WEST PALM BEACH — Palm Beach County commissioners unanimously agreed to delay a decision on a developer's plan to turn a former golf course near Century Village into a neighborhood of homes, office and shops.
Commissioners said they would consider the proposal again in October, a move they said would give the course's owners, Andrew and Ana Waldman, time to work with residents who opposed the Haverhill Road development.
Commissioner Paulette Burdick, whose district includes the course, asked the board to deny the Waldman's request with prejudice. The move would have blocked the couple from asking the commission to consider their plan again over the next year. But Burdick's request was turned down by the commission.
An overflow crowd of Century Village residents flooded Palm Beach County's downtown headquarters this morning for the chance to sound off on a plan to turn an overgrown golf course near their community into a development of homes, shops, and offices.
Andrew and Ana Waldman, who own the former golf course greens, asked the county for permission to develop homes, shops and offices on their land. And people on both sides of the issue packed County Hall, though after an initial rush of supporters -- many of whom had caught an early bus and filled many of the chamber seats, opposing voices quickly outnumbered them.
As the 9:30 a.m. meeting began, the commission chambers were jammed as well as the lobby, and a handful of overflow rooms where residents can watch a live feed. Officials are not allowing any more people in for the commission meeting and some people are still sitting on the buses outside the building.
The commission chambers is at its 150-person capacity, another 400-plus people are in rooms watching video feeds, while others are listening to audio without video. Members of the crowd are perched on any available seat or table top.
Every so often, the crowd let out a loud "whoop!" or waved their fists in the air in response to comments by speakers.
Commissioners have cut the amount of time typically given to members of the public to speak to 2 minutes, because of the size of the crowd. Public speakers normally receive 3 minutes.
Inside the commission chambers, many Century Village residents are speaking in favor of the project. The supporters left the village on buses at about 7:30 a.m. to secure seats inside the meeting room.
Century Village resident Barbara Reed, a retired teacher who is now sells condo units inside the community, said the development would be a boom for her neighborhood. Many buyers looking in the community want to see the development built because of its restaurants and shops.
"Most are not interested in golf," Reed said. "They don't want to pay the fees to maintain a modern golf course."
Opponents in the crowd accused the developer of deliberately trying to flood the commission's meeting room with supporters, saying that it was widely known that busloads of residents who wanted to speak against the project weren't leaving the community until after 8 a.m. Some opponents are holding signs that say, "Stop Reflection Bay development."
"I came here at 8:15 a.m. and I was lucky to get in here," said Century Village resident Barbara Cornish, who opposed the project.
"These seniors can't stay too long. They have ailments. But they got on a bus and they came here. If you cared about a neighborhood next to you, would you have done that?"
Meanwhile, Century Village resident Honey Sager told commissioners that residents were promised a golf course in "perpetuity," adding that the development would threaten their safety. "We came to Century Village to live in a secure, gated community," Sager said. "Any housing development would totally diminish our safety and security. This is the wrong location for this development."
Many of the attendees filled out comment cards, so that even if they are not allowed in the chambers, their comments will be read into the record.
There was also a live feed set up for viewers at Century Village, Assistant county administrator Brad Merriman noted. "This is the most people that I've ever seen here," Merriman said. "We wanted to get as many in as we could."
"I've been here 22 years and I've never seen anything like this," said Mary Lou Berger, senior administrative assistant to Commissioner Burt Aaronson.
Earlier this morning, it appeared as though there would be hundreds of residents stuck outside as everyone tried to get into the Palm Beach County Commission building. But everyone was able to get in by 10 a.m.
"As long as I am here to represent my neighbors, I'm good," Jean Siciliano, an 84-year-old who moved into Century Village 10 years ago for the golf course, said. "I'm here about 'perpetuity', the justice
of that little phrase."
Those in opposition to the project had chartered four buses to carry them from the village near the corner of Okeechobee Boulevard and Haverhill Road to the county's downtown complex.
About 40 minutes into the meeting, Deputy Assistant County Administrator Verdenia Baker was hopping from floor to floor, making sure attendees were comfortable and could hear the proceedings.
"This one is pretty comfortable," Baker told an elderly woman sitting on a couch on the 7th floor, one floor about the county commissioner chambers. Baker then scooted up to the 12th floor and poked her head into a conference room set up for the overflow crowd. The audio and video was working well.
"I think this displays democracy at its best," Baker said. "The commission gets to hear from both sides before making a decision."
County officials knew there would be a big crowd but "didn't expect to this level," she said. Baker then headed down to the lobby near the entrance where chairs were filled.
"It's a really good day to the go the tax collector," Baker said, walking by the Tax Collector's office, where numbers are usually handed out to those waiting in line. "No lines."
Nancy Bowling, 62, who lives directly on the golf course, supports the development. She rode to the county commission meeting on a bus from Century Village -- but not the same bus that opponents came on."That would have been bedlam," said Bowling, who said she is not afraid of retaliation but several neighbors told her they were afraid to come to the meeting to support the project.
Bowling said it is time for residents to face reality: the golf course will not be resurrected. The development and shops will be a benefit to Century Village residents, livening the community up with shops and restaurants within walking distance."It's not going to be a pig farm," Bowling said. "This will be for us."
But for Rosalind Smoller, 81,who bought her first unit in Century Village for her parents in 1969 and her own unit in 1974, the problem with the proposed development isn't so much the loss of the golf course but the loss of her peace and quiet.
"I need that quiet," Smoller said. The proposed development would likely bring in teenagers, maybe even drug users, she said. "They want to have school children. Well, that's lovely but that means school buses."
About 50 residents watched a video feed of the commission meeting today at the Century Village Theater.
Carol Rubin, who has lived at Century Village for 15 years and owns a unit overlooking the golf course, said she opposes the controversial project.
"We like it the way it is," said Rubin, 79. "I can sit on my porch and look out over the golf course and watch them playing."
Several residents said they were also concerned about their safety if the project got the green light.
"I'm worried about the type of people that will be going into those houses," said Barbara Haffon, a 62-year-old resident. "They won't be elderly, so they will be a threat for our age."
When Betty Hefnei lived in Buffalo, N.Y., she said she was robbed four times, once with a gun to her head and another time with a knife held against her throat.
She said she's afraid that could happen in Century Village.
"I came here for protection and there won't be any protection because they'll be unwanted people coming in here," said Hefnei, an 89-year-old resident for 12 years.
Kathy Brand said she also feared for her safety.
"When I first came to Century Village, I felt very secure," Brand said. "Now I'm beginning to feel maybe it won't be that way and it scares me."
Staff writers Christine Stapleton and Kevin D. Thompson contributed to this story.