Briny Breezes Plan Roils Waves of Objections
By Eliot Kleinberg
June 10, 2007
DELRAY BEACH, FL - A Florida agency that will pass judgment on the ambitious project to redevelop the Briny Breezes mobile home park has been baraged with comments from regulatory agencies to neighboring communities to the guy next door. The file holds more than 1,000 pages.
Every one of them expresses some concern about the scope of the development, argues Ocean Land Investments has exaggerated its value to the community at large and undersold the impact or pleads for more specifics.
Palm Beach County's top planner calls the plan "out of scale" with the surrounding area. And Boynton Beach says it can't supply the water and sewer service the developer says it will need.
"The volume of written communication is unusual, but not unprecedented," Department of Community Affairs chief Thomas Pelham said Friday from Tallahassee.
The department is reading every missive, Pelham said. But this won't be a popularity contest, he said.
"To the extent they raise substantive issues - water, traffic, hurricane evacuation - those are issues we will be looking at under the rules we have to apply," he said. "The number of communications we receive doesn't really impact our decision. It's the substance we look at."
In April, the town's council approved a draft rewrite of its comprehensive plan, effectively changing the town's potential makeup from a 43-acre collection of mobile homes to a "destination resort" of up to 10 condominium, time share and hotel towers, some rising 20 stories above State Road A1A.
The board then sent the 105-page plan, and a 34-page "Evaluation and Appraisal Report," to the DCA. That agency will study it and issue an "objections, recommendations and comments" report to the town, for final approval, by June 29. The DCA will inspect that final plan to see whether it complies with all the rules the state applies to developments.
Ocean Land Vice President Logan Pierson said he had not seen all the comments.
"We certainly respect what they're saying," he said. "We're going to go through what each department said. I've seen bits and pieces of a lot of these things. The DCA will look through each of them and weigh them carefully."
He said of the opponents, "We're interested in what their concerns are, particularly when they're rational, educated concerns."
He stressed that the plan is just a blueprint, and if governments tell Ocean Land to cut back its scope, it will.
"We have to," Pierson said. "It's the law."
The comment file contains many more letters of opposition than support. Briny Breezes, population less than 1,000, is surrounded by thousands of neighbors who say the complex will destroy their way of life.
Support letters are exclusively from Briny Breezes residents. Shareholders of the resident-owned corporation voted in January to sell for $510 million, making many of them millionaires.
Residents wrote that their park was one storm from oblivion, that the development proposal is responsible and that wealthy neighbors just want their way, as usual.
Many urge the DCA to approve the sale, something it doesn't have the power to do. The agency's role is strictly to review the plan. But should the DCA submit so many objections the town can't ignore them, and it then adopts a more scaled-down plan that will no longer be profitable for Ocean Ridge, the developer could walk before the deal closes in 2009.
Many Brinyites' notes contain the same two talking points: how long the writer has been a resident and the magic number of 82, the percent of shares for the sale. Ocean Land's Pierson said no one was coached but points were discussed at meetings.
Many of the letters, pro and con, are typed; others, hand-written. Some are e-mails. Some go on for pages. One was a single sentence: "Please note my opposition to the proposed development." Some have clips of news articles or signed petitions. Some are comments at a May 22 town hall meeting at which DCA chief Pelham listened for hours to impassioned pleas from both sides.
Some are pro-development form letters, with lines for people to fill in their names, which challenge myths presented by opponents or concerns that the resort would be a concrete monstrosity or endanger manatees.
Some are from members of a coalition bankrolled mostly by wealthy Ocean Ridge and Gulf Stream residents.
Some wrote not to the DCA, but instead to Gov. Charlie Crist, including Bruce Jensen Jr., 67, who included a 20-page "Briny Breezes Way of Life" directory, which has photos of residents and quotes about what they like about the place.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Javier Souto, who owns a mobile home in the park, also wrote Crist, saying the proposed redevelopment "may cause tremendous problems" with the environment.
"Charlie, we have to be very careful with all of that. I know that you have the best interests of Florida in mind," Souto said.
A staffer responded, telling Souto his letter would be forwarded to the DCA.