Boca Teeca Wins, Waterfront Ordinance Gets Tricky, and More Boca Updates

Boca Teeca wins.

That is the main takeaway from Monday’s Boca Raton City Council workshop meeting. The main topic was golf: the possible sale of the city’s western, 27-hole course and the possible acquisition of the Ocean Breeze course at Boca Teeca. “Possible” no longer applies. Based on the council’s discussion, one of three things will happen:

The council will accept Lennar’s offer, which at this point is $51 million for the roughly 200 acres of the western course with a $10 million credit to Lennar — $41 million net — for conveying to the city the roughly 200 acres of Ocean Breeze;

The council will accept GL Homes’ $73 million offer for the western course and acquire Ocean Breeze by some other means;

Or the council will accept Compson Associates’ offer of about $73 million for the western course and acquire Ocean Breeze by some other means.

On Monday, Compson didn’t make the cut, despite urging from Councilman Robert Weinroth. He noted that the project would include a new campus for Torah Academy of Boca Raton. At Tuesday night’s regular meeting, however, Torah Academy supporters turned out, and the council added the proposal to the finalists.

Whatever happens, Ocean Breeze residents achieve their goal – stopping development on the closed course. Indeed, council members went all in for keeping Boca Raton in the golf business.

The next night, at the urging of Jeremy Rodgers, they approved a resolution declaring the council’s support for golf at Ocean Breeze. The Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District is ready to buy Ocean Breeze after the city acquires it and to operate the course. All that could happen without the district raising taxes or cutting services, according to Interim Executive Director Art Koski.

Just a few months ago, the city had received a couple of unsolicited offers for the western course, and there was no urgency. Mayor Susan Haynie had suggested that the city get out of the golf business, save for the short, oceanfront course at Red Reef Park.

Then Ocean Breeze closed, Haynie shifted her position, and the offers poured in. Though neither the city nor the district has done a study on whether a revamped Ocean Breeze could succeed, you could sense the sentiment once public comment ended. Haynie normally allows the council members to speak first. This time, she did: “I see great value in keeping Ocean Breeze as a golf course.”

But how to do that? The Lennar proposal offers the simplest route, assuming the company and the city could agree on how much Ocean Breeze is worth. A subsidiary of Wells Fargo bought the property last January for $4 million. It sold for $7.2 million in December 2004, to a developer whose proposal was a victim of the recession. A deed covenant, which only the residents can lift, restricts the use to golf. At its highest and best use, the property might be worth as much as the western course. With the covenant, it might not be worth much at all.

GL Homes and Compson, though, are offering $22 million more, and GL sets no conditions based on how much development the county might approve. The course is outside the city.

If the council wants the highest offer, a new angle arose: take Ocean Breeze by eminent domain. BocaWatch Publisher Al Zucaro proposed the idea. Scott Singer, Zucaro’s council ally, embraced it. Mitch Kirschner, an attorney representing Lennar, quickly stated that the courts might not allow public taking of land for a golf course, which hardly is the same as condemning property for a highway or bridge.

Yet that option will be part of the discussion. “I don’t understand why we want to discuss eminent domain,” Mike Mullaugh said, “but I understand that we do.” City Manager Leif Ahnell will come back to the council in January with updates. “We can go only so far with Lennar,” Ahnell said, since the offer is “much more complicated.”

Among many other things, the city would need an environmental study of the property – golf courses use herbicides and pesticides – the expected costs to redo the course and the status of buildings on the property, including an abandoned hotel. Should the course be 18 holes or 27? Greg Norman’s company has expressed interest in using nine holes for a teaching academy. How much of an operating loss would the city want to tolerate?

Barring something unexpected, however, Boca Raton will get a lot of money and retain a golf course. The Boca Teeca voting bloc has spoken.



 

One other observation:

Boca Teeca residents and others supporters portrayed the Ocean Breeze purchase as a matter of preserving “green space.” Selling the western course, though, would mean no net increase in green space. Of course, no Boca Raton voters live around the western course.



More Waterfront Limbo

With voter approval of the deceptive waterfront ordinance, the Boca Raton City Council now must decide what happens to the Wildflower property, which the council had hoped to lease for a restaurant.

The ordinance restricts city-owned property on the Intracoastal Waterway to four public uses. So what happens to certain non-public uses – notably Gumbo Limbo Nature Center and its gift shop?

Councilman Weinroth proposed “grandfathering” all current uses on such properties, basically exempting them from strict enforcement of the ordinance. He didn’t get support. Mayor Haynie and Councilman Mullaugh favored the “do nothing” approach for now. “It’s a problem,” Mullaugh said, “but leave it alone.”

Councilman Rodgers said the city must decide how to define “public recreation,” which is one of the permitted uses. Weinroth reiterated his disagreement. “We’ll wait for the lawsuit.” Haynie said more discussion would come in January. For now, the city will try to make the property accessible for watching the boat parade on Dec. 17. What an excellent use of a $7.5 million investment.



