Open Letter to the Community: ‘Developer Friendly’ Extends to County too

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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.

Historical prospective….

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.)

http://discover.pbcgov.org/countycommissioners/Pages/bcc-meeting-videos.aspx?videoid=bcc/2017/bcc-8-15-17-am

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.”

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Sandi Smolker has been a full-time resident at Whitehall Condominiums since 1996. She's been proactive making sure the residents are getting correct information and holding the BOD accountable with financial matters. Originally from New York, she moved to Los Angeles, California where she was the Assistant and Production Coordinator to well-known Executive Producers, Producers, Directors, Writers and Actors. She was the Executive Assistant to the Vice President of Marketing for the #1 manufacturer of vitamins and nutritional supplements located in Boca Raton. Sandi created, manufactured and marketed novelty items for the Hollywood community. Being a dog lover, she persuaded Palm Beach County to build a dog park in the South County Regional Park (Canine Cove). She penned two books: "Bernie The Skinny Dog" and "Who's Your Vet?" Her recent project is getting a “bird sanctuary” in the South County Regional Park. As a wildlife photographer, her photos are sold on getty images’ website for “stock photography”.

8 COMMENTS

  1. All of us who live in Boca Del Mar lost on that deal but Whitehall lost more. Sooner or later, Penn-Florida will be in front of the PBC commissioners petitioning to build on that golf course. It will happen as soon as they decide golf isn’t as profitable as homes. That course is much nicer than the Mizner Trail course ever was but it will not escape because it’s very valuable land situated in a prime location. And, make no mistake, the PBC Zoning and the PBC commissioners are not on the side of the residents. Nope, they are more for developers than for the residents. And, I know this because I spent 10 years fighting against development of the Mizner Trail golf course. And, one only has to review the number of developments approved in the Ag Reserve to reinforce that point. I can still remember my realtor telling me to buy on water or on a golf course. Boy, was that bad advice.

    • Hi Janet,

      I’m a concerned citizen and supported United Boca Del Mar regarding the Mizner Trail. It was great how the community came together to fight the fight.

      We intend to do the same and march with our protest in the closing of Balboa Lane if it comes to that.

      I’m only guessing, but I don’t feel our golf course will turn into homes since the Mandarin Oriental is involved and has the use of the Country Club, which was most likely a selling feature when they bought their unit.

      Can Penn-Florida afford to be sued by all those residents?

    • Hi Janet – We haven’t lost yet. Hang in there! Will keep you posted as I’m still involved. Activists don’t give up so easily. To be continued….

  2. I don’t come but a week a month. (Bldg 12, unit 301). I think it is a shame that we lost the road, but I it needs to stay open regardless. I had never used it until I first became aware on the email chain of what happened. I did write an email last time when Whitehall went to court. I’m not sure how many Whitehall residents play golf, but we can’t play on that course without a membership. I think we at Whitehall should be allowed to play and pay as we go. what would be the harm in that. The course hardly gets any play that I can see when I’m down. I was down and at the last BOD meeting last week and I’ll be down for the Feb meeting also.

    Stephen Place

  3. The petition never should have been entered by Penn Forida since long before that an ex president of Whitehall ( Steve Kahn ) and resident Carol Cautillo approved and signed for the abandonment of Balboa Lane without the benefit of submitting it to the Board of directors and the Whitehall unit owners for a vote.

    This was illegal and the commission should have given a fair ruling in favor of Whitehall

    • In 2015, Steve Kahn was President. In 2016, Carol Cautillo was the Vice President. Both should have had a board meeting and all the residents should have been informed. We were also poorly represented. I agree the Board of County Commissioners, having this info, in addition to the 117 names on the petition and 20 phone calls, still went ahead and ruled in favor of Penn-Florida, and not for the residents of Whitehall. Would have loved to hear their reasons for their decision. Stipulation was for the Fire Dept. to have access when Penn-Florida installs a gate.

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