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Delray Commission Candidates Form Political Alliances; Other Boca/Delray News

city watch

Delray commission alliances revealed through campaign contributions

The candidates for Delray Beach’s March 14 election are set — and so are the political alliances.

Seats 2 and 4 on the city commission are up. Both are open, after Jordana Jarjura announced that she would not seek re-election in Seat 4. Jarjura, though, remains in the election indirectly.

Four candidates are competing for Seat 2, from which the term-limited Al Jacquet resigned last fall after his election to the Florida House. The two main candidates are Kelly Barrette, who operates the TakeBackDelrayBeach Facebook page, and Jim Chard, who serves on the city’s site plan review and appearance board.

Jarjura first nominated Chard to fill the Seat 2 vacancy. Chard’s contributions include $500 from Gulf Building, Jarjura’s current employer, and $500 from the Conrad & Scherer law firm, Jarjura’s previous employer. One of the partners at Conrad & Scherer is former Delray Beach City Attorney Noel Pfeffer.

He resigned last year after clashing repeatedly with commissioner Mitch Katz and Shelly Petrolia. Jarjura supported Pfeffer. Barrette’s contributions include $100 from Katz and $500 from Anthony Petrolia, Shelly Petrolia’s husband.

Chard has raised about $36,000, including a $10,000 loan from himself. He has received $500 from two former Delray Beach mayors — Tom Lynch and Jeff Perlman — $250 from Reggie Cox, chairman of the community redevelopment agency and $100 from former commissioner Fred Fetzer.

Bruce Bastian, who lost to Katz in 2015 — Jarjura supported Bastian; he entered early, while Katz got in late — gave Chard $250. County Commissioner/former Delray Beach City Commissioner Mack Bernard gave Chard $100. Chard has $1,000 in contributions from Colony Hotel owner Jestena Bouhgton, developer Scott Porten and Woo Creative, whose owner is civic activist Ryan Boylson. Chard also received $1,000 from Atlantic Bakery.

Barrette has raised about $16,000, including a $4,000 loan. She has received $3,000 from Delray Beach accountant Warren Roy, his wife and Roy’s firm.

At this point, there’s less money in the Seat 4 race, but the alliances are similar.

Shirley Johnson is opposing Josh Smith. He sought appointment to the Jacquet vacancy. Katz and Petrolia supported him. Jarjura and Mayor Cary Glickstein wanted Yvonne Odom. Jarjura switched her support to Odom after the first round of voting.

Johnson has received $100 from Odom. Like Chard, she got $250 from Reggie Cox. She also received $500 from Herman Stevens, who serves with Cox on the CRA board, and former city commissioner Angeleta Gray. Johnson seems to be drawing support from African-American residents who urged the commission to name Odom over Smith for the Jacquet vacancy. In a sign that she might get help from Chard supporters, Johnson received $1,000 from Scott Porten.

As for Smith, he got $500 from Anthony Petrolia. He also received $1,000 from Ken MacNamee, who regularly sends long, angry emails to city commissioners and administrators. MacNamee does not target Katz and Petrolia, but he has been especially critical of Glickstein and Jarjura, and regularly bashed Pfeffer.

So Katz and Petrolia hope to form a four-person majority with Barrette and Smith. Though Glickstein, Katz, Jarjura and Petrolia at one time worked for and otherwise supported each other, that reformist alliance frayed. We will see next month what new alliances emerge.

FAU loses round in Tracy lawsuit

Florida Atlantic University has lost its latest attempt to dismiss the lawsuit by conspiracy theorist James Tracy.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Robin Rosenberg ruled against FAU on all counts. In December, Rosenberg gave the university a split decision, but allowed Tracy the chance to file a new complaint that clarified his contention that FAU violated his constitutional rights by firing him. Though Tracy attracted notoriety by claiming on a website unrelated to FAU that mass murders such as the Sandy Hook School shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing didn’t happen, the university fired Tracy for failing to report his outside blogging.

Rosenberg’s ruling doesn’t address the merits of Tracy’s case. It states only that he now is presenting a case the court can hear. Among other things, Tracy claims that FAU President John Kelly and other administrators used him as the “poster child” in a campaign to weaken the strength of the faculty union.

In this time of supposed “post-truth” and “alternative facts,” it will be interesting to see if this case touches on the question of what happens when constitutionally protected speech is demonstrably false. Would the Sandy Hook parents who lost their children have to testify? Or a trial could turn on more technical matters related to Tracy’s contract with FAU. The university has seven days to respond to Tracy’s new complaint.

