Upping the ante on Mizner Trail
In November, there was news of a proposed settlement of the lawsuit resulting from Palm Beach County’s approval last June of development on the old Mizner Trail Golf Course. I can report that in December there was a second offer.
The main plaintiff in the lawsuit, which argues that the county’s approval is illegal, is the Boca Del Mar Improvement Association. It’s the umbrella group for all the homeowner associations in Boca Del Mar, between Camino Real and Southwest 18th Street west of Military Trail. Mizner Trail is one of two golf courses in Boca Del Mar, which was developed 40 years ago. The other plaintiffs are a small number of residents.
The first offer was $250,000 to the improvement association. The lawyers for Compson Associates—the developer, operating as Mizner Trail Golf Club, Ltd.,—and the association disagreed over whether the offer technically amounted to a settlement, but the developers essentially were offering what they believed were the association’s legal fees to that point. Through its law firm, Sachs Sax Caplan, the association rejected the offer.
The second offer was higher and wider. On Dec. 18, attorney F. Martin Perry sent a letter to Sachs Sax Caplan offering the association $500,000 if the lawsuit went away. Not just the association but also the individual plaintiffs would have to agree to drop the lawsuit “with prejudice,” meaning that they never could refile it.
Simultaneously, Mizner Trail principal Robert Comparato sent a letter to three homeowners who are plaintiffs—a couple and an individual—offering them $100,000 each to drop the lawsuit and agree to not “further appeal, litigate or otherwise interfere with the development of the former golf course.”
The developers set a deadline of Jan. 16. One week before the deadline, attorney Peter Sachs wrote to Perry, rejecting the settlement. Sachs first cautioned Perry about communications going directly to plaintiffs and around the improvement association’s lawyer. Sachs added, “Your client continues to miscomprehend the objectives” of the association. The group and the individual plaintiffs “do not seek monetary relief, as a monetary settlement to those parties does not remedy the adverse impact of the development. . .” In other words, the lawsuit seeks to keep the golf course undeveloped.
The fact that the developers raised their offer is interesting. When I spoke with Robert and James Comparato—their current project is Tower One Fifty-Five near Mizner Park— about the first settlement they waxed confident about their chances of prevailing in the lawsuit. Yet they raised their offer by $450,000. That sounds less confident.
In fact, the lawsuit is a tough one. The plaintiffs must show that the county broke its rules by approving 253 units on the course. The plaintiffs cite a 2008 Palm Beach County court ruling upholding the county’s denial of an earlier Compson development request. The judge indicated that the property has no development rights, as the plaintiffs contend. Compson says that ruling doesn’t apply because it stemmed from an earlier plan for developing the site. County staff recommended approval of the latest version, after recommending against the previous version.
A three-judge panel of the Palm Beach County Circuit Court has yet to rule on the lawsuit.