Billionaire fights to dock his boat on water behind his house. His 164-foot boat, that is.


For some people, the ultimate Florida lifestyle is a waterfront house, a private dock and a boat parked next to it. But what if that boat is a mega-yacht, and the mega-yacht stretches 164 feet?

That’s the conundrum facing the Village of North Palm Beach.

This tiny community in northern Palm Beach County, with only 13,000 full-time residents, has an identity so tied to the water that a ship’s steering wheel is the village’s emblem.

But it’s that love of the water that is putting one resident at odds with village leaders.

For the past several years, homeowner Michael Bozutto has been battling the village for the right to park his 164-foot Westport, dubbed Honey, behind a home he owns at 932 Shore Drive.

The house, built in 1961, is a one-story, ranch-style property with three bedrooms on a half-acre lot. Bozzuto paid $840,247 for the house in 2014, according to Palm Beach County property records.

Lawsuit rooted in dispute over where to dock mega-yacht

What makes this plain house special is its location. It’s on a rare corner bordered on the north and east by navigable waters that provide access to the Atlantic Ocean via the Lake Worth Inlet. The east-facing dock is large enough to accommodate Bozzuto’s motor yacht.

Since Bozutto bought Honey for an undisclosed sum a decade ago, he mostly has parked it at the Old Port Cove Marina, near Tiger Woods’ 155-foot showy mega-yacht, ironically dubbed Privacy.

More recently, Bozzuto has wanted to park Honey alongside his Shore Drive house, one of four houses he owns in the village. While Bozzuto keeps some personal property at the Shore Drive house, he lives at a house he owns at Harbour Isles Court.

A view of the yacht, called Honey, at the center of a residential docking dispute in North Palm Beach.

A view of the yacht, called Honey, at the center of a residential docking dispute in North Palm Beach.

Village officials warned Bozzuto he can’t park Honey at 932 Shore Drive because boats can only be parked on docks behind houses that are occupied by the homeowner.

But village rules do not define the word “occupied.” For instance, the rules do not state that occupied means the house is a residence where the owner lives. Village rules also contain no restrictions on the size of boats that can be kept at private docks.

After years of pushing back against what he believes are fuzzy rules, Bozzuto in March filed a lawsuit against the village.

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He alleged the municipality is illegally depriving him of his property rights because nothing in the village code prevents him from mooring Honey at his house. He is asking a Palm Beach County Circuit Court judge to rule that he has a constitutional right to dock Honey there.

Gregory Coleman, Bozzuto’s West Palm Beach attorney, said the village has plenty of waterfront homes with yachts parked behind them. But Coleman said the village is illegally blocking Bozzuto from docking Honey at his house because the village is bending to pressure from a handful of neighbors who think the boat is too big.

The selective enforcement is wrong, said Coleman, a former president of the Florida Bar.

A view of the yacht, called Honey, at the center of a lawsuit stemming from a residential docking dispute in North Palm Beach.

A view of the yacht, called Honey, at the center of a lawsuit stemming from a residential docking dispute in North Palm Beach.

“He’s a very under-the-radar guy who doesn’t cause anybody any problems,” Coleman said of Bozzuto. “He pays his property taxes, and he wants to be left alone by the village of North Palm Beach. Unfortunately, they are singling Mike out.”

Neither Leonard Rubin, the village’s longtime attorney, nor Village Manager Chuck Huff responded to requests for comment.

Eric Stettin, a Fort Lauderdale-based attorney who is representing the village in the Bozzuto lawsuit, said he could not comment on pending litigation.

What good is a man’s castle if he can’t have a boat in his moat?

Coleman’s lawsuit describes the conflict as a battle over property rights, but real estate and yachting experts say it’s also a sign of the times.

As wealthy new residents pour into the county wanting all the perks of the Sunshine State, they want a boat to go along with their waterfront homes and golf club memberships. Some longtime residents fear Palm Beach County is turning into a playground for billionaires, to the detriment of everyday people who also want to live in sunshine and peace.

This conflict between Old Florida and new money is an ever-present tension, but even seasoned yacht brokers say they’ve never seen interest in luxury yachts quite as strong as it is now.