Mr. Sandman, bring me some sand

I wrote recently about Boca Raton’s successful search for domestic sand to be pumped onto the city’s beaches when they erode, as they inevitably do. One missing element was when Boca will need the next such project, after completing work on the central beach. According to a city official, the south beach will need more work in 2020. The northern and central beaches are scheduled for renourishment in 2024, but the work could come sooner if storms cause more erosion.

FAU student district update

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The Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council has submitted its report on the proposed student district for FAU along 20th Street east of the campus. Administrators are reviewing the report and will prepare a presentation for the Boca Raton City Council.

As with other projects, the city needs to start things moving. The report recommends that the city begin work this spring on a University District Master Plan, which would cover the area bounded by Spanish River Boulevard, Interstate 95, Glades Road and Federal Highway. 20th Street might emerge as the spine, but the study should look at the broader area.

As FAU implements its plan to have all freshman and sophomores live on campus, the university and the city should collaborate on “management and oversight” of off-campus housing complexes like University Park. Notably, campus police would be the first responders, with the city’s department assisting if needed.

The university also should apprise the city regularly about its plans for a hotel and conference center on Glades Road at the southeast corner of the campus. To improve relations between FAU and the city, the planning council recommends that they establish a chapter of the International Town & Gown Association. The planning council also recommends that city council members and FAU trustees meet regularly. According to the report, the last such meeting took place in 2009.

Mayor Susan Haynie and council members Jeremy Rodgers, Scott Singer and Robert Weinroth attended the “visioning session” in December that produced this report. So did FAU President John Kelly. The report notes that creating a student district would help FAU as it seeks to become more of a traditional, residential campus and would help the city by getting students out of single-family neighborhoods. City staff is busy, but this issue should get to the council as soon as possible.

Possible Ag Reserve land sale a slippery slope

Yet another threat to the Palm Beach County Agricultural Area has emerged.

Eighteen years ago, voters taxed themselves $150 million for land purchases to keep as much farming in the 22,000-acre reserve as possible. Now the South Florida Water Management District wants to sell the largest parcel bought with that public money. That would be the nearly 600-acre tract known as the Pero Farms property.

The South Florida Water Management took a 61 percent share in the property, envisioning it for use as a reservoir. The district no longer wants to build the reservoir and wants to sell the land, supposedly for other Everglades restoration projects. The county commission — by a supermajority of five votes — must agree to any sale. If the commission refuses, however, the district might be able to force a sale through the courts.

Supporters of the sale argue that it could include an easement limiting use of the land to farming. Critics respond that a future commission could remove the easement, which is true. Like the critics, I would point out that the district wouldn’t be so desperate for money if Gov. Rick Scott hadn’t ordered such deep budget cuts.

One option, of course, would be for the county to buy out the water management district. On Tuesday, the county commission heard a report that the district had appraisals valuing its share at roughly $9.1 million but might be willing to sell for 90 percent of that appraised value. That would mean a payment of $8.2 million. There are no related bond funds available.

Keeping development off that land is crucial. If it goes, so might the rest of the reserve. For now, the water management district should back off.

Downtown shuttle service needs a replacement

All candidates in Boca Raton’s election agree that downtown needs a shuttle/trolley service. The Downtowner, whose revenue came from advertising on the company’s vehicles, recently decamped to Tampa. At Monday’s meeting, city council members acting as the community redevelopment agency will discuss options for a replacement shuttle and other services, such as a shared bicycle program.

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.
Randy is married to Shelley Huff-Schultz, director of Access PC at Pine Crest School. Their son, Alec Schultz, and daughter-in-law, Meredith Schultz, are lawyers in South Florida. They live in Boca Raton and have three children: Carter, 8; Preston, 6; and Lila, 4. Their daughter, Mara Howard, is a veterinarian practicing in Hunt Valley, Maryland. She lives with her husband, Chip Howard, in Reisterstown, Maryland.
Zucaro

Another Legal Issue For Al Zucaro

Zucaro

Al Zucaro

Rockland County lawsuit

Three weeks ago, I reported on the six lawsuits that had been filed since 2007 in Palm Beach County against Al Zucaro, who is running for mayor of Boca Raton against incumbent Susan Haynie. All six actions claimed that Zucaro had failed to repay loans or debt.

In addition, Zucaro faces a 12-year-old lawsuit in Rockland County, New York, alleging that he wrongly took $137,500 from the estate of his late uncle, Thomas Imperato. In November 2014, the court ordered Zucaro to return the money “due to the fraudulent actions of the respondents,” who were Zucaro and his late wife. Zucaro appealed. The court heard arguments two weeks ago.

