What were they thinking?

We said last week that there soon would be more on the Auburn Trace story in Delray Beach. Here is the more.

On March 18, against the advice of the city’s acting finance director, a shorthanded Delray Beach City Commission tentatively agreed to give Auburn Trace, developers of the 256-unit, low-income housing project Auburn Trace, new loan terms very favorable to the developers in exchange for about $1 million upfront. The finance director said the commission should have said, not just “No,” but “Hell, no” to the deal. It passed with the vote of a lame-duck commissioner, Angeleta Gray, and without the presence of Mayor Cary Glickstein and Commissioner Shelly Petrolia, who had asked that the item not be discussed without them.

Fortunately, the deal was contingent on an opinion from the city attorney’s office. Last week, interim city attorney Terrill Pyburn sent a memo to the commission that undercuts the developers’ case. Pyburn recommends that at tonight’s meeting the commission rescind its March 18 action.

Glickstein and Petrolia will be at tonight’s meeting. So will new Commissioner Jarjana Jordura, who defeated Gray in the March 11 election. Gray, with holdover commissioners Adam Frankel and Al Jacquet, approved the Auburn Trace deal that the finance director said was so bad for Delray Beach.

In her memo, Pyburn says that, based on a letter from Iberia Bank—the primary Auburn Trace lender—Auburn Group is behind on its payments, owes back property taxes and hasn’t provided records sought by the bank. Given the contents of the letter, Pyburn says, “It appears that the Auburn Group misrepresented their default status to the City Commission at the March 18 meeting.”

Pyburn adds, “Auburn Group’s misrepresentation may have resulted in fraudulent inducement of the City.” Pyburn questions whether Delray Beach will recover any of the original $4.2 million loan to Auburn Group. She warns that if the March 18 deal stands, Delray Beach would give up any rights to the Auburn Trace property. If the bank were to foreclose, the city “would get nothing.” The March 18 vote, Pyburn writes, “does not comply with state law and is therefore invalid.”

For Delray residents, the first question is: How quickly can the commission accept Pyburn’s recommendation tonight? The second question is: How could Frankel and Jacquet have voted yes on March 18?

Dredging things up

Two requests by Boca Raton for beach projects are in the annual exercise known as the budget process of the Florida Legislature

One is for restoration of the beach north of Spanish River Park. Crews finishing a similar shore protection project for Delray Beach would move their equipment south. In both cases, the work is designed to restore areas eroded by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.

The projected state cost for the north Boca Raton project is about $1 million. The money is in the Senate budget, but not in the House budget. The two chambers are about $22 million apart in their budgets for beach projects. North Boca is ranked seventh out of 43 in the state.

A Palm Beach County lobbyist says the North Boca money could be included during the usual House-Senate budget conference committee discussions. Boca Raton is in better shape on a roughly $400,000 request for dredging of the Boca Inlet. That money is in both the House and Senate budgets, at least for now. 

Sachs & The Cities

Here is a small, but telling, example of how things work in the Florida Legislature.

Last year, the Republican chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee questioned whether certain legislators actually lived in the districts they represent. One of the legislators in question—most of them Democrats—was Sen. Maria Sachs, a Democrat whose district includes Boca Raton, Delray Beach and coastal Broward County south to Fort Lauderdale.

Sachs and her husband, attorney Peter Sachs, have a home just west of Florida’s Turnpike and north of Clint Moore Road. The house is in her old Senate district. In 2012, she chose to run in a new, neighboring district whose boundaries don’t include her house. After winning, she claimed residency at a condo in Fort Lauderdale—within the new district—owned by a lobbyist who supposedly rented the place to Sachs.

Media reports, however, found little evidence that Sachs actually lived at the condo. Last September, after denying that her residency was an issue, Sachs declared a new residence—a rented Delray condo that is within the new district.

The Florida Constitution says legislators must live in the district they represent, but doesn’t specify what qualifies as residency. Bills in the House and Senate this year would lay out residency rules for candidates and public officials—some cities require managers to live in the city—and require that they have just one residence, but the legislation would not apply to active-duty military and, more important, to members of the Legislature. The Legislature still would set its own rules.

One of those definitions of residency, spelled out in Joint Rule 7.1? Where one “claims to reside, as reflected in statements to others..."

Build vs. Blight                                     

Last week, the Palm Beach County Commission punted on whether to allow Compson Development to build nearly 300 homes on the old Mizner Trail Golf Course in the Boca Del Mar community.

In delaying a vote on Compson’s proposal, the commission asked the developer and residents who oppose the project to seek a compromise by June. Compromise seems unlikely, since the developer called the residents’ offer to buy the property “insulting.” An attorney for the residents, though, said they would “try.”

Still, it is clear from comments over the months leading up to Thursday’s meeting and at the meeting itself that the vast majority of residents along the property don’t want development. Commissioners cited the condition of the property as a reason for their vote. But residents believe that Compson bought the property in 2004 with the intent of closing the course and seeking development rights that the company doesn’t have. They believe that Compson has deliberately let the property get overgrown, and now claims that development is the only want to eliminate the blight.

Many residents who spoke against the project vowed retaliation at the polls against commissioners who vote for Compson. But because county commissioners are elected only from within the district they represent, residents could seek revenge only against Steven Abrams. He represents the area and is on the ballot this year, but he voted as the residents wanted—against the delay.

Mizner Trail is not an issue like the Ocean Avenue bridge in Boynton Beach, where a small number of neighbors for years blocked a key public project. The only public issue here is the supposed blight, which most residents say they prefer to loss of open space. Expect a lawsuit if the commission approves development of the Mizner Trail Golf Course.

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About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.