Planning Boca’s Next Half-Century, Delray’s Big Decision
Boca Raton is about to receive two important consultant reports.
One will be from EDSA, the company that is helping the city design its waterfront upgrade/access plan. On Wednesday, EDSA will hold a second community meeting at the Downtown Library from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. According to a city spokeswoman, EDSA has completed about 60 percent of its work. The contract is for roughly $100,000.
Mostly likely, the company will report to the council in September on ideas for properties covered in the study: 11 parks, Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, the Wildflower property and Ocean Strand, the 15 undeveloped acres east of the Intracoastal Waterway that the city bought but Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District now owns.
The city council then will choose from among the ideas and decide which ones should be priorities. One factor will be money. The spokeswoman said Wednesday’s discussion would not include “cost projections.” It will just be “another opportunity for the public to give input.”
Some work has been paid forward. Plans for Lake Wyman/Rutherford Park and Phase 2 of Hillsboro El Rio Park are underway. The council almost certainly will want to do something with the Wildflower and Silver Palm Park, though hopefully mindful of the restrictions imposed by the ordinance voters approved last November.
I will have more after Wednesday’s meeting.
Downtown Boca campus meeting recap
Next month, the council likely will hear from Song & Associates about the downtown campus. Though the November ordinance brought much attention to the waterfront, the campus has far more potential to shape Boca Raton for the next half-century.
On June 21, Song held a similar meeting to what EDSA will hold on Wednesday. About 75 people, according to a city spokeswoman, showed up to offer their ideas for the roughly 30 acres that include City Hall and the area around it.
Song divided downtown into quarters—in the French Quarter sense, not the 25 percent sense. The quarters are centered around Mizner Park, Sanborn Square, East Palmetto Park Road, Plaza Real, Camino Real and City Hall. There were lots of pictures and graphics. Attendees placed dots to indicate their answers.
The questions were correctly basic: Should City Hall remain part of the downtown campus? Should the police station? Should there be a large public space? If so, should that space be a gathering plaza, open, natural or a formal garden? Should there be a fitness trail? A place for public assembly? What about a community garden? There’s one near the Downtown Library, but a Tri-Rail station for the proposed Coastal Link would displace it.
And, of course, Song asks whether there should be a performing arts center and about the idea of holding festivals and other events in the new space. That leads to the future of the Mizner Park Amphitheater, which Song also asked the attendees. Finally, there were questions about the community center, ballfields, skate park and tennis center that are part of those 30 acres.
Most interestingly, there were questions about possible road changes, such as extending Northeast Second Street to Crawford Boulevard. Street reconfiguration is one aspect of the campus I hadn’t considered, but if the goal is to think big, Song was right to add it. In a related transportation issue, Song asked about the importance of a parking garage as part of the campus. The council discussed that idea at its last meeting.
It was unfortunate that comparatively few residents turned out for the session on the campus. The potential cost is much higher than for the waterfront plan. One source of money could be proceeds from the sale of the western golf course. Another could be revenue from the one-cent sales tax increase. Boca Raton has not earmarked that money, which the city is placing in a trust fund.
It’s summer, of course, but it would have been a mistake to wait until fall. The council will give more shape next month to the campus proposal, at which time interest probably will pick up—at least that’s the hope. Of all the projects before Boca Raton, the campus could bring the most benefit if done well and the most harm if done badly.
Fire & police contract
Three years ago, fire and police contract negotiations were a major issue in Boca Raton. This year, they’re routine, which is a good thing.
During the 2014 mayoral election, Susan Haynie stressed the need for public safety pension reform. She defeated Anthony Majhess, a Palm Beach County firefighter who had the union’s backing. Haynie and a like-minded city council then sought concessions on pensions from the unions. City administrators had concluded that unfunded pension liabilities represented the biggest long-term threat to Boca Raton’s finances.
Negotiations got tough. The city council declared an impasse, at which point the council could have gone to a hearing and imposed its own terms. Eventually, however, the city and the unions agreed to benefit changes that will save Boca Raton nearly $100 million through 2044. Jeremy Rodgers was the only council member to vote against approval of the contracts. He wanted more concessions.
In the 2014 budget year, the city’s contribution to the fire pension fund was almost $8 million. This year, it’s about $3.2 million and is projected to be $4.5 million next year. The union and the city also worked together to get the city another $500,000 a year from the state program that provides money for municipal fire and police pensions.
With that work done, there’s little drama at this point about new contracts. Meetings with the unions are planned for this month and next, but no one expects controversy. Perhaps the biggest sign of change from 2014 is that the unions backed Haynie this year for re-election.
Delray parking options
The Delray Beach City Commission has a menu of options on parking. Indeed, the menu is almost too long.
Last week, the staff presented the commission with— count ‘em—13 proposals for the conversion to metered parking throughout the city. There are four choices for the beach district east of the Intracoastal Waterway and nine options for west of the Intracoastal to Swinton Avenue.
Further, there are options within each proposal. How much to charge? When to charge? How long to let people park? The Downtown Development Authority, whose members have much at stake with the choice, met Monday to discuss the options and asked for more time before making a recommendation.
According to the staff presentation, the downtown options could net the city between roughly $1 million and nearly $2.3 million. Not surprisingly, Option A would set the highest rates.
From Monday to Friday until 4 p.m., the hourly rate on Atlantic Avenue would be $2 and the limit would be two hours. After 4 p.m. daily and after 4 p.m. Friday through the weekend, the rate would be $3.50, also for two hours. There would be no charge between 12 a.m. and 8 a.m. Elsewhere downtown, the rate would be $2 or $1 per hour, with four-hour limits in some places and unlimited time elsewhere.
Parking lots would charge $1.50 per hour for a maximum of four hours between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Parking in the city garages would be $1 hourly and unlimited. As the staff had suggested, one goal is to encourage more turnover on Atlantic Avenue—to help businesses—and to get more people into the garages, away from the avenue.
On the barrier island, one option is to keep the current system. It would bring the city about $740,000 per year. The most expensive of the four options would net Delray Beach an estimated $1.8 million. On-street parking between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. would cost $3 per hour on weekdays and $4 per hour on weekends, with a two-hour limit. Lots would charge $2 per hour with no time limit.
Yearly permits would be available. Rates would range from $240 for all public parking except on Atlantic Avenue to $95 for garages and $60 for the beach.
Commissioner Jim Chard told me Monday that the plan needs to be simple enough for residents to understand and for the city to administer. Revenue, Chard said, is “third or fourth” in importance to him. First is reducing congestion, including from people circling as they look for someplace to park, and second is generating more money for local businesses.
Chard believes that the commission wants to make a decision in time for tourist season. “It’s been batted around for 10 years,” Chard said, “and there’s a sense that we should be able to get this done in a month or two.” There is agreement for the switch to meters among the DDA, the chamber of commerce and the parking management advisory board. Now, it’s about the details.
The commission could go for the most money, but would higher rates drive people away from the city and from merchants? How would the plan apply to employees as opposed to residents? Those are just two of many questions. When you consider that the commission can mix and match the options, the possibilities really mount. So does the pressure on the commission to get it right.
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