By Tim O’Meilia
South Palm Beach voters may be asked to make a nearly irreversible decision on the future of the Palm Beach Oceanfront Inn this fall.
The Town Council voted 3-2 to consider placing a pair of town charter amendments on the ballot that would limit the height of new buildings east of State Road A1A to 60 feet and would prohibit new or the expansion of existing non-residential buildings.
Twice since 2005, the owners of the two-story inn, the only commercial building in town, have failed to persuade the council to allow zoning changes that would permit a 10-story or higher hotel-condominium.
Councilwoman Stella Jordan, who proposed the charter changes, said they would preserve the residential nature of the town. “It puts control of redevelopment of the town in the residents’ hands,” she said, and takes it away from the council.
Both the height and land-use restriction are in the town’s zoning code, which can be amended by ordinance by the council.
Mayor Martin Millar complained the council did not have sufficient time to study Jordan’s proposal since she didn’t provide the specifics until the meeting, although the subject of charter change was on the agenda.
“This could cost the town money and we could have a lawsuit by an outsider,” he said.
Millar and Councilman Brian Merbler opposed the charter vote. Merbler questioned whether the hotel, if damaged in a storm, would be allowed to be rebuilt.
“My concern is that we would eliminate any window of opportunity to update (the hotel),” he added.
Jordan and council members Donald Clayman and Susan Lillybeck approved the measure.
The proposal drew the angry opposition of motel co-owners Peter and Michelle Paloka. “I want to express my vehement opposition. I have no choice but to consider it a taking under the Bert Harris Act,” Peter Paloka said, referring to the state law allowing landowners to sue for compensation if a land use change restricts the potential value of their property.
“You are putting your town in a precarious situation,” said Michelle Paloka. She also called Clayman “a bully and a hypocrite.”
Former Councilwoman and planning board member Pat Schulmayr said such changes required hours of consideration of the intricacies of the issues by the planning board and the council.
“There is no way the people of this town will have the intelligence or the information to make this sort of decision,” Schulmayr said.
In July, the council will consider two ordinances drafted by the town attorney that would put the questions on the ballot. The proposals could be revised then. A second approval is required in August.
This is Jordan’s second attempt to change the charter. In January, before she was elected, she submitted petitions signed by more than 20 percent of the town’s registered voters to put three changes on the ballot, including the two the council considered.
But Town Clerk Janet Whipple rejected the petitions, ruling that they were not submitted 90 days before the requested election date. She also ruled they did not comply with other technical requirements, including the formation of a five-member committee, and they conflicted with the state law on comprehensive plans.
In other action, the Town Council:
• Approved, by a 4-1 vote, a $1,000 donation to the town of Lantana and the Greater Lantana Chamber of Commerce for the Fourth of July celebration. Merbler dissented.
• Approved unanimously an agreement with Phillips and Jordan Inc. for emergency debris removal and disaster recovery services after a storm.
• Gave final unanimous approval to abolishing the board of adjustment and transferring its powers to the planning board.