Ill Breeze Blows Both Ways at Briny Town Hall Meeting
By Eliot Kleinberg
May 23, 2007
BRINY BREEZES, FL - In an auditorium with two-thirds as many seats as Briny Breezes has lots, people for and against the scope of the development that will replace the barrier island mobile home park squared off Tuesday night.
Last month, the elected town council of the 488-unit park approved a draft of its new comprehensive plan. The Department of Community Affairs will study it and issue an "objections, recommendations and comments" report to the town by June 29.
"We are not an all-powerful agency," Pelham told those at the meeting. But the agency will inspect that final plan to see if it complies with the rules it applies to developments, and Pelham said it won't be deaf to the input.
The Crest Theatre holds 323. House manager Taylor Jacobs stood at the doorway, clicking a hand counter.
At 5:30 p.m., he announced, "We're full," and shut the door. By the 6 p.m. start, more than 100 people were still outside.
During the meeting, Delray Beach police let one person in for each who left.
Outside, opponents held a banner, passed out stickers and comment cards, and collected names and addresses. The banner read: "Preserve Our Barrier Islands."
Albert Fischer of Delray Beach, who visits the barrier islands to fish and use the beach, said the meeting should have been elsewhere.
"It's a shame they had it in a little auditorium like that," Fischer said. "A lot of people are interested in it."
Both the developer and an opposition group had chartered buses to bring people.
Cards filled out beforehand by those who wanted to speak eventually were 3-to-1 against. Ocean Land complained meeting organizers had said that speakers would alternate one to one.
The town hall meeting was organized by state Rep. Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, and state Sen. Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach. Hasner said neither has a role in the decision, but both are concerned about the project's size and impact.
In January, shareholders of Briny Breezes' resident-owned corporation voted to sell the property to Boca Raton-based Ocean Land Investments for $510 million, making many of them millionaires. Residents of neighboring communities spoke up once it became clear that, to recoup its investment, Ocean Land planned a massive project, with up to 10 towers ranging up to 20 stories, housing 900 condos, 300 time-share units and about 350 hotel rooms.
Opponents, mostly in neighboring Ocean Ridge and Gulf Stream and a large unincorporated pocket, have lambasted what they see as a "take the money and run" mentality. Brinyites have said they have the right to decide what will follow them.
During the meeting, Briny Breezes corporation President Mary Kimber criticized Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty for offering $10,000 in taxpayer money to oppose the sale. Actually, McCarty offered the money for workshops designed to discuss the scope of the plan.
Briny Breezes Mayor Roger Bennett was hissed at when he said opponents just don't want their lifestyle inconvenienced.
"We cannot outshout our opponents. We cannot outspend our opponents. And we cannot outlobby them," Bennett said.
Both Bennett's and Kimber's statements were handed to reporters by a public relations firm representing the developer.
Not to be outdone, the Florida Coalition for Preservation, an opposition group backed financially by many wealthy residents, presented a rendering of how it said the project will look. Ocean Land Vice President H. Logan Pierson called it "not even close." He said the firm is just now doing sketches.
Ocean Ridge Mayor Ken Kaleel drew loud cheers - and a partial standing ovation - after he said, "We support a density that is compatible with the surrounding areas."
Coalition Chairman Tom Evans had, as a U.S. congressman, helped write the Coastal Barrier Resources Act, which removed subsidies to those who develop along the coast. Tuesday, he called on Florida's two U.S. senators and U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, to extend the act to new construction on barrier islands, a move that could block Ocean Land's plans.