Zucaro’s legal adversary has been Angela Amengual, the executrix of Imperato’s estate. Zucaro earlier tried to block the will from going to probate, claiming that Amengual exercised “undue influence” over Imperato.

In 2007, the Surrogate’s Court of Rockland County rejected Zucaro’s argument. Zucaro appealed that ruling, and lost. The four-judge appellate panel ruled unanimously in 2009 that Amengual had “made a prima facie showing that the will was not procured through undue influence” and admitted the will to probate. The judges found Zucaro’s “remaining contentions without merit.”

Eight years ago, a Palm Beach County judge ordered Zucaro to repay a business investor $406,000. Zucaro has not paid any of that judgment. He settled lawsuits with his former in-laws alleging that he had failed to repay $40,000 in loans for property in Georgia. He settled a lawsuit with another investor to whom Zucaro owed $150,000.

To that record, add a case in which a judge called Zucaro’s action “fraudulent.” On Monday, I asked Zucaro, among other things, whether the money from Imperato’s estate remained in an account from which Zucaro could return it. I also asked, given the judge’s ruling in the Imperato case, what qualifies him to be mayor.

Zucaro would not answer the questions. Instead, he said in an email, “This is an ongoing legal matter, and we fully expect to win the appeal. The fact is Boca Raton residents are far more concerned about the lack of media coverage regarding the mayor’s voting record on rampant overdevelopment and traffic gridlock than they are about any personal issues of (sic) Mayor Haynie or myself.”

Kellyanne Conway couldn’t have ducked the questions any better.

And BocaWatch?

When he became a candidate, Zucaro said he would give up his role as publisher of BocaWatch. He claims that the website is operating independently of him.

That supposed separation never seemed believable. Now, to no one’s surprise, BocaWatch has endorsed Zucaro. The endorsement referred to Zucaro’s “challenges in his business dealings,” yet dismissed them because “Mr. Zucaro never suffered censure or suspension of his legal license during this time in his career.”

Which is beside the point. None of the lawsuits challenged Zucaro’s actions as a lawyer. None of the lawsuits, which included a foreclosure on his home, included a complaint with the Florida Bar. Judging by these comments, we can presume that Zucaro remains in control of BocaWatch and that the website will continue its role as a Zucaro campaign publicist.

Golf course update

As I had reported would happen, Lennar has offered to sell the closed Ocean Breeze golf course to the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District. The company wants $24 million for the roughly 200 acres.

The deal actually would be with Lennar and the Wells Fargo subsidiary that owns the property. Lennar has a contract to buy it, based on being able to develop land that under a deed covenant must be a golf course. Only a majority vote of units within the surrounding Boca Teeca community could allow development. The sale would include the land and all buildings, one of them a former hotel.

Any sale also would involve the city, which would have to provide financing. The beach and park district board received the offer at its meeting last Monday and voted to proceed. One day later, the city council passed a resolution agreeing with the district’s decision to buy Ocean Breeze but without agreeing to the $24 million price or committing the city on financing.

In addition, Lennar raised its offer for the city’s western golf course from $41 million to $73 million, comparable to the offers from Compson Associates and GL Homes. Lennar’s first offer included a conveyance of Ocean Breeze for $1 million, meaning that the city would have netted $31 million. Lennar’s new offer removes most conditions related to how much development Palm Beach County might approve on the western course.

Given how quickly things are moving, next Tuesday’s long-planned joint meeting between the council and the district board comes at a perfect time. The 10 elected officials have much to discuss about Ocean Breeze.

The biggest issue is how much Ocean Breeze is worth. That Wells Fargo subsidiary paid only $4 million for the property just 13 months ago. In December 2004, however, it sold for $7.2 million. The buyer was a company that got approval to develop part of the course, but the project never was built.

GL Homes, which was first to offer $73 million with basically no conditions, is pushing back against the Lennar offer. Marty Steinberg, a GL lawyer, sent a letter to the district last week challenging the $24 million figure. GL has hired two appraisers who valued Ocean Breeze at $5 million and $3.2 million, respectively. Steinberg called the $24 million offer “exorbitant.”

Steinberg further disputed any suggestion that including the buildings justified a higher price. GL also paid for an appraisal of the hotel site, which was $2.2 million. As GL sees it, the collective property is worth no more than $7.15 million. The district, Steinberg wrote, has “no legal basis to justify” a $24 million sale. GL does not object to the sale itself but to the price.

Acquiring the land would not be the only expense. The district and city would have to clean up the property and return the course to playing condition. Some council members have talked about making Ocean Breeze a championship course, which would further increase the cost. Since the city already runs the western course, there might be no net increase to the operating budget, but Northwest Second Avenue, which is the main entrance to Boca Teeca, might have to be widened. Boca Teeca residents have opposed it.

