Palm Beach Shores near West Palm Beach is a beach town with Old … – Palm Beach Post

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For more than 70 years, the Town of Palm Beach Shores has remained stalwart in limiting development to retain its 1950s beach-town vibe of mid-century homes surrounded by water that flows gin clear on an incoming tide.

It’s held fast to its sandy ethos in the face of rampant post-pandemic development, thanks, in part, to a Cold War-era spy roused from retirement to defend the southern reaches of Singer Island from overbuilding.

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The undertaking came as a surprise to 84-year-old Palm Beach Shores Mayor Alan Fiers, who ran the CIA’s Central American Task Force in the 1980s. He left government service in 1988 after helping expose Iran-Contra ― the secret operation that sidestepped Congress to divert proceeds from Iranian arms sales to Nicaraguan rebels. Fiers went into private industry, and when that career faded into the golden years, his goals were to take care of his ailing wife, see old friends and travel.

Palm Beach Shores Mayor Alan Fiers in October 2023.

“Then this happened,” Fiers said about the 2020 election that made him mayor of the 11-block town that has about 1,500 full time residents. “I ran for one reason, to preserve the low-profile, low-density coastal living of Palm Beach Shores, because that’s what it’s always been and that’s how the old generation wanted it to stay.”

Fiers’ unshakable demeanor ― honed during more than a decade of postings in the Middle East ― is effective in rebuffing incursions by well-heeled builders keen to cash in on the unique town with water on three sides.

“I’ve looked at some very, very rich people and said, ‘No,’ ” Fiers said.

Most developers understand from the beginning that they must limit beachside buildings to six stories and lakeside structures to three stories. It’s a canon so entrenched that designs bucking the height limits rarely make it to city committees for review, said Palm Beach Shores Planning and Zoning Chairman Jerry Cohn.

Jerry Cohn is chairman of the planning and zoning board in the Town of Palm Beach Shores. He was renting at the Cannonsport Marina but he, and other residents, were told they needed to move after a developer bought the property for $58.5 million in October 2023

Still, the COVID-triggered real estate explosion in South Florida is forcing a miniboom of multimillion-dollar condos that will attract affluent newcomers to the 72-year-old town.

Fiers isn’t concerned about the town losing its vintage charm, but Cohn has already fallen victim to progress.

The 85-year-old was told in late October that he and his wife needed to leave their home at the Cannonsport condominium and marina after a landmark $58.5 million sale to a Miami-based investment firm with plans to renovate.

“We love it here, and we still love it here, but we are packing,” he said. “This is the worst time of year this could be done to us.”

Palm Beach Shores’ story started with a sewing machine

Paris Singer, heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, had grand plans in the early 1920s for the island just north of Palm Beach. With famed society architect Addison Mizner, the idea was to build two luxury resorts, homes and a golf course on what was soon dubbed Singer’s Island.

But the hurricanes of 1926 and 1928 dulled the allure of South Florida, the building boom slowed, and then the stock market crashed.

In the mid-1940s, engineer and railroad tycoon A.O. Edwards rediscovered Singer Island. A Palm Beach Post article from Feb. 22, 1950, recounts how Edwards drove across the Lake Worth Lagoon on what he thought was going to be a “useless junket” to find buildable dirt.

Instead, he saw the potential of the southern knuckle of land across the inlet from Palm Beach that offered quick access to the fishing-friendly Gulf Stream current and is about 64 miles from West End, Bahamas. In 1946, Edwards bought more than 200 acres for $475,000 according to a Nov. 24, 1946, Palm Beach Post story.

Edwards said he didn’t want another refuge for the wealthy elite like in Palm Beach. He designed a park that runs the length of Palm Beach Shores, designated a public beach and envisioned a colony of “small pleasant homes with an outer periphery of apartment buildings and hotels.”

That’s largely how it remains today — single-family homes with height-restricted condos, marinas and hotel resorts lining the waterfront.

The Town of Palm Beach Shores, outlined in red, is surrounded by water on three sides with the Atlantic Ocean to its east, the Palm Beach/Lake Worth Inlet to its south and the Intracoastal Waterway to its west.

“It’s a small town that time forgot,” said Palm Beach Shores resident Kendra Zizzamia. “It’s not gated, but it’s still secluded.”

Zizzamia is a member of the Seasiders, a nonprofit founded in 1951 by eight Palm Beach Shores women. What started as a social club evolved into volunteer and fundraising work, including the annual February Bazaar, where donated items are sold. The last bazaar made $11,000 for charity.

