Ocean Breeze Appraisal Draws a “Diverse” Crowd and More Boca News

ocean breeze golf course
Community members attend Tuesday's city council meeting at the Boca Raton Community Center. (Photo by Randy Schultz)

Boca Teeca residents aren’t the only people who care about Ocean Breeze

ocean breeze golf course
Community members attend Tuesday’s district/ city council meeting at the Boca Raton Community Center. Photo by Randy Schultz.

Something unusual happened during Tuesday’s packed meeting between the Boca Raton City Council and the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Parks District.

The main topic was the district’s proposed purchase of the Ocean Breeze golf course at Boca Teeca. As always, many Boca Teeca residents showed up to support the purchase, which would meet the community’s goal of preventing residential development on the course and could raise surrounding property values.

This time, however, residents other than those who live in Boca Teeca turned out. They questioned the $24 million offer, calling it excessive. As one speaker noted, even if the district is the entity that buys the 200-plus acres of Ocean Breeze, the cost will affect the city. All city residents also are district taxpayers.

Boca Teeca residents grumbled at such comments, but the council members generally agreed. Councilman Mike Mullaugh said, “We can’t do anything without the documents” behind the appraisal. District Executive Director Art Koski will argue the case for paying $24 million at the April 24 city council workshop meeting.

Absent that information, there wasn’t much to discuss. The council still supports purchase of the course in concept, but wants details. Koski remains bullish on the potential for an upgraded Ocean Breeze that would include a Greg Norman teaching academy and a junior program. He all but promised that Norman—the Aussie golf legend known as “The Great White Shark”—would appear at that April meeting. Norman’s company, Koski said, is “chomping at the bit” for a chance to replicate in Boca Raton what it operates near Myrtle Beach, S.C.

As I reported Tuesday, Koski also believes that under district management a course at Ocean Breeze could far outperform the western course that the city intends to sell. Koski said the course ran a $600,000 deficit last year, compared to what he said was a $1.4 million surplus at county-owned Osprey Point. Like Ocean Breeze, those courses are 27 holes.

Actually, the combined deficit at the western course and the course at Red Reef Park was $550,000. But nearly $480,000 of that was at the western course, and the deficit was just $52,000 five years ago. “On the basis of what I have seen and heard,” Koski said, the district could do better. He emphasized Tuesday that he did not consider his conclusion “a reflection on city staff” that now run the western course.

For all the goodwill in the room, there remains that April presentation. Koski acknowledged that “the numbers are somewhat nebulous.” They will need to be clearer next month. The district must have the city’s financial backing for the Ocean Breeze deal, and the district’s enabling legislation requires council approval. Koski is a lawyer. The council—and city residents who live outside of Boca Teeca—will be his jury.

What we can rule out of Ocean Breeze’s future

One speaker who criticized the Lennar offer said the district should seek a “quick-take” of Ocean Breeze through eminent domain. That won’t happen.

Eminent domain had arisen previously in this debate. Accordingly, the district asked a Fort Lauderdale law firm to assess the chance of success. The firm made no direct recommendation, but offered lots of caution.

For one thing, the district doesn’t have the power to do a quick take. Though the firm advised that a golf course probably qualifies as a public purpose for which government can use eminent domain, a complicating factor is the portion of the property that is zoned for a hotel and is not under the deed covenant that restricts use of all other Ocean Breeze land to a golf course.

When Greg Norman’s company entered the discussion, Koski said a private company had expressed interest in developing a hotel on that site for those attending the teaching academy. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has ruled that government can’t use eminent domain for private development.

Further, the firm noted the obvious: Who knows what a jury would do? When taking land through eminent domain, government must pay fair compensation based on highest and best use. If a trial produced a value nearer the appraisals on record, which top out at only about $6 million, the district could come out ahead. If the value were $30 million, plus the 20 percent in attorney fees for amounts over $1 million, the strategy would backfire.

And a trial, of course, could take years. For now, eminent domain seems more like no option, rather than even the last option.

Tuesday's meeting between the Boca Raton City Council and
Tuesday’s meeting between the Boca Raton City Council and the Great Boca Raton Beach & Parks District. Photo by Randy Schultz. 

Cease fire (?) on turf wars at the park

The actual news at Tuesday’s council-district meeting happened as an afterthought.

It was 5:15. With the regular council meeting set to start in 45 minutes, Mayor Susan Haynie was wrapping up discussion on Ocean Breeze when Councilman Robert Weinroth asked about Phase 2 of the Spanish River Athletic Complex at de Hoernle Park.

At the request of Scott Singer, the council was set to discuss a resolution on the project, which has been delayed for 18 months because of a disagreement between the city and the district over the surface of the new fields. Would they be grass or artificial turf? The city wants grass at de Hoernle, so the uses of each large field can be shifted among activities and reduce wear.

Responding to Weinroth, district chairman Bob Rollins said his board would be fine with artificial turf for new fields at Patch Reef Park—he told me that work likely would start in April—and natural grass for new fields at de Hoernle. Which is what the city requested a year and a half ago. Did that 60-second exchange resolve this seemingly intractable dispute?

Not exactly, Rollins said. “I think we had a good meeting and made progress,” but the council hasn’t decided what Phase 2 would be. During the regular meeting, Jeremy Rodgers noted the parking crunch at de Hoernle and asked about a parking garage. Haynie replied that garages cost $27,000 per space. There was talk of pickleball courts and a beach volleyball court and a police training facility.

Rollins also said the unfinished master agreement covering all parks “has been on (Assistant City Manager) Mike Woika’s desk for six months. Something needs to happen on that.” In an email, Haynie said she expects the district board now will discuss Phase 2 “and give direction. We are all eager to move forward on this.” So everyone is still talking, but hold off on the Nobel Peace Prize.

More on the Wildflower lawsuit

Boca Raton has filed the city’s response to the Wildflower lawsuit.

The plaintiff, the ForBoca group, claims that the November ordinance that blocked the city from leasing the site for a restaurant was invalid. ForBoca argues that the potential lease amounted to a development order, which under state law is not subject to referendum. In 2014, ForBoca’s attorney persuaded the 4th District Court of Appeal to block a referendum on the Archstone project, now Palmetto Promenade.

The city’s lawyers call that a “mistaken legal conclusion” because the ordinance is “an administrative directive establishing how the city will operate and manage its own lands and facilities. . .” and asks a judge to dismiss the lawsuit. ForBoca also contends that the ordinance affected private property. The land obviously is public, but ForBoca points out that the city had been negotiating a 45-year-lease with Hillstone Restaurant Group. Under the city charter, a lease of that length constitutes a sale. The city disputes that the site is private.

In addition, the city argues that the challenge came too late and that ForBoca lacks standing, because the group can’t show damage from the ordinance. ForBoca led the campaign against the ordinance. Among the group’s contributors was Hillstone.

Boca Raton’s law firm is the same one representing Delray Beach in the Atlantic Crossing litigation. There is no date for a ruling in the Wildflower case.

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