Sunday, April 14, 2024

Ocean Breeze goes up for grabs & other news of note

Teeing off residents?

Boca Teeca residents have a potential new ally in their fight against development of the former Ocean Breeze Golf Club in the large, north-end community.

Mayor Susan Haynie had told me several weeks ago that she would like to get Boca Raton mostly out of the golf course business. The city’s 27-hole course on Glades Road west of the Florida Turnpike—it’s actually in the county, not the city—more or less breaks even, according to city staff. Based on my conversations, the course isn’t one of Boca’s recreation priorities. The city does want to keep operating the Par 3 course at Red Reef Park.

Meanwhile, however, Boca Teeca residents want the city and/or the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District to buy Ocean Breeze. That could keep the city in the golf course business. Despite her previous comments, Haynie told me Saturday that she now “favors looking at” the city being part of a deal for Ocean Breeze. “The citizens seem to want it.” Here’s how it could happen:

Developers covet the main golf course’s roughly 100 acres. There aren’t many open parcels of that size, and this one is just a short distance from the Glades Road turnpike interchange. On May 19, Lennar sent the city a letter of interest with a price of $28 million. On June 15, the city received a letter of interest from CC Residential with a price of $42 million. On June 17, Boca Raton-based Compson made an actual offer: $31 million. The company envisions nearly 400 homes and 150 senior-living units.

Meanwhile, Lennar wants to develop Ocean Breeze, which closed as a golf course on July 1. The current owner is a Charlotte, N.C.-based subsidiary of Wells Fargo that took ownership of the site in January through a certificate of title for $4 million. Wells Fargo had been the lender and foreclosed. Lennar, though, is the public face. Company representatives met with Boca Teeca residents in May. Lennar likely has a contract that depends on the company getting approval to build.

Approval depends on getting permission from residents to lift a deed restriction that permits only recreational use of the course. According to Sallie Friedman, president of the Boca Teeca Unit Owners Association, each of the roughly 1,700 units gets one vote. A developer would need a majority of the units, not just a majority of the units that voted. And, of course, the city council would need to approve any development plan.

In 2007, a company called MCZ Centrum got those approvals. It had bought the land in 2004 for $7.1 million. MCZ Centrum, however, wanted to build just 211 homes on roughly 30 acres that front I-95. The project became a casualty of the Great Recession. The developer also promised community improvements.

Friedman said CMZ’s project would have affected only about a dozen Boca Teeca units. Lennar’s proposal, Friedman said, would affect every unit with a view of the golf course—meaning just about every unit.

Councilman Jeremy Rodgers believes that “it would help the city” if Boca and/or the district took over the course. Like three other council members, Rodgers lives in northwest Boca. He said younger families would enjoy having a cheaper alternative to pricier courses.

Rodgers raised the issue at the council’s goal-setting session in May, but got no support. Since then, however, Boca Teeca residents met with Haynie to ask for the city’s help. Haynie is up for re-election in March. Roughly 3,000 people live in Boca Teeca.

The issue, however, is complicated. As Haynie said during our earlier conversation, Ocean Breeze—which also has 27 holes and dates to 1968—has $3 million in deferred maintenance. Northwest Second Avenue, the main artery of Boca Teeca, can’t handle current traffic, but the residents don’t want it widened. What would have to happen with the road? The site includes a closed hotel. Given all the factors, what would be the real cost to acquire the property?

In addition, should the property remain a golf course? Could the city and/or district make a course successful? Friedman traces Ocean Breeze’s decline to the end of a requirement that owners belong to the club. The course in Boca’s Hidden Valley neighborhood, just north of Boca Teeca, closed 10 years ago. The beach and park district passed on buying it. The owner has asked about changing the zoning from recreational to residential.

Councilman Robert Weinroth told me Monday that if the city got involved, “I don’t see (Ocean Breeze) as a golf course.” He would prefer another recreational use.

