The village of Pinecrest has a historic 22-acre botanical wonderland with more than 1,000 species of plants, a water park for kids, a library, a community center, venues for weddings and parties, a weekly farmer’s market — and a financial headache.
Pinecrest Gardens is a rare amenity for a village of just 18,000 people and it takes a toll on the taxpayers. Last year, the gardens had expenses of $1.6 million but revenues of just $404,000. That has village leaders looking to increase income.
The Village Council has been discussing a plan to lease space in the gardens to a restaurant and catering service. But some neighbors are objecting — saying the plan would bring noise and drunk drivers, and that it would break a promise the Village Council made to limit liquor sales on the site.
Nevertheless, the council seems to be moving forward with its plans. Mayor Cindy Lerner said a 2010 survey found that 70 percent were in support of having a restaurant.
“I think the council has been pretty united in the desire to bring this restaurant forward, and we have always tried to have open dialogue with the neighbors,” Lerner said. “I think we all felt really shocked and confused but why this angry mob came to the meeting in November. They really caught us by surprise.”
The gardens used to be Parrot Jungle, a roadside attraction that opened in 1936. Sir Winston Churchill, the British prime minister and lover of birds, visited in the 1940s. Much of the campus is on the National Register of Historic Places.
As the number of tourists who traveled to the park dwindled during the 1980s and ‘90s, the business changed. New owners bought Parrot Jungle in 1988 and they proposed a $4 million expansion that included a banquet hall. But the plan ruffled some feathers.
Over the years, a group of residents waged several legal battles. Michael Guilford, who bought his Pinecrest home next to the garden in 1992, said the noise was sometimes louder than his television and at times kept his children up at night. In 1993, he and an angry crowd went to County Hall to complain.
“The room couldn’t contain us all. We spilled out into the hallway, and person after person came up and talked about how this had negatively affected their quality of life,” Guilford said. “I was sure it was over.”
When the village acquired the property in 2002, the council made some promises: No nighttime parties or alcohol, except for up to four parties a year.
The council’s resolution describes these promises as a "covenant," a legally binding promise about what a landowner will or won’t do with his property. Normally, covenants are signed for the benefit of specific neighboring properties, whose owners have the right to seek a court order for enforcement. But in the gardens’ case, the "covenant" mentioned in the resolution doesn’t name any specific beneficiary. That means, despite the name, it is not a true restrictive covenant, and the Village Council could change it with a majority vote, according to an opinion letter prepared for the village in April by Nancy E. Stroud, a land use and local government attorney in Boca Raton.
Meanwhile, neighbors say the park already is growing more noisy.
Helene Kronberg, who has lived near the garden for about 26 years, said she called the police to complain about noise coming from the park last month.