When a 95-year-old Seasider member recently had to go to a hospital, club president Chris Mielke got a text from law enforcement in town to let her know.

“It’s a very caring community,” Mielke said. “You don’t get that everywhere.”

Seasiders President Chris Mielke (left) speaks with women at the Palm Beach Shores community center who are preparing for an annual holiday bazaar in November 2023. The Seasiders is a non-profit women's organization founded by five Palm Beach Shores residents in 1951.

A last bastion for Old Florida but for how long?

The town is home to the Sailfish Marina, which opened in the late 1940s as Roy’s Dock, then became Bill’s Marina. In 1977, the marina was bought by the late Palm Beach inventor and entrepreneur Alexander W. Dreyfoos Jr., then sold in July 2004 to a financial group.

The 65-year-old Buccaneer Marina and Resort is undergoing an extensive renovation, and the 75-year-old Sunshine Shores Boutique Apartments is “in it for the long haul.”

“Everyone has been getting calls asking if they want to sell,” said Derrick Larosa, manager of the family-owned Sunshine Shores. “We try to keep that Old Florida feel and modernize things that need to be modernized.”

Small town goes upscale:New waterfront luxury condominiums for sale near West Palm Beach starting at $4 million

The Old Florida feel is what is attracting some developers to Palm Beach Shores. Atlantic Group of Cos. founder Deepak Khosa called the town “a hidden gem.”

Khosa is razing the bedraggled 57-year-old Seaspray Inn and Beach Resort at 123 Ocean Ave. to build the Pearl condominium, with units ranging from $4 million to $7.5 million. Atlantic Group also bought the aging Romaine condominiums at 320 Inlet way, which was a notable feature in the town in 1950. It will be demolished for new construction.

A couple of blocks east on the inlet is the new ICON at Palm Beach Shores development, which is three boutique buildings with a total of 15 units that sold from between $2 million and $5 million.

The new ICON condominium in Palm Beach Shores is expected to be finished by the end of the year. The units sold for between $2 and $5 million.

ICON developer Marc Shulman lauded officials for maintaining the town’s beachy ambiance.

“And that’s the way it will remain due to the height restrictions, which we feel are a good thing,” Shulman said. “Not all developments need to be 30 stories high.”

Developers buying just north of the town may not feel the same. The Ocean Walk mall was recently sold for $19.2 million to a group including prolific Miami-based developer Related Group, which is not affiliated with New York’s Related Cos.

While not zoned for residential, a hotel with shops and restaurants on the bottom could be built on the site.

Adding to Singer Island’s prestige was also the July purchase of a $7.3 million waterfront home by celebrity chef and reality television icon Guy Fieri.

Still, some Palm Beach Shores residents are confident the town will remain a time capsule.

“Honestly, I have no fears about it bleeding into Palm Beach Shores,” said 25-year resident Bob Staton. “It’s more than just the mayor, it’s the voice of the people.”

Palm Beach Shores mayor’s Iran-Contra moment

Fiers said he reluctantly took the job in Central America after serving stints in Turkey, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as an officer in the clandestine service. He is fluent in Turkish but didn’t know Spanish. He understood Middle East politics, not the fight between the rebels and Communist-backed Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

His gut told him it was a career killer.

Fiers ultimately pleaded guilty in 1991 to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress about his knowledge of Iran-Contra. He was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush in 1992.

He moved in 2004 to Palm Beach Shores where his family owned land on the inlet. He was elected to the Palm Beach Shores town commission in 2008 and 2014. When some residents were concerned that building height limits could be raised to increase town coffers, they asked Fiers to run for mayor.

“I never dreamed of being mayor,” Fiers said. “I had no intention of running for mayor.”

Fiers has no competition for his re-election in March. He said he will keep his position for one more two-year term.

Cohn, however, said he must resign his seat on the planning and zoning commission effective Jan. 1 because he will no longer be a Palm Beach Shores resident after losing his unit at Cannonsport. He and his wife have found temporary housing in Stuart and then may move to a small town in western Michigan.

“When we moved here it was very laid back, a much quieter area,” Cohn said. “It’s been the best-kept secret.”

Kimberly Miller is a veteran journalist for The Palm Beach Post, part of the USA Today Network of Florida. She covers real estate and how growth affects South Florida’s environment. Subscribe to The Dirt for a weekly real estate roundup. If you have news tips, please send them to [email protected]. Help support our local journalism, subscribe today. 

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