From the city’s standpoint, the other key question is how to finance the purchase. Should the council seek a bond issue? If so, should the voters decide? Would the city net enough money—perhaps toward the downtown campus project—to justify a purchase that mostly would help Boca Teeca residents who don’t want Ocean Breeze developed?

There is much to consider in a short time. The council doesn’t meet this week. The district will hear an update at its meeting tonight. The joint meeting is in seven days.

Councilman Robert Weinroth said, “I’m frustrated by the speed of this.” District board member Craig Ehrnst called the $24 million figure “cheap” compared to the cost of Sugar Sand Park but “incredibly expensive” compared to the appraisals GL Homes produced.

“So, now,” Ehrnst said, “the due diligence period begins.” He has sent questions to Art Koski, the district’s executive director, and expects “a mountain of paper, attorney work product and financial analysis. I have faith that more information, with the support of Boca Teeca homeowners will help us arrive at a good conclusion. There should be no rush, as we have time.”

Practically speaking, the district can’t move without the city’s blessing. It has taken more than a year to schedule the council-district meeting. The participants will need to hear a lot of answers on Ocean Breeze.

Campaign finance reports

Candidates in Boca Raton’s March 14 election have submitted their January campaign finance reports. The candidate with the most money continues to be the candidate in the most lopsided race.

That would be Seat A incumbent Scott Singer, who through January had raised about $83,000, roughly $17,000 of it coming last month. Singer faces Patricia Dervishi, who filed on the last afternoon of qualifying and has received just $25 in contributions. She has loaned herself $1,000.

Though Zucaro also filed on the final day, he roughly matched Haynie in fund-raising for the month. Each received about $18,000. Zucaro also gave his campaign a $10,000 loan. Haynie has raised a total of $60,000, including a $500 loan. Three years ago, she raised $150,000 against Anthony Majhess.

Among Zucaro’s notable contributions are $1,000 from James Hendrey, who led the petition drive against a restaurant on the Wildflower property—across the Intracoastal Waterway from Hendrey’s home. Zucaro received $1,000 from the Shoppes on 18th Street, which is controlled by his wife, Yvonne Boice. He also got $1,000 from Frank Chapman, who ran unsuccessfully for city council in 2012 and 2015. Like Zucaro, Chapman had a list of legal issues on which I reported.

In January, Haynie received $1,000 from Angelo Bianco of Crocker Partners, which supports changes that would allow residential development in the Midtown neighborhood. Crocker owns several properties in Midtown, most notably Boca Center. Haynie also got $1,000 from another Midtown property owners, Cypress Realty. She received $1,000 from attorney Bonnie Miskel, who represents another Midtown property owner—Town Center Mall—and Elad Properties, which has applied to build the Mizner 200 condo project.

In the race for the open Seat B, Andrea O’Rourke continues to lead all three candidates, though her $72,000 total includes $25,000 in loans. Andy Thomson has no loans in his total of $55,000, and last month he received roughly twice as much as O’Rourke—$12,000 to $6,000. Emily Gentile has $53,000, more than half of that in loans. Gentile raised just $4,200 in December and January combined. The firefighters union endorsed all three Seat B candidates and gave each $1,000. Thomson got the endorsement of the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce and the group’s $1,000 donation.

Office of Inspector General website

At today’s county commission budget meeting, Inspector General John Carey will propose that the county allow him to hire 10 extra investigators and auditors over the next three years.

Ideally, the Office of Inspector General already would have the 40-person staff deemed adequate to oversee the county, the 39 cities, the Solid Waste Authority and the Children’s Services Council. That would happen if the cities were paying their share, as voters demanded seven years ago.

But 14 cities, including Boca Raton, sued over the method of payment. They lost at trial, but won on appeal, after which the county declined to take the case to the Florida Supreme Court. So either the cities pay voluntarily, the county pays or the office remains at just 23 positions.

Though Carey makes a persuasive case, the county has many budget demands. The cities’ resistance remains a throwback to the days of “Corruption County.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.
Randy is married to Shelley Huff-Schultz, director of Access PC at Pine Crest School. Their son, Alec Schultz, and daughter-in-law, Meredith Schultz, are lawyers in South Florida. They live in Boca Raton and have three children: Carter, 8; Preston, 6; and Lila, 4. Their daughter, Mara Howard, is a veterinarian practicing in Hunt Valley, Maryland. She lives with her husband, Chip Howard, in Reisterstown, Maryland.
hotel concerns

New Hotel Concerns, More Atlantic Crossing Talks; Other Delray/Boca News

New hotel? Not so fast

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The Kolter Group had every reason to think that things would go smoothly as Delray Beach reviewed the company’s plans for a second hotel in the city.

