The Palm Beach County Board of Supervisors approved the purchase of a $20 million mansion by a real estate agent and his wife on Friday for $1.5 million, despite a fierce backlash from locals and residents who have been left without access to the property for decades.
The house is one of the biggest mansions in Palm Beach Gardens, home to the Palm Beach International Airport, which the agent, Scott J. Schaffer, owns.
A decade ago, he was accused of breaking state and federal laws for running an offshore company, a crime that led to his arrest.
Schauffer and his brother, Jeffrey, have been charged with tax evasion, fraud and money laundering.
They pleaded not guilty to all charges.
As a result, Palm Beach Mayor Teresa Jacobs is calling for a new investigation into the Schauffers, saying it’s an abuse of power.
The county auditor, Richard E. DiGiacomo, said his office was looking into whether the mansion was properly managed, but has not yet made a recommendation.
But for many locals, the sale was a victory.
The purchase is part of a plan to build a more vibrant downtown and restore a downtown that has been decimated by crime.
But there are fears that if the Schaffers remain in the building, it could become a hub for drugs, prostitution and other crimes.
The property was purchased by Scott Schaffer and his girlfriend, Melissa Schaffer-Morton.
In a letter to board members, they said they were seeking to “transform this beautiful property into a vibrant, safe, and vibrant place to live.”
The letter from the couple says they’re working to restore the property’s historic charm and that they’ve created a “unique community” in which they hope to “create a new chapter of Palm Beach” by creating jobs, growing their business and “providing residents with the opportunity to live, work and visit the area of their choice.”
But for the residents of Palm, who have waited decades for an answer about the future of their beloved home, it’s a bittersweet moment.
They’ve been waiting for years for the Schaffer family to turn over ownership of the mansion to them, and now the county is forcing them to wait until after a judge makes a ruling on whether they can get the property back.
The board is scheduled to vote Friday on whether to approve the purchase.
The purchase, which is expected to close by April 2019, will be paid for with public funds, the Palm News reported.
Residents are also concerned about a new proposal by the Palm Park Foundation to redevelop the former Marine Corps base on the property.
The foundation wants to build homes on the land and develop a park.
But some of those residents and local officials say the land belongs to the county and its citizens.
In a statement released Friday, Jacobs said, “The sale of this property is a victory for the citizens of Palm Bay and the entire state of Florida, and I look forward to working with the Palm Board of County Commissioners and the community to continue to bring this amazing property back to life.”
She said the board has asked the city to work with Schaffer’s family and to help the residents regain access to their homes.
Jacobs said the plan to renovate the site, which includes a parking garage and apartments for about 20 families, was in place before the Schiffers sold the property, but the board was reluctant to approve it, citing concerns about the Schafers’ financial health and the potential impact on public safety.
She said that while the property is not in the best financial shape, it will remain “a beautiful and beautiful piece of land.”
In a letter posted to Facebook, Palm’s chief financial officer, Mark J. Haugland, said the city has “a significant asset with the Schauer family and that it will continue to be used as a model to help us achieve our long-term financial objectives.”
He said the project would include an upgrade of the parking lot and an improvement of the buildings.
He also said the county has a financial responsibility to make sure the Schausers’ assets are not used to defraud the public.
“The board of county commissioners and the city are committed to ensuring that this property remains in Palm Bay,” Hauglands wrote.
“This project has been in the works for many years, and it will be a long and difficult process to make this happen.”