Judge scolds Boca mayor, 2 council members in lawsuit over luxury beachfront home

The developer of a long-stymied beachfront luxury home proposed in Boca Raton has moved a big step closer to building it after a partial victory in federal court where the judge excoriated the mayor and two city council members for purported bias.

U.S. District Judge Rodney Smith ruled that Natural Lands LLC has a vested or absolute right to build the controversial four-story, 8,600-square-foot home at 2500 North Ocean Blvd.

City spokeswoman Anne Marie Connolly said she couldn’t comment on pending litigation but that once the city receives the judge’s final order, it will decide how to proceed.

Natural Lands first submitted plans for the proposed home in 2012 and, because of its size, got a variance in 2015. The city didn’t deny permission to build until 2019, said Dan Abbott, an attorney who represented the city at trial. Natural Lands then sued, alleging that city officials were biased and denied it due process by communicating privately about its merits in advance of their vote.

This was “a concerted scheme orchestrated at the highest levels of local government” to deprive Natural Lands of its right to build a home, its lawyer, Jordan Isrow said in closing arguments. Why? Political pressure resulting from strong public sentiment opposing private oceanfront development, he said in an interview.

“Just because you have good intentions, just because you’re trying to do right by your constituents or residents, you still have to follow the law,“ said Isrow, a Boca Raton native who also is a Parkland city commissioner.

A rendering of the four-story, 8,600-square-foot-home at 2500 North Ocean Blvd. in Boca Raton. U.S. District Judge Rodney Smith ruled that Natural Lands LLC has a vested or absolute right to build the house.

Opposition to home: Potential to endanger nesting sea turtles

Opponents of the planned home claim, among other things, its potential to harm sand dunes and disorient endangered nesting sea turtles and hatchlings. Natural Lands hired experts to address those sorts of issues, Isrow said.

Natural Lands also contended that the city’s actions were a “taking” or “inverse condemnation” of its property by limiting it to an “accessory use” such as a walkway or private beach.

“Without a clear and vested right, the property is not worth nearly as much as it would be with the vested right to build a single-family home,” Isrow said. Natural Lands paid $950,000 for the 0.3-acre lot in 2011, according to property records.

Isrow argued at trial that his client should be compensated by the city for depriving it of a more beneficial use of the property. The city’s attorney, Dan Abbott, countered that Natural Lands could still build on the site, but not in a way adverse to the environment or the neighborhood.

Developmental Services Director Brandon Schaad agreed. “I think there’s plenty of opportunity to build a less obtrusive, less impactful project that would be a perfectly reasonable home,” he testified. The house would be “something with less glass on the east-facing side, something that’s less large and imposing that’s just more sensitive to its environmental impact.”

Smith ruled against Natural Lands on the “takings” claim. He did award it attorneys’ fees and costs, which Isrow said is “a significant number.”

Judge has harsh language for Boca officials

The judge did not hold back in his words directed toward Boca Raton’s officials.

  • Of Mayor Scott Singer, Smith said: “Clearly biased by any stretch of the imagination. He could not even address … what does the term ‘being fair’ mean. He looked at us like a deer in headlamps, who was a person, a trained lawyer that he has never heard of the word ‘fair’ before.”
  • Council member Andrea Levine O’Rourke, the judge said, “feigned ignorance” on the stand and “the record is replete with her bias. Her credibility is completely shot.”
  • Council member Monica Mayotte, he said, demonstrated “complete bias from the start.”

Article Link: Judge scolds Boca mayor, 2 council members in lawsuit over luxury beachfront home
Author: Larry Keller