WHITEHALL COMMUNITY RESIDENTS AT ODDS WITH PENN-FLORIDA….
Whitehall @ Camino Real is a 408-unit community located in unincorporated Palm Beach county and adjacent to the Boca Raton western boundaries in the Boca Del Mar subsection. Built by Burg and DiVosta in 1984, Phase I consisted of nine buildings. In 1985, Phase II was built consisting of eight buildings – total 17 buildings. Burg and DiVosta kept in mind the natural beauty of the surrounding areas and gave a great deal of thought to the placement of buildings and landscaping. Almost all of the seventeen buildings overlook lush greenery, trees and/or peaceful water and each building is set back from the main road. This allows for privacy, practicality and aesthetics.
On July 3, 2017 a resident notified our “on-line forum” that she received a letter from Joanne Keller, P.E. Director Land Development Division from PBC dated June 23, 2017 re: “Petition to Abandon the Public Interest in the Right-of-Way of Balboa Lane” notifying us of the Public Hearing scheduled for July 11, 2017. The Board of County Commissioners has been petitioned by Penn-Florida Club Properties, LLC, to abandon all public interest in that land as described below and allow the owner to expand the recreation area at the clubhouse.”
It’s a petition by Penn-Florida Club Properties, LLC to the Board of County Commissioners to remove the public’s interest from the platted right-of-way of Balboa Lane. Florida Statutes require that certified mail notice be sent to all property owners within 300 feet of the abandonment site, as provided in Palm Beach County Code Chapter 22. Article III, Road Abandonment and Plat Vacation (Ordinance 2002-034). The residents scrambled and got a petition together to keep Balboa Lane open. None of the residents or the current BOD knew about this issue.
Two emails and two phone calls were placed to Mr. Gensheimer, President of Penn-Florida with no reply. Penn-Florida is deeply involved in the development issues of downtown Boca Raton. Currently constructed and open is their Via Mizner apartment complex on the corner of Camino Real and Federal Highway. On the drawing boards are two additional building structures along Federal Highway; to wit: the Mandarin Hotel and a ‘For Sale’ Condominium complex; both structures planned at the maximum height of 160 feet.
In the early 90’s, the Whitehall BOD closed the road by placing concrete slabs, planters and a ‘Road Closed’ sign preventing thru traffic from the Boca Del Mar Country Club which was later purchased by Penn-Florida and re-named the “Via Mizner Golf & Country Club”. However, if we needed to evacuate, all this could be lifted in case of an emergency.
Today, Penn-Florida wants to improve their Clubhouse & Golf Course for its present members as well as for the residences at the Mandarin Oriental in Boca Raton – a mixed-use project with luxury apartments, retail, restaurants, a private club, gym and golf amenities.
Our Attorney attended the hearing that was postponed from July 11th to August 15, 2017.(Drag the cursor to the right until you hit around 54:52 to watch the entire video re: Whitehall.)
In the hearing, the County Engineer stated Whitehall changed its mind and withdrew approval.
Fact: Whitehall didn’t change its mind. We were unaware two previous board members signed a letter to Penn-Florida giving their approval and support for the proposed abandonment of Balboa Lane without a board meeting. The President of the board, in 2015 and the Vice President in 2016, were the only ones who knew about Balboa Lane.
Sadly, the decision from the Board of County Commissioners was to approve the abandonment with a compromise insofar as the abandonment still requires access for Fire-Rescue vehicles. Penn-Florida has to include it in their “site plan”. Commissioner Abrams has been contacted and responded to the phone call and emails. When asked if we can appeal the case, “once the County Board passed the abandonment resolution, the property owner then has the legal right to rely on that approval to start drawing plans, etc. If the BCC reconsiders its vote and the developer has gone ahead and spent money relying on their approval, Penn-Florida can sue the county if the County were to renege.” As of this date, no permits have been submitted by Penn-Florida per Commissioner Abrams.
An email to the Board of County Commissioners was written asking to reconsider their decision. A petition with 117 names to keep Balboa Lane open was submitted to the BCC at the time of the hearing. The County Engineer received 20 phone calls from residents. In the email, it was noted that the Palm Beach Sheriff’s cars, school buses, folks walking their dog, and vehicles are making use of the road. It’s just a shame that road will be closed to everyone – it’s not just for first responders. Having all this info, there was no reply from anyone on the Board of County Commissioners. Another example of ‘developer friendly’ elected officials ignoring and disrespecting the voices of residents that these officials are elected to represent.
Also pointed out in the email was Penn-Florida’s Attorney stating in the hearing that it was dangerous for pedestrians and vehicles to be on an active country club road, yet they have a Tee-off Mound right on Balboa Lane that’s been there for years.
Penn-Florida didn’t lose any of their members because they didn’t have enough “golf holes” and the Mandarin Oriental Residents/Hotel are none the wiser. They still will benefit with the new clubhouse and additions. One would think ‘no harm, no foul’, that Penn-Florida could make a concession addressing the residents…Not a chance!!!
Whitehall supports Penn-Florida’s renovation to improve the facilities; we just ask them to please keep the road open for all vehicles and pedestrians. Not an unreasonable position for the residents to take.
If Burg and DiVosta could return to Whitehall today and speak with the residents, they would most likely say, “this isn’t what we had in mind – we gave you the right to enter and exit on Camino Real and Boca Del Mar Drive, it’s for your safety, convenience and quality of life.”