Former county commissioner patiently waits for construction of Jupiter park named after her in 2012
EVERY OTHER WEEK or so, the driver of a brown Honda Pilot performs a peculiar ritual while motoring north along a certain stretch of U.S. 1 in Jupiter.
On cue, as the vehicle passes a metal blue sign with the words “Future Site of Karen Marcus Ocean Park Preserve,’’ the driver taps a friendly beep-beep of the horn.
“People in the cars next to me are all looking around like, ‘Who? What?’’’ says the driver, former Palm Beach County Commissioner Karen Marcus, for whom the 154-acre site is named.
“And if the grandkids are with me, they are absolutely mortified: ‘What are you doing?’ I tell them, ‘It’s my park!’’
It’s not a park yet, which is why Marcus performs another whimsical ritual, this one every other year or so in the days leading up to or following her birthday.
She picks up the phone and calls Palm Beach County’s Parks and Recreation Director Eric Call.
“I’ll say, ‘Hey, Eric. My birthday is coming up’ or ‘Hey, Eric, I just had a birthday,’’’ said Marcus, who has another birthday coming up in a few days.
The phone calls are Marcus’ gentle reminder that another year has passed and the park still hasn’t been developed, even though the County Commission named it after her back in 2012 as an honor for her 28 years as a commissioner who fought to preserve environmental lands.
Marcus and Burt Aaronson both left office in November 2012 because of term limits. At their final commission meeting, their fellow commissioners also honored Aaronson by renaming South County Regional Park west of Boca Raton after him.
Ten years later, Burt Aaronson South County Regional Park is a popular recreation destination while Karen Marcus Ocean Park Preserve is an empty stretch of land not open to the public, with park amenities that exist only on a site plan in county offices.
And that’s just fine with Marcus.
“I am not frustrated. I don't mind it being green the way it is,’’ she said, before adding with a laugh, “but I would like to be around when they actually do some kind of official ground-breaking and build it.’’
It could be at least five more years, if not longer, before construction starts. There are a few reasons for the holdup.
The main one has to do with the standard for development of park lands in the county’s master growth plan — .29 acres of park lands per 1,000 people. Thanks to a thriving countywide parks system, the county's current level is .30 acres.
Since the county is exceeding its standard, there is no need to spend money on construction of the ocean preserve park.
“However, over the years the gap has been closing and we will eventually need to develop the KM Park Preserve to maintain our standard,’’ Call said in an email.
“For this reason, we have budgeted for the design of the park over the next five years with construction to follow soon after.’’
The county has set aside $700,000 through fiscal year 2026 to pay for the design and incidentals. But exactly how “soon after” construction will start remains to be seen.
Construction costs are estimated at $9 million to $10 million, money the county does not have.
“It is likely we will need to pass a bond to fund the development of the park,’’ Call said.
The 154 acres, about a half mile north of Marcinski Road, is bordered by U.S. 1 on the west and Ocean Boulevard on the east, including 3,570 linear feet — ⅔ of a mile — of beach front.
The county paid $29 million for the land in 1986 knowing at the time the site would be banked, along with other land, for future park development based on population growth.
“At that time, and based on population projections, we believed we had enough developed beachfront (park) property to carry us for a long time, which has turned out to be the case,’’ Call said.
Construction plans call for a beachfront public area with parking and picnic areas on the east side of the park. A scrub preserve, with wetlands, walking trails and observation platforms, is planned for 75 acres on the park’s west side along U.S. 1.
No running water or public restrooms are planned in the scrub area, but the oceanfront park will have playground equipment, picnic tables, parking, restrooms and an information center.
Plans also call for vehicle entrances on both A1A and U.S. 1, and several pedestrian walkways to the beach. An original proposal called for a pedestrian-only tunnel under A1A to the beach, but Call said that isn't likely to happen.
When the park was named in her honor in 2012, with a flashy video boasting about its future amenities, Marcus received a standing ovation in the County Commission chambers.
“It makes me feel like what I did made a difference,’’ she said at the time. “Land preservation and recreation are important to me, and this will give that to county residents.’’
Then she made a prophetic joke to the parks director.
“Is Eric here? You have the money to develop it?’’ she said, drawing laughter. “We have to work on that in the upcoming budget so we can actually utilize the park. And hopefully we’ll put a sign up soon so the Realtors won’t keep driving by and say, ‘Can we buy this property?’ Because there's a lot of interest in it.’’
Two years later, crews removed Australian pines and other exotics from the east side and removed vegetation from the north side, creating a firewall to protect nearby homes.
Around the same time, crews posted a sign with the county logo announcing the site to passersby on U.S. 1 as a future park. Although not much else has happened on the site since, Marcus said she is happy the site is preserved in its natural state and marked with a sign.
“I really wanted people to know it's supposed to be a park and not a piece of available property,’’ said Marcus, who unsuccessfully ran for her old seat in 2020.
“Having a sign with somebody's name on it stops all developer calls asking ‘Can you sell this to us?’ Because they don't realize it's a (future) park. Now they know it's a park. That was important to me.’’
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About the author
Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years in the newspaper business, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.