After all, Kolter built the stylish Hyatt Place in Pineapple Grove, which city leaders see as a complement to the area. Early reviews have been good for the Hyatt Place in downtown Boca Raton. The company’s new Delray project is on the east side of Federal Highway, two blocks south of downtown. Kolter has assembled four properties for its proposed 150-room hotel.

And on Jan. 25, the project was before the Site Plan Review and Appearance Board with a staff recommendation for approval. What could go wrong?

A lot.

City planner Candi Jefferson presented the project. Jefferson said it complied with all codes. The architectural style—Masonry Modern—is one of seven allowed in the area. It will be a green building. The height will be 54 feet, what the rules allow.

Then Dan Sloan went to the mike. He’s president of the Marina Historic District Homeowners Association. He lives in the condo that is northeast of the site. Sloan said Jefferson had “dropped the ball” by not giving the HOA enough advance notice and the project and the SPRAB meeting. He predicted “massive gridlock.” He said the project could “destroy” traffic-calming measures the HOA hopes the city and/or Edwards Companies will pay for to reduce the traffic impact from Atlantic Crossing.

Sloan also criticized the design. Masonry Modern might be code-compliant, Sloan said, but he wants a look more like Mallory Square or the Seagate Hotel & Spa.

Bradley Miller, the land planner who was representing Kolter, quickly learned that the board members were on Sloan’s side. When Chairman Roger Cope asked for comment, there was a pause. Vice Chairman James Chard then said he saw “another Atlantic Crossing in the making.” Let us assume that Chard is sincere. He’s also running for city commission next month, and there are votes in the marina district.

Chard, though, was not an outlier. Other board members weren’t so forceful, but they didn’t agree with the defense Jefferson offered in response to Sloan’s comments. She said no rule requires neighborhood notification—just that the city post all information on its website. As for the complaints about traffic, “these things happen” when people live near districts zoned for certain uses.

As the discussion proceeded, the sticking point remained the design. One board member used the expression my daughter does when she spots someone making a poor fashion choice: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” Cope summed things up when he said, “We’re just looking for a better piece of architecture.”

Last week, I spoke with city planner Anthea Gianniotes, to whom the city has assigned the Kolter project. She gave a wonderfully coherent analysis of how the proposed hotel reveals the difficulty of achieving city goals that are worthy but sometimes contradictory.

Sloan is upset that the hotel would have only one access point from Federal Highway. Traffic also would go through an alley on the north side of the hotel, and that could be a problem for nearby residents.

As Gianniotes points out, however, Delray Beach also wants to make Federal Highway—northbound, in this part of town—more walkable. That means limiting the number of turn-ins. Hotel guests, Gianniotes said, will want to walk to Atlantic Avenue for dinner.

Though it would not be as long as the project just to the west that includes the Aloft hotel, the Kolter hotel would stretch along Federal Highway. Board members weren’t crazy about that, but Gianniotes notes the obvious: Delray Beach’s four-story height limit. If property owners can’t go up, they will go long, and the rules allow it.

Gianniotes told me that the city was working to “facilitate” meetings between Kolter and the residents, perhaps over the weekend. I’ll update this topic when there are developments.

Prices rising

If nothing else, the hotel project shows how quickly the price of downtown Delray Beach land is rising.

Those properties, which comprise just a bit more than an acre, sold for $685,000 in November 2005, when the owner wanted to build townhomes. Kolter bought the property last year for nearly $3 million four months ago.

Delray Place update

If Kolter wants to find something hopeful after that gobsmacking at SPRAB, the company still is much better shape than the owners of Delray Place.

They wanted to expand their project, at Linton Boulevard and Federal Highway, to the south. Residents of Tropic Isle protested that the expansion would route all traffic onto the narrow street that is the entrance to their neighborhood. SPRAB agreed, and rejected the site plan.

Delray Place appealed, and lost at the commission. So the site plan has been denied. The owners must wait a year to ask again for that plan. Obviously, they instead need to come up with a different plan.

Atlantic Crossing session

Last week, the Delray Beach City Commission spent nearly as much time during the regular meeting as during the special meeting on Atlantic Crossing.

A 90-minute regular meeting in Delray is unusual. So is a 90-minute meeting related to a lawsuit. One can assume that commissioners kept up the venting we heard last month when they rejected the proposed Atlantic Crossing settlement. Edward Companies was ready to accept the terms, but as commissioners peeled back the details, they found it lacking.

