoning.
Milani said her request, which the commission discussed Oct. 3, was an indication that she did not plan to develop the property within the next five years but she stopped short of making that commitment.
That led some members of the commission to balk at the request.
“It would be selling an option for free,” said Vice Mayor Greg Babij. “In general, it’s not a good idea to sell an option for free.”
The commission asked its planning board to look deeper into the differences in land-use requirements and asked Town Manager Marshall Labadie to begin discussions with the Milani family. Ú