By Timothy Hullihan
According to Yachting magazine, one of the world’s premiere “yacht collectors” has a home in North Palm Beach, Florida. In fact, he owns personally, and through corporations, many water front homes in North Palm Beach, but he never lives in most of them. They are just places to berth his collection, house the crews, and keep his vessels ready for an occasional voyage. The challenge of being a yacht collector is you need a place to store and service a lot of large ships, and in North Palm Beach, he has found a willing partner.
The humble, family and community oriented residents of this small village of less than 12,000 people are not willing partners, but the elected officials entrusted to represent them are. In fact, the residents of one neighborhood that is slowly losing 60-years of humility to the yacht collector’s real estate acquisitions asked the North Palm Beach Village Council to stop the yacht collector’s destructive practices by simply enforcing an existing law that says it is illegal to berth a vessel you own behind a house you do not occupy (whether you own it or not). One of the residents that spoke at a recent council meeting is 77 years old, and has lived in her waterfront home for nearly 50-years. She used a walker to approach the dais that night to describe the fear she now lives with daily because she is surrounded by vacant homes the yacht collector owns, or is in the process of acquiring.
At the June 22, 2017 council meeting the village council made it clear that they are prepared to do the opposite of what the residents of this neighborhood requested – simply enforce an existing law. The council agreed in a workshop format to vote at a future meeting to change the wording of the law in favor of the yacht collector. Instead of finding relief for the residents they represent, they seemed to agree that changing the word “occupant” in the present law to “owner/tenant” is the right thing to do. Only Councilmember Bickel (a lifelong resident of North Palm Beach) spoke against these changes to the law. So, very soon, Mr. Yacht Collector will no longer be violating the law, and he and others that share his selfish view of life will be free to continue acquiring waterfront homes in North Palm Beach, leave them vacant, house their crews in them, and/or berth a ship there that is larger than the house itself, in some cases.
One family that lives in this neighborhood describes the North Palm Beach they moved into 15-years ago with 4 small children as “a dream come true.” They found a place they didn’t think existed anymore. Residents brought homemade desserts to their door to welcome them when they arrived, and they have grown so close to their neighbors, and the community in general, that they no longer think of the places they are from as home. Both the father and mother spoke publicly to the village council about their concerns for losing the neighborhood they have grown to love, but are now considering leaving because of unwelcome changes, and fear of an uncertain future.
It is not clear whether the council was aware of the yacht collector’s practices before residents brought it to their attention, but it is abundantly clear how the council feels about representing the residents that put them on the dais. It is hard for me to fully comprehend that I am presently living in a village whose elected officials are inclined to hear a resident’s cry for help, and then make their situation worse, instead of better.
Timothy Hullihan is an architect living in North Palm Beach, and President of the Kevin Clark Hullihan Foundation