Executive sessions are closed to the public, but the city’s lawyers probably heard that the commission wants any settlement linked to Atlantic Crossing’s development agreement. The focus of the rejected settlement was an access road to Federal Highway, but the commission has many other issues. One of the most important is parking, since all of it will underground in an area that floods.

City Attorney Max Lohman said another Atlantic Crossing executive session would happen soon.

Special events update

Here’s an update on Delray Beach’s attempt to focus special events downtown on residents, not visitors.

The city recently hosted its annual fashion week. In praising all the volunteers, Mayor Cary Glickstein made it a point to note that most of the attendees were locals.

Interestingly, last weekend was Garlic Fest’s debut at John Prince Park after being a fixture in Delray. Glickstein and city commissioners cited the event as one that helped the city at one time but had become more of a hassle.

Organizer Nancy Stewart told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that Garlic Fest outgrew Delray Beach “years ago” and so moved to the larger site. That didn’t sound like the Nancy Stewart who tried so hard to stay in Delray Beach despite the new special events policy.

Looking for sand

Boca Raton has a sand hunter.

OK, not really. But Jennifer Bistyga, the city’s coastal program manager, said the city does have a consultant who performs what Bistyga calls a “geotechnical sand search.” The goal is to find places— technically called “borrow areas”—from which Boca Raton can pump sand to renourish the city’s constantly eroding beaches. Bistyga anticipates that the consultant will identify 9 million cubic yards by the end of the year. Assuming the city can get permits, Bistyga said that amount would be enough to last nearly half a century.

Boca Raton’s current work is on the Central Beach. Work was delayed last week because high seas meant the dredge couldn’t get here from Palm Beach. When the work is done, the city will have used its two borrow sites for the project. Thus the need to seek more for the central and northern beaches. For the southern beach, Bistyga said, the city can keep relying on the source that has supplied sand for three decades.

If that long-term source of sand holds up, Boca Raton will be lucky. Coastal cities in Broward and Miami-Dade counties have used up their domestic sources and want to buy sand from foreign countries, the Bahamas being the most obvious.

Federal law, however, doesn’t allow such purchases. So the region’s congressional delegation—in a rare show of bipartisanship—is backing the Sand Acquisition, Nourishment and Development Act—or SAND Act. It would repeal the ban on foreign purchases and, as Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm, puts it, “mitigate potential legal battles over domestic sand sources between northern and southern Florida counties.”


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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.
Randy is married to Shelley Huff-Schultz, director of Access PC at Pine Crest School. Their son, Alec Schultz, and daughter-in-law, Meredith Schultz, are lawyers in South Florida. They live in Boca Raton and have three children: Carter, 8; Preston, 6; and Lila, 4. Their daughter, Mara Howard, is a veterinarian practicing in Hunt Valley, Maryland. She lives with her husband, Chip Howard, in Reisterstown, Maryland.
golf course

Golf Course Update, Candidate Forum Observations & Other News

Golf course news

golf course

Monday could bring a major development regarding golf in Boca Raton.

The Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District will hold a special meeting at 5:15 p.m. District Director Art Koski told me Wednesday that he expects to receive a purchase agreement this week from Lennar to buy the Ocean Breeze course at Boca Teeca. District board member Craig Ehrnst told me the same thing. The board would consider it Monday.

Ehrnst said the meeting had been called to address questions from the city about Ocean Breeze, including the issue of whether the district and/or the city could take the course by eminent domain if the city sold the western golf course. Obviously, there would no need for eminent domain if Lennar sold the 200 acres.

Lennar is one of three bidders for the western course, with GL Homes and Compson Associates. Lennar has offered $51 million, minus $10 million for Ocean Breeze. The company has a contract to buy it, and would convey the property to the city and/or the district. I’d been hearing that Lennar would raise its offer. GL and Compson are offering $73 million. I’m told that Lennar’s proposed purchase price would be at least $20 million, which would be double the value in the current offer.

Even if district board members get and like the offer, they would have to consult with the city. How much would it cost to make Ocean Breeze playable? Would the course have 27 holes, or fewer? Who would operate the course, and what would it cost? How much would the city net from selling the western course? Does the whole deal make sense for the city at large, or just for the Boca Teeca residents who don’t want Ocean Breeze developed?

“My understanding,”Ehrnst said in an email, “is, conceptually, a lot of details and due diligence needs to be worked out. As the details evolve, if the city does not provide funding it will not happen. It’s all still very fresh.”

I will have more after the meeting.

Candidate forum

We learned something during Monday night’s Boca Raton Federation of Homeowner Associations city council candidate forum. Among them:

  • We learned that the Seat B race to succeed Mike Mullaugh will be lively.
  • We learned that the Seat A race won’t be lively.

