Ocean Strand ‘not for sale’: Short-term plan to open in 6 months

Rustic stairway leads down to beach on Ocean Strand east side. Photo by Diane Emeott Korzen.

By: Diane Emeott Korzen Contributing Writer

The 14 acres of oft rumored about Ocean Strand property, north of Gumbo Limbo along A1A (between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Ocean) is not for sale.

In fact, the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District, which owns the former residential property, now has plans to turn the property on the west side into a usable green public park.

The district has approved a $75,000 line item to accomplish this — hopefully within 6 months.

At the close of the March 2 Beach & Park District meeting, Commissioner and former Chair Robert Rollins said he felt so strongly about letting people know that Ocean Strand is not for sale that he wished to create a public declaration.

He asked District Attorney Sam Goren about creating a Resolution or other declaration to show Ocean Strand is not for sale — except by voter referendum.

Rollins also asked about amending the District’s enabling legislation in Tallahassee to make more of a statement.

Goren replied that he could have a Resolution on Ocean Strand available for Commissioners to vote on by Beach & Park’s March 16 meeting, which was subsequently canceled due to the coronavirus.

Regarding amending enabling legislation, Goren advised it was too late for the 2020 Florida Legislative Session which was wrapping up and that any looking into would have to be done next year.

Both Commissioner Craig Ehrnst and Attorney Goren urged caution in dealing with the State Legislature. “When you change a Special Act [which created the Beach & Park District in 1974] there is more involved,” said Ehrnst.

Goren advised, “When you give the Legislature something, you don’t get to control it. Once it’s out of your hands, the entire Legislature [not only the Palm Beach County delegation] has to vote on a Special Act. While it is legally pervasive in the court system to determine what is the will of the people who live there, there is some concern that, later, they might say, ‘Maybe it’s time to abolish the District.’ When you are not there [to represent yourselves], you may find yourselves out of business.”

Rollins made a motion to retract 1B (amending enabling legislation) and go forward with 1A (a declarative document). Current Beach & Park District Chair Susan Vogelgesang said she, too, felt so strongly about Ocean Strand that she was passing the gavel to second the motion.

The Board voted unanimously to approve.

Short & long-term plan for Ocean Strand

Earlier in the meeting, Commissioner Craig Ehrnst proposed that a long-term plan for Ocean Strand should include: 1) Preserving its natural beauty, 2) Getting community input, 3) Addressing community needs with a Needs Assessment, and 4) Using a self-sustaining model or component of it.

Commissioner Erin Wright proposed a short-term plan to add to Ehrnst’s long-term plan. She said she wished to do something with Ocean Strand now, to get it open in 6 months with $75,000. She envisioned gates open, a possible soft launch for kayaks, as well as park benches and toilets (port-o-lets).

Executive Director Briann Harms said that in order to open the park in such a short timeframe, only the west side of the property would be involved, with about 20 parking spaces. Ocean Strand encompasses both sides of A1A; the overgrown east side has an old wooden stairway leading down to the beach.

Commissioner Steven Engel wanted to allow Gumbo Limbo to use a portion of the Ocean Strand west property for overflow parking.

Rollins wanted to check out safety aspects and the operational side, such as hours of operation, who is responsible for it, and getting it cleaned up. He noted that in order to be a good neighbor to condominiums to Ocean Strand’s north and south, the District should not install permanent grills.

Regarding who is going to clean up Ocean Strand, both Rollins and Vogelgesang suggested civic groups, college and other students seeking community services hours, etc.

The Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District Board voted unanimously to accept both a short and long-term plan for Ocean Strand.