By Dan Moffett
Ocean Ridge residents turned out in droves to complain about Mayor Geoff Pugh’s ideas for overhauling Old Ocean Boulevard.
Pugh didn’t mind that at all. He said the main thing he wanted was for them to turn out in droves.
“It just goes to show, when it’s controversial, everyone shows up,” the mayor said, and told a packed Town Hall he was trying to use “an idea that’s so out there that people will turn out.”
The turnout for the Jan. 26 workshop on Pugh’s proposal to change Old Ocean into a promenade showed how much residents care about their town’s future and dealing with growing neighbors, the mayor said, and that’s the conversation he wants to start.
What will Ocean Ridge do to deal with robust development in Boynton Beach that is sure to bring more people to the town and its beaches?
“Let’s face it. The town to our west is leaning on us,” Pugh said, and cited published calls from Boynton Beach Mayor Jerry Taylor to “bring on the development” and the city’s recent approval of two large residential projects on Federal Highway.
“They call themselves a coastal community,” Pugh said. “They are not a coastal community. They’re an Intracoastal community. We are a coastal community.”
He said he was committed to doing what he could to “keep the town the same quiet sanctuary that it is, but accommodate the traffic” that mainland growth will bring. Pugh showed the audience a snapshot of himself as a child growing up in Ocean Ridge during the 1960s.
“My idea is not to change things,” he said, “but to keep them as they were in 1969.”
His idea for an Old Ocean Boulevard promenade was dead on arrival. Of the 26 residents who spoke during the workshop, 22 spoke against the proposal, one supported it and three expressed no opinion. A sampling:
“This is not a controversial issue,” said Bob Weisblut, who lives on Sailfish Lane. “I think people want everything left like it is.”
Rosemarie Peterson of Harbour Drive concurred: “I think if we took a vote here tonight, everybody would say to leave it alone.”
Earl Jones of Sailfish Lane said blocking off side streets would create problems. “Any of you who think dead-end streets are neat, you’re nuts,” he said.
Tropical Drive residents said they worried about the high volume of traffic the plan would funnel onto their street. Chris Currie said he’s traveled on Old Ocean for 45 years and never had a problem. He said the mayor’s idea would give Old Ocean “quasi-private status” at the expense of Tropical Drive. “It’s not going to fly,” he said.
Said Chuck McIntyre, who lives on Old Ocean: “Forget this whole idea.”
The only resident willing to support the plan outright was Barbara Souther, who lives on North Ocean. “I’m in the minority here,” she said. “I’m with Geoff on this.” Souther said one-way traffic would make it easier for people to enjoy the beach.
Gary Kosinski of Old Ocean gave the town a detailed plan for overhauling the street that he said is “exactly the opposite of Mayor Pugh’s idea.” Kosinski proposes blocking off no side streets and making no streets one-way. “What we do is stop people from driving the whole distance of Old Ocean,” he said. He proposes dividing the road into three sections. The town put the plan on its website.
“I think Gary Kosinski’s plan is worth looking at,” said Commissioner Richard Lucibella. “I don’t think we should take it off the table.”
Other ideas from the workshop that commissioners said they would consider in upcoming meetings include improving beach signage, installing traffic calming devices, exploring shuttle service from Boynton Beach to Boynton Beach Oceanfront Park, and improving the lighting on Old Ocean.
Commissioner James Bonfiglio said residents’ overwhelming support for the status quo shows that the town has had sound leadership for decades.
“You’re not saying we want change,” Bonfiglio said. “You’re saying we want things to stay the same. We’ve done things right for about 20 to 25 years to get to this point where everybody that’s here likes living here and likes the quality of life here.”
By Dan Moffett