By Tim O’Meilia
Five years after a half-billion dollar sale collapsed, Briny Breezes’ 43 acres of ocean-to-Intracoastal mobile homes is on a land developer’s shopping list.
An unnamed development firm has pitched the idea of erecting twin 20-story towers and a 350-room hotel on the beach and constructing a row of three-story condos on the west side of State Road A1A — totaling more than 1,200 units — where rows of mobile homes now sit.
Briny Breezes Inc. directors outlined the plan to homeowners at a Feb. 20 board meeting five days after they attended a closed-door session at a Boynton Beach hotel with the developer, the Duane Morris law firm that represents the mobile home park and a handful of other residents.
“At this point, you can’t even call it a proposal. It’s certainly not an offer,” said past board member Ray Oldis. “It’s more of a concept.”
It was a concrete enough idea that the developer brought renderings of his concept to the behind-the-scenes meeting. “He’s spent a considerable sum of money to this point,” said board member Art LeBlanc.
The board decided to ask the developer to make a public presentation to Briny shareholders. Briny is both a town and a corporation. The corporation owns the property. Homeowners hold shares based on the size of their lots.
Board President Mike Gut said he relayed the request to the corporation’s law firm but has yet to receive a response.
”We want to find out if there’s any interest on the part of our shareholders,” LeBlanc said.
The developer’s approach differs from that of Boca Raton-based Ocean Land that made the $510 million offer in 2006 that shareholders accepted. But government regulators concluded the project was too big for the property and coastal neighbors Ocean Ridge and Gulf Stream threatened to sue.
When the corporation wouldn’t accept a lower price for a scaled-back project, Ocean Land pulled out days before losing a $5 million deposit in 2007.
This time, as Gut and others explained, the developer is making no up-front offer but will pay the cost of seeking the land use and zoning changes necessary. The developer would have the right of first refusal on the land.
The sale price would be contingent on a series of appraisals based on the land use approvals. If the shareholders didn’t like the offer, they could cancel the deal but would have to pay the developer’s cost of obtaining the land use changes. The entire process could take three to five years, the developer said.
The latest concept is certain to pique the interest of Briny’s neighbors worried about the impact of 1,200 units where less than 500 stand today. Several said they would let the story play out further before taking a position.
The lack of a firm price likely will unsettle some Briny residents. “To ask Briny to do that would be a leap of faith without adequate knowledge of what the numbers would be,” Oldis said.
Town Alderman and former board member Pete Fingerhut said selling is the best approach. “The best Briny Breezes can do is let a developer come in and develop Briny,” he said. “People who want to stay can take half the money and stay, and put the other half in their pockets.”
Others say the process hurts the town. “This time frame — three to five years — keeps us in limbo again,” said Tom Byrne, an outspoken opponent of the 2007 sale. “No one buys here, People are reluctant to keep up their property. It’s not good for the day-to-day health of Briny Breezes.”
Those who attended the closed-door meeting agreed to keep the developer’s identity confidential but several said he was involved in the previous offer, which could point to The Related Company, which is involved in major developments in Florida and across the country.
Board treasurer Scott Benedict wants everything out in the open. “The shareholders should know everything that’s going on. And they will if I have anything to say about it,” he said.
Board president Gut did characterize the proposal as a step in the process. “It’s a step in a direction. Everything has to go through the process. It’s not a board of directors’ decision. It’s a shareholders’ decision,” he said.
“A lot of people may want to do this and a lot may not,” he
One of the leaders of the Florida Coalition for Preservation, which was formed to fight the original Briny Breezes development plans, urged caution.
“All of us owe (Briny Breezes) the respect to wait to react to the facts and not to rumors,” said the Coalition’s Bob Ganger. “We’ll deal with the facts as they present themselves. Sooner or later, Briny will get a proposal they’ll have to take seriously.”
Ganger said he thought it unlikely Briny residents would take any deal without knowing much more about the buyer.
“The density issue concerns everyone on the barrier island,” said Helen Burns, president of the St. Andrew’s Club, which partly abuts Briny Breezes. “The issue is so undefined now that it would be hard to take a position on anything.”
She said re-development is probable for Briny’s future “and St. Andrew’s members have been very amenable but the question is ‘what can we all live with?’”
Antigone Barton contributed to this story.
“It’s kind of a pie-in-the-sky thing, not going into figures. I hope we don’t get into something we later regret.”
— Mayor Roger Bennett
“I think it’s worth listening to. The board and, eventually, the shareholders will make the decision. Mike Gut has exhibited outstanding leadership in this regard.”
— Joe Bruce, legal adviser
and ad hoc member of the board
“It’s very indefinite. It involves making a promise to sell without knowing the real price.”
— Ray Oldis
(Oldis was on the board the last time
the corporation faced an offer.)
“They talked about how we will love the way Briny Breezes will be developed, but that won’t affect any of us because chances are we won’t be here. Chances are we won’t be able to afford it.”
— Marie Solis
“A lot of people think they’re going to get a windfall of money. That’s not going to be the case.”
The options should be explored by Briny Breezes, “not an outside developer. We should do our own due diligence.”
— Jerry Gross
“I stood up at the meeting and said I do love Briny Breezes. It’s such a unique community. If any development is done it could be done within the Briny community. Many small towns have done that.”
— Shirley Jeter
“I was one of the poster boys for not wanting to sell back in 2006. I love Briny Breezes, and wasn’t looking, at my age to make a killing.”
— Tom Byrne
“Twenty-story buildings — it’s just not something people will want.”
— Ira Friedman
“We at Briny can’t develop Briny. It’s impossible; we don’t have the money.”
— Pete Fingerhut
(Fingerhut was on the board the last time
the corporation faced an offer.)
I’m interested in knowing what it’s all about. I’m not overly excited. I’m interested in knowing what they’re willing to offer.”
— Jack Zerull
“Briny Breezes can do any development (on its own); it’s a remarkable community with many resourceful people.”
— Joe Coyner