Opponents of Briny Breezes Development Muster at Raucous Gathering
By Angel Streeter
May 23, 2007
DELRAY BEACH, FL - They came by the busload, labeled themselves with stickers demanding preservation of the barrier islands and readily signed petitions backing their demands.
Opponents to plans to transform Briny Breezes from a mobile home park to a luxury resort outnumbered supporters 2-to-1 at a much-anticipated meeting Tuesday on the town's redevelopment, organizers said.
They used those numbers to shout down supporters and provide thunderous applause to those with the same concerns they have about intense development overwhelming roads, strangling water supplies, endangering fragile ecosystems and hampering hurricane evacuation routes.
But that didn't stop Briny Breezes residents -- who agreed in January to sell their town for $510 million -- from hurling verbal bombs.
"This conflict with our wealthy neighbors to the north and south has nothing to do with the points mentioned, but with the selfish desire of a few to not be inconvenienced in any way," Briny Breezes Mayor Roger Bennett said.
Ocean Land Investments is proposing putting 900 condominiums, 300 time shares and a 300-room hotel on the 43 acres. Buildings would be 12 to 20 stories. To opponents mainly from Ocean Ridge and Gulf Stream, it's another South Florida example of development gone amok.
More than 400 people showed up at the Old School Square Theatre for the meeting, headlined by Thomas Pelham, Florida's secretary of community affairs. His agency is reviewing a comprehensive plan that lays out how the town's redevelopment would affect housing, roads, water use, drainage, the environment and nearby communities.
The Department of Community Affairs will determine if the plan is in compliance with growth management laws.
In an unusual move, Pelham agreed at the invitation of state Rep. Adam Hasner, R-Boca Raton, to come down personally to explain how the DCA process works but without getting into the specifics of Briny's redevelopment.
Still, his presence spurred opponents to action.
About 30 minutes before the meeting began, theater managers closed the doors because the theater, which holds 323 people, had reached capacity. That left about 100 people standing outside in the heat.
While Pelham encouraged residents to participate in the process, he said state planners do not consider how many people are for or against a plan. The department is expected to deliver the results of its review to Briny Breezes by June 29.
Once Community Affairs officials explained their process, the meeting reverted into caustic debate. Briny Breezes residents accused opponents of being mean. And opponents accused developers and Briny residents of being greedy.
"We're opposed to building big residential towers," said Gerard Mueller of Ocean Ridge.
Briny Breezes residents insisted Ocean Land would create a good community. They said millions of dollars in tax revenue would flow into nearby cities, Palm Beach County and the school district, and that the resort would create jobs.
"Briny Breezes was a great place for many years," said resident Lee Moran. "But the infrastructure is old and getting costly to maintain."