Citizens Speak Out Overwhelmingly Against Irresponsible Plan to Jam Briny Breezes With High-Rise Towers
Florida Coalition for Preservation leads charge to demand that developers scale back plans for Briny Breezes.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - May 22, 2007
CONTACT: Ryan Banfill - (850) 933-7707
DELRAY BEACH, FL - Hundreds of area residents packed a key town-hall meeting Tuesday to condemn the massive, high-density redevelopment plan currently proposed for Briny Breezes.
At the meeting, hosted by state Rep. Adam Hasner and state Sen. Jeff Atwater and featuring Florida Department of Community Affairs Secretary Thomas Pelham, dozens of leaders representing towns, neighborhoods, conservation groups and civic associations spoke out against the current Briny Breezes redevelopment plan.
Developers want to jam tiny Briny Breezes with multiple high-rise towers housing 900 condominium units, 300 timeshare units, a 349-room luxury hotel, restaurants, retail shops, parking facilities and a yacht marina – all on an environmentally fragile, hurricane-vulnerable barrier island.
The Florida Coalition for Preservation released architectural projections at the meeting to demonstrate what the 5-million-square-foot residential project would look like. For comparison, each twin tower at the World Trade Center housed 3.8 million square feet of space. To date the developers have not shared any artist’s renderings of the plans.
“This Coalition supports reasonable and responsible development that respects the area’s character and environment,” said former Congressman Tom Evans, Chairman of the Coalition and author of the Coastal Barrier Resources Act. “Unfortunately, the proposed Briny Breezes development doesn’t meet the test. Even at half the density proposed here, it is unacceptable and must be radically scaled back. We cannot allow this proposed development to jeopardize the safety, security and quality of life of those already living here.”
Opponents of the redevelopment plan called attention to a number of vital concerns, foremost among them that the proposed massive increase in population density would put a heavy and costly strain on local infrastructure, threatening the area’s fragile environment.
The negative impact of the project would almost immediately be felt in traffic congestion, with construction vehicles causing constant traffic tie-ups along two-lane State Road A1A. Increased car, truck and boat traffic will also conspire to create gridlock along the three aging single-lane drawbridges that provide access to the barrier island, which are raised each half hour.
Furthermore, opponents noted that such an increase in population density would dangerously hamper efforts to evacuate the island should a major hurricane or another emergency threaten the area.
"Our barrier island is extremely vulnerable to hurricanes, and we have to assume it's a matter of when, not if, we’ll be hit by a storm,” said Ken Kaleel, mayor of the Town of Ocean Ridge. “A high-density, high rise development here makes it harder for all area residents to evacuate safely. That’s why we must ensure the population density on the island remains low enough to evacuate residents quickly and efficiently when a storm threatens.”
Even in non-hurricane situations, Kaleel added, it is imperative that traffic congestion remain low enough to ensure that police, paramedics, firefighters and other emergency personnel are able to respond quickly when needed.
Other infrastructure concerns loomed over the debate Tuesday. Developers have indicated that the amount of water needed to serve the influx of new residents would increase the island’s water usage by millions of gallons a year, putting increased pressure on the region’s scarce water resources in a time of worsening drought. And additional sewage discharged by the proposed population increase would strain a sewage system already operating at capacity, potentially degrading offshore coastal reefs.
Opponents further questioned the basic wisdom of placing a high-rise project valued at billions of dollars on a hurricane-prone barrier island, asking how such a development would impact Florida’s property insurance crisis.
“In the current market environment, I am not aware of a single private insurer who would agree to take on more than $3 billion in new risk to cover a high-density, high rise development on the shifting sands of a South Florida barrier island,” Evans said.
Therefore, it’s extremely likely that this development would have to be covered by Citizens, the state insurer of last resort, which would shovel greater risk onto taxpayers, further strain our insurance market and increase rates for policyholders statewide, he said.
“Developers should not be permitted to play “Russian Roulette” by jamming this barrier island with one of the most dense developments on the entire eastern seaboard and expect taxpayers to pay for it when a hurricane inevitable strikes,” Evans said. “How long will it take us to learn the lessons of Andrew, Camille, Wilma and Katrina?”
In addition to its impact on people, opponents argued the proposed Briny Breezes redevelopment plan would harm endangered sea and wildlife native to the area. The construction of high-rise towers would seriously threaten sea turtle nesting grounds on nearby beaches, and worsened boat congestion would degrade habitat for manatees who feed regularly along the Intracoastal Waterway.
While the meeting had no direct legal bearing on the fate of the redevelopment project, Coalition members expressed confidence that the overwhelming voice of local residents had been heard, and that voice would convince key state planning officials that the proposal for Briny Breezes must be changed lest it forever mar the face of Palm Beach County’s coastal landscape.