The side of the project at 6273 N. Ocean Blvd. that faces A1A appears to some as a parking garage, not a single-family residence. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star
By Joe Capozzi
To the relief of dozens of residents, Ocean Ridge commissioners have issued a stop-work order on the so-called parking garage house, a property that has been under construction and a source of complaints for nearly seven years.
Delays, noise, design changes and code violations at the property at 6273 N. Ocean Blvd. have made the project “the poster child” for several updates to the town’s buildings codes aimed at preventing similar situations, Mayor Kristine de Haseth said.
Residents living near the property have gotten the worst of it since the first building permit was issued in May 2015 — from changes allowing a roof deck and fronting with no windows or doors to noise from generators and trucks to a sluggish pace of construction.
Changes to the building’s appearance from State Road A1A prompted frustrated residents over the years to coin nicknames such as “the parking garage house” and “the fort.’’
“The original plans were beautiful plans, in compliance with town rules. Then, it was not built accordingly,’’ town building official Durrani Guy told the commission on Feb. 7.
“In 2019, it was halted. For some reason they were allowed to revise their plans and move forward,’’ he said. “The hope was they would be finished quickly, but it has not happened. … At the pace they are moving, we’re probably looking at another 24 months.’’
A construction manager for the property, speaking at the Feb. 7 meeting, blamed the slow progress on supply chain issues, labor problems and unspecified COVID-19 deaths. He said the work could be done in three more months, but residents and commissioners didn’t buy that.
“This is a site that has skipped (under) the radar too long and it’s time for the commission to act. The community is paying the price,’’ John Shibles, who lives directly south of it, told commissioners.
When town commissioners voted 4-0 to issue a stop-work order and reject what would have been a sixth building-permit extension, concerned residents at the meeting erupted in applause. Commissioner Steve Coz was absent.
The property is owned by Oceandell Holdings LLC, whose manager is listed in state records as Andrew Abony of Toronto. The project has been accruing daily fines of $250 since last summer.
“Money is not a motivator here. If it was a motivator it would have been built and occupied a long time ago,’’ de Haseth said Feb. 7.
As a result of their action, town officials were able to get what they said was the first direct response from the owner in three years. On Feb. 16, town staff met with the owner and discussed the town’s concerns.
He plans to submit a request to renew the building permit at the March 7 commission meeting, Town Manager Tracey Stevens said.
Chief reports on Old Ocean
Police Chief Richard Jones said he was preparing to issue citations to pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists who disobey traffic rules while using Old Ocean Boulevard.
Although commissioners plan to hold a workshop soon to address safety on the oceanfront road, Jones said something needs to be done now.
“It is completely out of control,’’ he told commissioners Feb. 7, saying his initial plan is to educate the public first.
If that doesn’t work, citations will have to be issued at some point, he said.
“We will give it some time before we truly begin the enforcement process. The educational campaign has to start somewhere. We can’t wait for a solution that takes a year down the road for a problem that’s become a public safety issue,’’ the chief said.
“I know it’s not going to be popular because people use that more as an exercise path than they do a roadway, but unfortunately it is a roadway. We need to address it before someone gets hurt or injured.’’
Commissioner Geoff Pugh, concerned about the reaction from residents, asked the chief to hold off on issuing citations and focus on education.
“If you start issuing warnings, this place at the next town meeting will be standing-room-only screaming at us,’’ he said, adding that the problem subsides in the off-season.
Jones said he was worried about liability issues.
“We continue to talk about the fact that we know it’s an issue, but nobody wants to address the issue including the Police Department because we didn’t want to create a negative situation with residents,’’ he said. “That’s not the intention. That’s why we want to start an educational campaign that leads to that, but we have to do something.’’
More than a dozen residents have volunteered to serve on a task force to come up with safety measures for Old Ocean Boulevard. But before going ahead with that, commissioners will host a workshop.
In other business:
• Repairs on three bridges, at Sabal Island, Inlet Cay and Island drives, are expected to start in March, town officials said.
The repairs, recommended during routine inspections by the Florida Department of Transportation, include addressing cracks in the asphalt, chipped-away concrete and exposed steel under the bridges, cleaning and painting corrosion stains, and restriping.
While the state says the repairs are minor and the bridges don’t pose any danger, the fixes are required to prevent further damage. The repairs will cost about $87,500, which is in the town budget.
Residents will be notified about ingress and egress plans. The town wants to complete the work by September.
• Stevens received a positive evaluation from commissioners, who voted to raise her salary to $132,500, from $125,000, retroactive to Jan. 4. “We’ve never had such a strong town manager at least in the 20 years I’ve been involved with this town,’’ de Haseth said.
• Commissioners voted 3-1 to endorse an ordinance change that would raise to 8 feet the height on walls surrounding sewage treatment facilities in town. The current limit is 6 feet but town officials discovered several condominiums have 8-foot walls. Because of “what can emanate from these plants,’’ town officials agreed the easiest solution was to raise the limit to 8 feet. Pugh voted no because he wanted the Planning and Zoning Commission to review the issue.
• The observation tower at Ocean Ridge Natural Area is closed to the public as it undergoes repairs by Palm Beach County, which is also repairing some of the area’s sidewalks. The work is expected to be done by early March.