By: Diane Emeott Korean Contributing Writer
Since its Dec. 29, 1994 purchase by the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District for $11.88 million, the seemingly unassuming 15-acre Ocean Strand site on both sides of A1A has stirred up controversy.
The property is located just north of Gumbo Limbo and Boca Towers, extending east to the Atlantic Ocean, and west to Lake Wyman behind a green grated fence with a long paved driveway beside grassy fields and woods. Across the street on the beach side, the property is covered by a dense grove of trees, with a stairway leading down to the beach.
Residents want to keep it as public green space; while developers have seen its potential.
For example, in May 2012 the group Boca Save Our Beaches was active in getting the land-use designation for Ocean Strand changed to ‘beach or park.’ Previously, in May 2010, a private developer, who also owned a hotel on Federal Highway, had his eye on the property to build a beach cabana/restaurant, according to Beach & Park District Board Administrator Madlane “Maddy” Bentivegna.
Perhaps that’s why every seat in the 35-occupancy Beach & Park District Conference Room in Sugar Sand Community Center was full on July 17, with people also sitting on the floor, and overflowing back into the offices. Ocean Strand was first on the agenda, listed as “Presentation by EDSA on City’s Waterfront Plan [Ocean Strand].”
At the meeting, Kona Gray, a principal with EDSA Landscape Architects in Ft. Lauderdale, presented a conceptual plan on the Ocean Strand property for feedback.
Executive Director/Legal Counsel Arthur Koski said afterward, “The debate on what’s going to go on that property is not going to be resolved until the next fiscal year.”
Gray, a consultant engaged by the City for design/development of its Waterfront Plan (to connect all City waterfront parks), presented suggestions on the District-owned Ocean Strand property.
Ideas for Ocean Strand included keeping an eco-friendly natural environment; maintaining existing vegetation; and adding: a look-out pavilion; a children’s exploration trail; a tree house pavilion; playground; a learning kiosk; motorized and non-motorized boat dock; water activities such as paddleboards; fitness trails; botanical/community gardens; restrooms; parking; food facility; and enhanced beach drop-off area.
“I just love being outdoors. That connection to the outdoors now is rare. A lot of people are missing that connection,” Gray began his presentation.
“I took a critical look at the vegetation, which seemed a little too intense down by the water. There’s a 100 ft. buffer right now.”
Regarding dock space, Gray said, “People prefer non motorized [boats].”
Gray envisions restrooms at Ocean Strand. “I have a 10-year-old daughter. She can be all geared up, playing. But if there’s no restroom – that’s important.”
“It would also be great to be able to get something to eat if the kids want to keep playing. Guanabana’s (located in Jupiter) was mentioned at the last meeting. It could be Guanabana’s-lite. It doesn’t have to be that elaborate,” he said.
Gray also mentioned gardens – potentially botanical (with a place to learn about botanicals) or a community garden; as well as a fitness area and a playground.
“Children today need some unstructured play; an opportunity to get back to nature,” Gray concluded.
Commission rings in
Commissioner Robert K. Rollins, Jr. said there had been two charettes, planning meetings where designers, residents and others put their heads together on a vision, regarding Ocean Strand.
He assured residents that “this is going to be a very passive park” — to protect neighbors on both the north and south sides; to have no intrusive lighting; and to alleviate any concerns of those with a sensitivity to food/grills.”
Commissioner Erin Wright said she saw, “A lot of parking and paved surfaces for my taste. I’d prefer to tear up the paved driveway for something more pervious. I love the natural playground and love all the shade! I love the floating docks. I’m not a fan of motorized boats.”
Commissioner Susan Vogelsang asked about the sensitive areas located on the property, which may contain a Native American Midden, a burial ground.
“That’s going to be huge; to make sure we preserve that,” Gray said he would research the issue, adding that a botanist and arborist would be engaged to look at plant species.
Commissioner Craig Ehrnst called the presentation “a great concept.”
Important to Ehrnst: keeping it a passive park with secure access and wellness equipment.
Ehrnst added that he was hesitant to have a community garden there.
“This is a valuable, expensive property. It’s a little too expensive for that,” he said.
Many of the dozen residents who spoke said they would like to see Ocean Strand developed into a public park. And they have different ways to go about doing that. Some expressed concerns about traffic while others wanted to look into ways to connect the city’s parks.
“I love the idea of connecting the parks,” Laine Levy said. “Why have parking at all? Think about who’s being dropped off – young kids, tweens who don’t drive. There’s already parking at Spanish River, Red Reef and Rutherford Park. I like solar powered transportation – trolley where people can hop on and hop off. I am opposed to a drop-off area at the beach and motorized boats.”