By Margie Plunkett
The Lantana Town Council dismissed as “insulting” a counterproposal from the Imperial House to pay $5,000 for beach access to fix its failing seawall, and said it would investigate if, under an agreement for emergency work, it could demand Imperial House put the beach back together and vacate within seven days. Mayor David Stewart and other council members balked at the counterproposal during a Dec. 14 meeting — a day before South Palm Beach voted to request assistance with beach access from the county. An earlier proposal by Imperial House had offered a $35,000 payment for access, which was still far lower than Lantana’s demand for $213,500 in total from Imperial House and the neighboring Mayfair House, which is also performing seawall work.
The Imperial House in South Palm Beach sought beach access after its failing seawall put the building in jeopardy of tumbling into the ocean. The co-op needed access to stage equipment and materials for construction of the seawall.
Lantana objected to free access for several reasons, including that the co-op’s failure to rebuild its seawall promptly after storm damage resulted in escalating costs for neighboring Lantana taxpayers when the town reconstructed its own seawall. Lantana also feared damage to its newly rebuilt seawall and said using the beach as a staging ground would deny residents enjoyment of the beach.
In its most recent proposal, Imperial House said that Lantana didn’t communicate the desire to coordinate seawall construction until three months after the town had completed its work and it was unreasonable to “punish” the Imperial House now. It took two years for the Imperial House to secure a Department of Environmental Protection permit for its construction, which DEP has never complained was an unacceptable time frame, the proposal said. And if Lantana has the right to charge for beach access, the fee should be based on “the value of access,” not current or projected costs to build Lantana’s seawall, it said.
While Imperial House’s proposals offered cash payments, they also listed other activities and services that the co-op assigned dollar value to and that it claims is a $214,500 value to Lantana. The latest includes that the co-op would build its seawall 15 feet farther west, which would save the town $90,000, but cost Imperial House nearly $40,000 more. It also offers that it could use a more northern access, rather than Dorothy Rissler Lane, and would extend that access to Lantana for the town to finish connecting its seawall to the co-op’s. It would also leave “rip rap” in place to protect the town’s dunes until the town has completed its seawall extension.
A second option in the same proposal would allow Imperial House to use Dorothy Rissler Lane for access and the co-op would obtain a security bond for any damages. The proposal would still extend the co-op’s seawall farther west and pay $5,000. Both Lantana officials and residents slammed Imperial House at the Dec. 14 meeting because it should be working with its own town, South Palm Beach, for access rather than expecting Lantana taxpayers to foot the bill.
When attorney James Charles of Lewis, Longman & Walker, P.A., representing Imperial House, spoke, Stewart jumped in to say, "There's no opportunity at $5,000. You might as well sit down."
The minutes from the Dec. 7 special meeting indicate that the council voted to not allow heavy equipment access through Dorothy Rissler Lane that would cross over the Lantana seawall, unless approved by the town manager; it allowed an exception for smaller all-terrain and rubber-tire vehicles. In the minutes,Stewart said after visiting the Imperial House he believed the Imperial House had opportunities it hasn’t pursued for beach access without having to come through Lantana's beach.