Chairman Bob Rollins told me last week that the district “can’t buy” Ocean Breeze. He proposed a swap of the Ocean Breeze land for the city golf course, with the city pocketing some money from Lennar. Haynie also said she would consider “a swap.”

But how much is that city land worth compared to Ocean Breeze? Though Ocean Breeze is about 200 acres— twice the size of the city course—there’s that deed restriction. Another variable is the $14 million spread among the suitors for the city golf course.

Earlier, Haynie told me that the city would be “a spectator” as Lennar negotiates with Boca Teeca residents. Now, the city will become a participant. Haynie expects that the council will discuss the issue next month.

Even if the city doesn’t acquire Ocean Breeze, the decision will clarify matters for Boca Teeca and Lennar. Rodger said, “It’s big whichever way it goes.”

More city vs. beach and park district

The Ocean Breeze debate underscores the need for the beach and park district and the city to resolve their differences. Such resolution still seems a ways off.

Seven agreements between the city and the district lay out their joint management of Patch Reef, Sugar Sand and Red Reef parks, Ocean Strand, the Swim & Racquet Club and the fields at Estridge and de Hoernle parks. The city would like to consolidate those into one agreement, and proposed it last year.

District board members didn’t like the city’s plan, but waited to specify their grievances. When the district finally responded, it sent simply a new agreement. There were no markings to show what had been deleted and added. The city’s review, which involves the city manager’s office, the city attorney’s office, and the parks department, continues.

The latest twist is the district’s allegation that Boca Raton’s new budget seeks $1.5 million more from the district than in the current budget. Bob Rollins, the district’s board chairman, told me that the city wants about $200,000 more in “administrative costs” and spoke of “new programs and new capital expenses.”

City administrators, however, don’t know how Rollins arrived at those figures. When I asked, a spokeswoman said the city can’t match them to anything in the $16.4 million proposed recreation budget. Rollins acknowledged that the numbers are “our reading” of the budget, but as of Monday afternoon he didn’t have a breakdown. Rollins said the district’s interim director, Art Koski, planned to have such a breakdown for the district’s Monday night meeting.

Apparently, the new joint agreement isn’t tied to the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Still, it would be helpful to work out that agreement and resolve the budget differences at the same time. Which might happen if the city and the district talked with each other instead of past each other.

So much for the Davis Cup

As of last week, Delray Beach had not heard whether the city had been chosen to host a September semi-final of the Davis Cup, the international tennis competition. The decision now is moot. The United States team lost in the quarterfinals last weekend to Croatia, which moves on to play France. One of those countries will host the match.

Boca on the sales tax

One of the arguments in Boca Raton against the proposed, countywide one-cent sales tax increase is that it would harm city retailers near the Broward County line. Shoppers would go to Deerfield Beach or Pompano Beach, where the sales still would be 6 percent.

Broward, though, has placed a pair of half-cent increases on the November ballot, the same date as the Palm Beach County vote. Under the Broward proposal, both increases must pass, or both fail. As in Palm Beach, the proposals are controversial. The Delray Beach City Commission supported the increase. The Boca Raton City Council declined to take a position.

ADL vs. Bucher

Kudos to the Florida office, in Boca Raton, of the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL correctly criticized Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher’s decision to rescind her choice of the Islamic Center of Boca Raton as a polling place.

The choice of the center, on Northwest Fifth Avenue, happened in April. There was no controversy until some bloggers ripped Bucher for choosing a site supposedly linked to “radical Islam” and Bucher began getting complaints. Radical indeed. The imam teaches engineering and computer science at Florida Atlantic University. County Commissioner Steven Abrams told me that he knows two of the center’s board members, one of whom is the general manager at Maggiano’s Little Italy.

Among Palm Beach County’s polling places are many churches and five synagogues. Hava Holzhauer, the ADL’s state director, told me Monday that Bucher’s decision amounted to “singling out one religion.” For all the talk in Boca Raton about good community relations, Holzhauer said, “This shows that we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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