Several hundred Highland Beach residents turned out Feb. 1 for a meeting hosted by Palm Beach County Commissioner Marci Woodward at the town library, where they strongly objected to the county's plans for the proposed Milani Park in their town. INSET, BELOW LEFT: Some residents wore stickers to show their opposition. Photos by Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Rich Pollack
More than 200 Highland Beach residents turned out Thursday night, Feb. 1, to voice their opposition to a proposed beachfront county park straddling State Road A1A, raising concerns about everything from environmental issues and security to development of a parking lot with 40-plus spaces.
Hosted by Palm Beach County Commissioner Marci Woodward and attended by several county staff members including Parks and Recreation Director Jennifer Cirillo, the meeting on the future of the long-proposed Milani Park ended with county leaders assuring residents that their concerns were heard and pledging to take suggestions into consideration.
What Woodward heard from a sometimes boisterous and unruly group was that a park is not what the residents want — at least not in its currently proposed form.
At the onset of the meeting, county representatives offered an overview of the proposed 5.6-acre park, explaining that the current concept is a scaled-down version of a park that was proposed and approved decades ago after the county purchased the property from the Cam D. Milani family for $4 million.
In the original plan, the county would have included about 100 parking spaces on the west side of A1A and a beach park with a lifeguard and restrooms on the east side.
Under the revised, scaled-down proposal, the west side of the parcel will accommodate just more than 40 vehicles. The east side would have a boardwalk to the beach that will pass over native Florida vegetation that has been allowed to flourish but would not have a lifeguard or restrooms.
“I’m encouraged that we can deliver something that will be an asset to the community,” Woodward said.
During a question-and-answer session in which about 25 residents were able to speak, Woodward heard strenuous objections to the parking lot, with some residents raising safety and environmental concerns.
One resident suggested that the county let the vacant parcel become a natural park, allowing native vegetation to flourish. Another suggested turning the west side into a pocket park where people could arrive on foot or by bicycle and relax under shade trees.
Highland Beach resident Maggie Chappelear was one of those addressing county officials at the meeting.
“A parking lot is not what people want,” said resident Maggie Chappelear. “We want to create a useful space, not a parking lot.”
In addition to hearing from speakers, who also voiced concerns about the safety of an unprotected beach as well as concerns about the impact the park would have on wildlife, county officials collected as many as 200 comment cards.
In the end, they said that they will go back and sort through the comments and promised to return with possible adjustments based on the community input.
Town officials had hoped that representatives of the Milani family would speak against development of the park at the meeting in exchange for favorable land use adjustments from the town, but an agreement between the two sides has yet to be finalized.