Chabad East Boca Ruling

Residents of Boca Raton’s beachfront neighborhood who opposed Chabad East Boca in its current form likely got their way last week.

Without offering an opinion, the 4th District Court of Appeal rejected the chabad’s attempt for review of a circuit court ruling that the city council wrongly approved a museum/exhibit hall called “My Israel” as part of the project. Zoning rules did not allow museums in that area – the proposed site is 770 East Palmetto Park Road – but “places of assembly” were allowed, and the city contended that a museum is a “place of assembly.”

The three-judge circuit court panel agreed unanimously that the city’s interpretation was “erroneous.” As such, the judges said, the city approved a site plan that provided inadequate parking. Nearby residents had complained about potential traffic problems from tourist buses, even though the approval limited the capacity of buses and the use was less intense than what a retail project – also allowed — might have brought.

The chabad could appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, but the unfavorable lower court rulings make the chance of success negligible. Mayor Haynie told me Monday that the chabad would have to “process a new site plan without the My Israel Center.” The chabad’s rabbi, Ruvi New, told me this week that he intends to do that. “We will submit a new plan that complies with the court ruling. At this point I choose to look forward.”

This is the second time Chabad East Boca has failed in its attempt to build a larger facility than the one it uses near Sanborn Square. In 2008, the city changed parking requirements that effectively blocked the chabad’s plan to build in the Golden Triangle near Mizner Park.

A federal lawsuit claims that the city conspired with Chabad East Boca to move the facility out of the Golden Triangle and into the beach district. The plaintiffs first argued that the city violated the First Amendment by helping a religion. After a judge ruled against them, the plaintiffs refiled with a new argument – the project would threaten public safety by increasing the risk of flooding.

The stench of anti-Semitism ran through the debate over Chabad East Boca, especially when some opponents warned of a danger to the area’s “character” from a group of Orthodox Jews. I’m told that the federal lawsuit will continue, despite the state court ruling that presumably addressed most of the critics’ concerns. When the congregation files a new application, we might find out for sure what has driven the opposition.



Pile of Pennies

The Boca Raton City Council may not have taken a position on the one-cent sales tax plan, but the city will have to make some decisions soon. Voters approved the one-cent, 10-year increase, and the new revenue will start coming to the cities every month, starting in March.

Unlike many cities, Boca Raton didn’t compile a wish list of projects because the city had no infrastructure backlog. According to a city spokeswoman, the Financial Services Department is researching “to find out what the projections will be and when the funds will be distributed.” The most recent projections from Palm Beach County were that Boca Raton could expect to get between $5 million and $6 million annually, depending on sales tax activity countywide. The share to cities is based on population.

The spokeswoman said staff “will prepare some options for council to discuss and then await direction. The options might include replacing existing funds for capital improvement projects or new projects, and there will also be discussion and decisions on the citizens’ oversight committee” for monitoring spending.

In Delray Beach, where the city commission voted to support the tax, City Manager Don Cooper said infrastructure projects are in the Capital Improvement Plan, which includes “potential sales tax projects.” Though the new fire station/training center on Linton Boulevard was on the sales list, Cooper said the project has been financed – “depending on final cost” – without sales tax revenue and is scheduled for replacement in 2017.



Regulation for Sober Homes

Delray Beach and Boca Raton had very different reactions to the new joint statement from the federal government on group homes.

Delray is moving quickly to consider new sober home regulation. Mayor Cary Glickstein said the city has retained a special counsel – Terrill Pyburn, who served as interim city attorney in 2014 – on “revised ordinances” that he expects will go to the Planning and Zoning Board next month and to the city commission in January.

In an email, Glickstein said, “We feel the joint statement provides legal justification for substantive changes in our ordinances as to how we can fairly and legally review, approve and deny reasonable accommodation applications based on Delray-specific data and justifications, as described in the joint statement and existing case law.” Cities must offer “reasonable accommodation” to those with disabilities – such as those in recovery from addiction – but city officials believe that they now can begin to regulate what has been an unregulated and often rapacious industry.

In Boca Raton, however, City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser downplayed the significance of the new statement, which U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel had made a priority. At Tuesday night’s city council meeting, Frieser called the new statement it more of a recap, adding that it still sets “a very high bar” for local governments.

Admittedly, sober homes are much more of an issue for Delray Beach. Still, Glickstein is a land-use lawyer by training. On this issue, the Boca Raton City Council might want to get a second opinion.



A New Urgent Care Center

As expected the Boca Raton City Council, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, unanimously approved Boca Raton Regional Hospital’s application for a downtown urgent care center. The facility will be in the former Blockbuster Video store just west of Federal Highway on Palmetto Park Road.



 

Happy Thanksgiving. May you spend it with those you love. If they’re traveling, may they have a safe trip.

Randy Schultz has lived in Boca Raton since 1985 and has worked as a journalist in South Florida since 1974. He spent 37 years at The Palm Beach Post, the last 23 as editorial page editor. He has written the City Watch blog for Boca Raton Magazine since February 2014. He also writes a weekly oped column for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.