By Dan Moffett
South Palm Beach council members are preparing to boldly go where no town official has gone before: five years into the future.
New Town Manager Bob Vitas is helping the council develop a long-term plan that tries to capture what life in the town might look like in 2021. This is a major departure for a town that typically has run itself on a year-to-year basis.
“It’s the first time any of us have ever seen this in the town,” said Councilwoman Stella Gaddy Jordan.
“Historically, we have not had any plans,” Vitas said. “None to my knowledge.”
To remedy that, the council spent four hours brainstorming with Vitas during a special workshop on Feb. 18, trying to chart a course for South Palm Beach into the next decade.
“How to prioritize — that’s the key to the whole thing when it comes to strategic planning,” Vitas said. “And always remember the first law of prioritization: If everything is a top priority, run to the nearest exit, don’t walk.”
It wasn’t surprising that beach renourishment ranked at the top of the list. South Palm Beach is working with federal, state and county officials to install groins to protect the town’s eroding beachfront, but “visible action” isn’t likely to happen until at least 2018, Vitas said.
What to do about the structural deficiencies in Town Hall and deciding what police and fire services are needed five years out also ranked high on the council’s list.
Improving communication with residents through website and social network connections is another goal, pushed by Councilman Robert Gottlieb.
Vice Mayor Joe Flagello said the town should consider going directly to residents through a survey and asking their opinions about the town’s future.
“It was very participatory,” said Mayor Bonnie Fischer of the workshop. “We were all given the opportunity to give some feedback, and we did.”
Vitas said during the Feb. 23 town meeting that he intends to meet individually with each council member during the next month to hear more ideas, and then bring back a completed five-year plan for the council to revise and then approve.
“This is going to give us an excellent road map,” Vitas said. “We’ll know what priorities to focus on.”
In other business:
• Vitas said he expects the demolition of the Oceanfront Inn to accelerate during March, and he thinks the structure will be completely torn down “by Easter.”
After that, developer Gary Cohen’s construction plans are largely unknown, though the town has given him the go-ahead to build a six-story, 33-unit condo building. “He hasn’t said anything to us,” Fischer said. “But an empty lot is better than what we have now.”
• On Feb. 4, 97 residents gathered at Mario’s Ocean Avenue restaurant in Lantana to celebrate the town’s 60th anniversary of incorporation in 1955. “It was absolutely magnificent,” said Lucille Flagello, who helped organize the event for the Community Affairs Advisory Board. “I received 29 phone calls from people who couldn’t stop talking about how delicious the food was.”