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“What we’ve seen in the marketplace right after COVID in the yachting industry, and especially the superyacht segment, is the most incredible growth ever seen in the history of yachting to date,” said Shannon McCoy, a luxury yacht advisor and broker with Worth Avenue Yachts in Palm Beach.

“A lot of people are moving here with serious money,” added Pascal Savoy, U.S. managing director of Camper & Nicholsons International yacht brokers in Fort Lauderdale.

While in the past Palm Beach County was not considered lively enough for some buyers, Savoy said the county’s growing sophistication is putting it on the map in a way never seen before.

The mega-yacht, Honey, parked at its dock at 932 Lakeshore Dr. in North Palm Beach.

The mega-yacht, Honey, parked at its dock at 932 Lakeshore Dr. in North Palm Beach.

“It’s a mini-Monaco for us,” Savoy said.

Prices for mega-yachts can range from $18 million to $60 million, or many times that, for the largest and most decked-out mega-yachts, Savoy said.

While some yachts can be glitzy, a 164-foot Westport is considered a more low-profile boat, Savoy added.

Bozzuto’s interests: Houses, boats and philanthropy

Bozzuto is no newcomer to North Palm Beach. He’s been a resident of the village for 20 years.

He is the billionaire owner of a family-owned supermarket wholesaler in Connecticut, and an investor and philanthropist who likes to collect houses and yachts, Coleman said.

In addition to the four North Palm Beach houses and several yachts he owns, Bozzuto in February paid a whopping $31.1 million for a house in the Town of Palm Beach Shores. The house, which has two docks, sits just north of the Palm Beach/Lake Worth Inlet.

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Coleman said there is plenty of room for other boaters to navigate the waterway when Honey is parked at the Shore Drive house in North Palm Beach. And while other people may not have as large a yacht, there are other sizeable yachts parked on docks behind other North Palm Beach homes, too, he added.

At a 2017 village council meeting, then-Mayor Darryl Aubrey commented on the issue, according to the complaint.

“When I didn’t live here full time, I had a boat sitting in my dock, I was gone nine months of the year. I don’t see how you can say that someone has to be in a residence year-round, seems to be some interpretation of occupant, there would be an enormous number of violations,” Aubrey said.

Another member of the village council asked if the village had a definition now, the complaint said.

Rubin, the village attorney, replied: “No, we don’t,” according to the lawsuit.

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Palm Beach County’s waterways run deep, and they are popular

The yacht docking dispute is particularly timely, given the scarcity of dock space for boats of all sizes.

The most convenient place to park a boat is on the water behind a house, brokers say. But not every waterway or channel can accommodate the draft, or depth, of a mega-yacht.

However, the dock behind Bozzuto’s Shore Drive house can.

Not only is the Westport not known for its deep hulls, but the waterway also is typical of northern Palm Beach County, which boasts deep water and easy access to the ocean via the Lake Worth Inlet, said Coleman, a lifelong boater.

“In Palm Beach County, they have deeper water, and it allows people to have larger yachts,” Savoy agreed.

But not every waterway is deep enough for every boat.

McCoy said she specializes in helping advise potential yacht owners about the county’s varied water depths before they buy a house, if they plan to dock their yacht behind it.

If yacht owners don’t have a private dock, the other option is a marina. But marina space is hard to find, with many dock berths reserved for months in advance, McCoy said.

Despite the challenges of owning a boat and finding a place to dock it, yacht brokers say demand continues.

They see interest continuing from business executives moving here with their families as they relocate their companies to Palm Beach County. There’s also a growing demand for yachts among female buyers, McCoy added.

They also see younger mega-yacht buyers, some even in their early 30s. This is in sharp contrast to the mostly older buyers in the past, Savoy said.

Palm Beach County may not be as go-go as Miami-Dade County when it comes to showy ships, but if interest continues, “it’s coming,” Savoy said. “You’re going to attract bigger yachts.”

Put another way: “No one needs a boat, but everyone needs a boat,” McCoy said. “It’s the ultimate lifestyle.”

Alexandra Clough is a business writer and columnist at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at aclough@pbpost.com. Twitter: @acloughpbp. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Mega-yacht owner fights to dock boat behind his North Palm Beach home





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