Let’s start with the lively.

Happily, all three Seat B candidates—Emily Gentile, Andrea O’Rourke and Andy Thomson—are qualified. All can speak credibly on most issues.

Most in the audience at the city complex on Congress Avenue were supporting O’Rourke. No surprise there. The federation long has been the counterweight to the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce, and O’Rourke is the candidate who talks most about overdevelopment. She got her strongest applause when talking about traffic and saying that she would “hold developers accountable.” The applause was more polite when Thomson, on the issue of development, said a city is “growing or dying.”

O’Rourke also is the candidate most linked to BocaWatch’s Al Zucaro, who is running against Mayor Susan Haynie. O’Rourke served as the website’s editor, and has received $2,500 from Zucaro’s wife, Yvonne Boice, and entities linked to Zucaro. BocaWatch’s core audience is in the Golden Triangle and some of the beach district. Many spectators Monday night wore O’Rourke and Zucaro campaign buttons.

So conventional wisdom would be that the race sets up most favorably for O’Rourke. She has support from BocaWatch. She has a strong base in the Golden Triangle, where she lives. O’Rourke will hold those voters, the theory goes, while Gentile and Thomson split the rest.

Based on Monday night, Gentile and Thomson therefore intend to portray O’Rourke as a provincial candidate whose appeal is deep but not broad and whose concerns are too narrow.

O’Rourke, Thomson said, “has represented her neighbors to the detriment of everyone else.” Regarding traffic, Thomson said the city had a plan to relieve congestion at Northeast Fifth Avenue and 20th Street, which is the northern boundary of the Golden Triangle. “Do you know who stopped it?” Thomson asked rhetorically. A Golden Triangle resident who has donated to O’Rourke’s campaign shouted back, “The neighbors, who opposed it!”

True enough. In 2012, Boca Raton turned down $38.2 million from the state to widen Federal Highway to six lanes from Glades Road to the Delray Beach line. The project also would have reconfigured the five-way intersection at Federal and 20th Street. Thomson was arguing that the council harmed the rest of the city while placating the Golden Triangle.

Similarly, Gentile defended the city’s attempt to put a restaurant on the Wildflower property. Many Golden Triangle residents—including O’Rourke—and some in the beach district across the Palmetto Park Road Bridge opposed it. That opposition, Gentile said, cost the “90,000 residents” of the city $40 million in lease payments. Gentile’s number was high, but she had made her point.

Of course, many in the audience didn’t want to hear those points. And O’Rourke stuck to the traffic issue, even taking a dig at Mayor Susan Haynie. “We’ve had a mayor for 16 years who’s a traffic specialist,” O’Rourke said, “and we’re stuck in traffic.” Haynie has been mayor for just three years, but O’Rourke had made her point.

Lively. And the vote isn’t until March 14.

And more on that…

Gentile did get it wrong on a question about whether the city or the county would provide fire-rescue service to any neighborhoods the city annexed from the county. Gentile said the county would continue service, and then doubled down on her answer when challenged.

In fact, the city would provide service. If annexation caused the county to lay off any firefighters, the city—at the local union’s request—would hire them. That policy was in place when Boca Raton annexed Town Center Mall and some surrounding properties in 2003.

Gentile emailed me Tuesday morning to correct what she called a “confusing” answer.

Seat A

By far, the most unimpressive candidate at Monday night’s forum was Patty Dervishi, who is running against incumbent Scott Singer in Seat A.

Many of Dervishi’s answers were rambling and unfocused. She tried to link overdevelopment to what people pay in school taxes. She falsely accused developers of wanting to “take away the beaches.” Without offering any examples, she accused the council of “breaking the zoning code” and developers of “trying to get into our parks.” She also said Boca has “too much crime,” a comment that seemed to puzzle the two police officers in the room. Dervishi also regularly mispronounces “city council” as “city consul.”

Singer called himself “a leader who listens.” He should have no trouble getting a second term.

Mayoral debate

The mayoral debate between Haynie and Zucaro was mostly predictable. Zucaro talked about Boca Raton’s problems, and Haynie talked about the solutions she has offered and plans to offer, accusing Zucaro of offering nothing but complaints.

Outside of BocaWatch, Zucaro has had no civic involvement since moving from West Palm Beach seven years ago. Haynie has served on the council almost continuously since 2000 and began working for the city in 1974. She’s president of the Florida League of Cities and serves on the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Haynie caught Zucaro in obvious contradictions. He complains about development and traffic, but criticizes the council for not trying to recruit more businesses, which would bring more of both. He says the city has many problems, but says businesses would want to move because Boca Raton is so great.

