BOCA RATON, Fla. (CBS12) — The CBS12 News I-Team has continuing coverage of a polarizing issue here in Palm Beach County.
The county commission is considering a proposal from GL Homes to build a new high-end community, with 1,000 houses, on land that’s designated for farming and green space.
The property is located in western Boca Raton where there’s a large Jewish population. The company is offering to help them with a list of problems in exchange for their support of the project. That out-reach is creating a conflict among the faithful, taking this beyond an environmental debate, touching on ethics and some call what’s happening classic bribery.
Multiple petitions are circulating in several Palm Beach County neighborhoods. Both sides of this debate understand the Jewish community is pivotal in this deal.
After the I-Team’s first story on “The Big Deal” in which both sides described their positions about the proposed land swap, GL Homes wrote to the newsroom, to say they’re not offering just one piece of land to the Jewish community, but three.
A parcel for a Chabad. A parcel for a private school. And a parcel for a senior home and activities center which could also serve the developmentally challenged.
Worship. Education. Caring for those with special needs. These are three cornerstones of the Jewish way of life. And back in May, there was a chorus of voices telling Palm Beach County Commissioners, to approve the deal.
“There many, many residents living locally who do support this and I ask respectfully today to vote in favor of it and we thank GL Homes for their generosity,” a local rabbi told the commission.
“If in the future, other developers want to come in, and say, ‘Hey we want to build in the AG,’ the commission could say, ‘Hey, do what GL did.’ An additional Jewish public comment-maker offered.
When Rabbi Josh Broide took the podium, he said, “We keep hearing over and over that this would certainly be an unprecedented change that would have to take place in order for something to move forward and I think everyone here would agree that we are living in unprecedented times.”
But those are the voices who have been enticed by sweeteners and played - according to opponents of the deal- many also Jewish.
“And how shameful that a rabbi would support this project because they’re going to get a school,” Barry Silver said.
The I-Team sat down with Rabbi Josh Broide of the Boca Raton Synagogue, to follow up on his comments to the commission in May and the recent backlash.
Mike Magnoli, CBS 12 News I-Team Chief Investigator: Some in the Jewish Community say this is akin to taking a bribe and they’re disappointed to see other in the Jewish community cheerleading for this deal and I’d like you to respond to that.
Rabbi Broide: We have been looking for land for a lot of years right now and unfortunately there isn’t a lot of land, it takes an angel, it takes someone who cares about the growth and the future of this Jewish community, not for this year, not for the next 10 years, but for the next 50 years, to say here’s a parcel of land that you can use to take care of your children, that need to go to a private day school, and a synagogue for people that have to be able to walk there, and a place for people with special needs or going through some sort of crisis.
The President of GL Homes says part of the company proposal to the county involves partnering with JARC. Not affiliated with any religion- JARC is an organization providing group homes, apartments, and vocational training for adults with developmental disabilities.
As for the Jewish community in the area, he says if the county approves the deal, they’ll have the convenience they’ve been seeking for years.
“Since there’s no synagogue in the entire area and it’s a predominantly Jewish area, we are trying to address that need,” Misha Ezratti, President of GL Homes, said,” We’re trying to address the needs of the elderly and the developmentally disabled with JARC, we’re trying to address the need for school-aged children with the Torah Academy. We are offering land that’s fully developed for them,”
Back in the county commission chamber, Commissioner Marci Woodward tells the I-Team, she was a “no vote” in May and will be a “no vote” again on October 24 because she believes the results of the 1999 referendum about the Agricultural Reserve should be the driving force here.
On the ballot, voters saw a small paragraph with the heading: Land Acquisition for Conservation.
Sixty-six percent wanted it.
“Voting yes on this effectively breaks the ag reserve,” Woodward said. “And I feel with this entire project, it’s been one sweetener, after the other, after the other. There comes a point where your teeth start to rot with that much sugar. And I think this project is rot from the inside out, and everything they add on top of it, just make it worse, in my opinion.”
Five commissioners voted yes. Commissioner Woodward and Commissioner Maria Sachs voted no.