Bears Club Conservation Land

Dated: 09/25/2018

Views: 83

PALM BEACH GARDENS —

Motivated in part by complaints from residents who live across the street, city officials are fighting The Bears Club’s request to the county to let it develop 15 acres of conservation land.

Jack Nicklaus’ invitation-only Bears Club is on the north side of Donald Ross Road next to Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter. Frenchman’s Creek Beach & Country Club on the south side of Donald Ross Road is in Palm Beach Gardens.

But the decision over whether The Bears Club can build on 15 acres of protected land lies with Palm Beach County because the county controls the 1993 conservation easement shielding the property from development.

If the county grants the request, The Bear’s Club will switch out the 15-acre preserve for about 20 acres of small parcels — each averaging less than half an acre. The gated residential community also will make a one-time payment of $1 million to a county fund used to maintain more than 31,000 acres of habitat for native plants and wildlife.

The Bear’s Club, a community of single-family homes, a golf course and a clubhouse, hasn’t said what it plans to build on the 15 acres, but the land is zoned residential. As of Monday, The Bear’s Club had not filed plans with the town.

Among those flooding county commissioners’ inboxes with emails opposing the deal: Palm Beach Gardens residents in Frenchman’s Creek.

“First, the conservation land is a benefit to our community as a whole, helping to ensure that development in our area doesn’t run rampant. Second, the conservation land is important ecologically,” Jane B. Feinstein wrote to Palm Beach County Commissioner Hal Valeche, whose northern district includes The Bears Club and Frenchman’s Creek.

“Third, removing a conservation easement in perpetuity will set a dangerous precedent,” she continued. “If ‘in perpetuity’ can be changed in this instance, what will happen to other conservation easements in perpetuity?”

Palm Beach Gardens Councilwoman Rachelle Litt, wrestling with the same thought, asked her colleagues to consider a measure opposing the land swap. Her suggestion came after the council declined to sell six acres of surplus city property to private entities, instead agreeing to sell it for less money to a public utility that wanted the land to protect the region’s water supply.

“It sets a dangerous precedent,” Litt said. “Nothing that we have environmentally in the way of protected preserve would mean anything if the county goes ahead and accepts money for that piece of property.”

Roughly half the fast-growing city is protected from development, including more than 10,000 acres of the Loxahatchee Slough.

Councilman Mark Marciano already had emailed Valeche with his concerns after hearing from residents.

Mayor Maria Marino and Councilman Matthew Lane said officials could speak individually to county commissioners without taking a stand as a council. The council agreed to that approach.

Lane said he has “serious problems” with the proposal, but he doesn’t want the city council to be telling the county what to do.

“We don’t take it well, and I don’t think they’re going to take it any better,” he said.

Marino said she’s had discussions with county officials and believes the land swap is not going to pass. The county staff opposes it.

The Jupiter Town Council has not discussed the proposal.

Palm Beach County commissioners postponed a vote on the issue until Oct. 16 at the request of a Bear’s Club attorney.

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