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  • Writer's pictureJoe Capozzi

'Shame on you!' — Tempers flare as Jupiter Town Council OK's limited protections at Suni Sands

TEMPERS FLARED AT Jupiter Town Hall Tuesday night when the Town Council voted to allow townhouses, condos and other development on parts of a 10-acre waterfront plot with deep roots to Jupiter’s earliest inhabitants.

Shouts of “Shame on you!” and “How dare you!” erupted from many of the roughly 100 historic preservationists and Native American activists, some wearing feather headdresses, who packed Town Hall to persuade the council to preserve all of the so-called Suni Sands site.

But with a 3-2 vote, the council approved a certificate to dig for about half the site, including land that might contain the graves of Native American ancestors.

The certificate was requested by developer Charles Modica, who owns the land and wants to build 67 condos, five townhouses, a restaurant and a 125-room boutique hotel.

The council’s vote does not allow any immediate construction; it outlines where future development is allowed under supervision of archaeologists. Modica will have to submit plans that will be reviewed by town staff and ultimately face approval by the town council.

The vote also prohibits any development on a 4.07 acre midden and on the pathway of the old Celestial Railway, two resources listed in state records as historically significant.

Modica's original request was to build on 2.5 acres of a 4-acre archaeological area, including shuffleboard courts atop parts of the midden.

But the vote ignores testimony from archaeologists and other experts who testified late last year before the town Historic Resources Board that the rest of the land is historically significant and may also contain senstive resources, including graves.

“I never thought that a majority of this council would take an action that is yet another stain on the town for the mistreatment of people who once lived in pride at Suni Sands,’’ said Vice Mayor Cheryl Schneider, who cast a losing vote with Councilman Cameron May to reject any development on the land.

“The majority seem to have no issue with digging up Native American ancestral remains. … This is an unconscionable proposal.’’

Mayor Jim Kuretski and council members Ron Delaney and Malise Sundstrom said they don’t dispute the historical significance of the site, which has been inhabited for 6,000 years. They said they also need to consider Modica’s rights as a property owner.

“The town takes great pride in its history and heritage and recognizes that Florida laws require the council to balance preservation sites with the rights of property owners to develop their properties,’’ Kuretski said.

The Suni Sands site and midden have been disturbed plenty over the years, starting with the construction of the Celestial Railroad in the 1880s followed by pioneer homes and, most recently, the Suni Sands trailer park.

Modica’s plans, however, would represent the first modern intense construction on the land and would cause irreparable damage to its hidden historic resources, the advisory HRB said in its recommendation to the Town Council.

Modica, who didn’t attend the meeting, has threatened to sue the town if he’s not allowed to develop parts of the land. That threat apparently influenced the votes of Delaney and Sundstrom.

“Taking action on the HRBs recommendation for preserving all 10-plus acres is a risky proposition for the town,’’ Delaney said.

“It would likely result in litigation from the taking of private property rights and the town of Jupiter would forever lose control over the destiny and future development of Suni Sands, if any. I'm just not willing to take that risk.’’

Betty Osceola (L) of the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida was among the protesters at Jupiter Town Hall on July 25, 2023. (JOE CAPOZZI)

Sundstrom cited a recent case in which a magistrate recommended reversing a decision by the Palm Beach County Commission over a proposal to develop the old Moroso Motorsports Park.

“I do not want the same surprise for residents here, which is why we can't vote for the full denial because it doesn't have a legal or factual basis and would be overturned,’’ she said.

"Characterizing the (Historic Resources) board’s decision as an open-and-shut case is not accurate and is irresponsible."

After Tuesday's meeting, activists threatened to file a lawsuit to reverse the council's vote. They also vowed, if it comes to it, to hold demonstrations at Suni Sands to block bulldozers from proceeding.

Tuesday’s meeting was a continuance of a meeting that started July 20, with both nights devoted to Modica’s request to build on the historically significant land. Emotions were high at both meetings, and not just from preservationists in the crowd.

On Tuesday, Schneider scolded Kuretski for trying to interrupt her. Five days earlier, she had harsh words for her colleagues when it became apparent how the vote would go down.

“I cannot believe my colleagues are completely missing the point here,’’ Schneider said July 20.

“I am absolutely shocked. It has been known for such a long time the significance of this property, and then when it comes to finally being able to preserve it everybody is trying to not do that. By building on a part of it you dishonor all of it.’’

Police officers kept watch over the crowds at both meetings. Before Tuesday’s meeting, a dozen or so Native Americans gathered outside Town Hall to hit drums and pray, chant and sing.

Inside Town Hall, they didn’t hold back with their feelings, interrupting the meetings several times with boos and catcalls.

“Let’s shovel test your ancestors. Let’s go dig them up and put them in a museum,’’ came one shout on July 20.

Another went, “Have you ever heard of building on top of a cemetery or mausoleum? In the town of Jupiter, it sounds like you can.’’

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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 writing for newspapers, 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.


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