Zucaro did raise an issue that he may use often. He cited the talk that Haynie, if she wins, will leave the mayor’s job early to run for the term-limited seat of County Commissioner Steven Abrams in 2018. Zucaro pledged a “36-month commitment”—the term is three years—and, ideally for him, a “72-month commitment.” Haynie mostly evaded the issue.

I fact-checked one exchange on traffic. When Haynie touted her work in securing money for the Interstate 95 interchange at Spanish River Boulevard, Zucaro countered that the road would be “failing” when the interchange opens. A “failing” road is one with Level of Service “F,” meaning the most congested. “A” is the least congested.

After consulting with city staff, Haynie emailed to say that Spanish River Boulevard is currently Level of Service “D” under county calculations and likely will drop to “E” when the interchange opens this year, slightly above the traffic volume needed for a “D” rating. Boca Raton’s comprehensive plan allows nothing worse than an “E.”

P&Z Board agenda

On tonight’s Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board agenda is a proposed code change that is designed to end a lawsuit.

In 2012, Boca approved an ordinance to allow a student-only housing classification. The project in question was University Park, near Florida Atlantic University. The city sought the designation as a way to cluster college students, rather than have them dispersed among single-family neighborhoods.

Last year, the Fair Housing Center of the Palm Beaches sued the city, alleging that the ordinance prevented married students with children from living in such complexes. The city’s legal department believes that the ordinance is sound because it doesn’t expressly prohibit the children of students.

But it also doesn’t expressly allow them. So the proposed change would add “qualifying non-students”—the new legal name for a toddler—to those who can live in university housing. The legal department does not believe the change would undercut the intent of the ordinance, and would end the legal challenge.

The iPic issue

Ipic and the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency still have not closed on the sale of the property that would be home to Fourth and Fifth Delray.

The closing had been planned for Jan. 31, but iPic didn’t get its permit from the Florida Department of Transportation. The permit will apply to work on Southeast Fifth Avenue—Federal Highway—on the east side of the theater/office/restaurant complex.

A state official said the permit application came too late for that Jan. 31 deadline. Several departments must review it. CRA Director Jeff Costello said Wednesday that he had been “talking to the team” at FDOT. Closing is now set for the end of the month. “We’re almost there.”


Missed the last City Watch? Not to worry. Visit our Community/City Watch page, and subscribe to the magazine for the best coverage of Boca and Delray. 

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.
Randy is married to Shelley Huff-Schultz, director of Access PC at Pine Crest School. Their son, Alec Schultz, and daughter-in-law, Meredith Schultz, are lawyers in South Florida. They live in Boca Raton and have three children: Carter, 8; Preston, 6; and Lila, 4. Their daughter, Mara Howard, is a veterinarian practicing in Hunt Valley, Maryland. She lives with her husband, Chip Howard, in Reisterstown, Maryland.
Zucaro

The Lawsuits Against Al Zucaro

Zucaro’s history of financial woes

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Al Zucaro.

Al Zucaro, who is challenging Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie in the March 14 election and has criticized Haynie and the city council for what he considers poor management decisions, has been sued six times since 2007 in Palm Beach County for failure to repay loans or debt. The plaintiffs included investors, former in-laws and a mortgage and credit card company.

In 2007, Zucaro and World Trade Management, an entity related to his World Trade Center license, were sued for failing to pay back loans in 2003 from a company called DR Palm Beach, owned by Joseph Della Ratta. After a two-day trial in November 2009, Circuit Judge Don Hafele ordered Zucaro and World Trade Management to pay roughly $406,000. Zucaro appealed and lost.

According to the plaintiff’s lawyer, Zucaro has not paid the judgment. In an emailed response to a question about the judgment, Zucaro called Della Ratta a friend and said the two are in “positive negotiations. . . We have discussed the terms of a settlement, and we plan on working it out amicably.”

In 2010, Zucaro filed a motion seeking a protective order in the Della Ratta case. According to records, Zucaro worried about disclosure of information “related to Defendants’ financial records and conditions,” and claimed that the plaintiff’s attorney had threatened to “humiliate and embarrass” Zucaro and his wife, Yvonne Boice. They had married the year before. The judge directed that any information related to Boice remain confidential.

Della Ratta was not the only one who claimed to have lost money on Zucaro’s World Trade Center venture. In 2010, Nathan Schnurman sued Zucaro, World Trade Management and International Council of Advisors — another related entity — for failing to repay a $150,000 loan made in 2008. In the lawsuit, Schnurman alleged that Zucaro failed to disclose the Della Ratta lawsuit when seeking money from Schnurman. State records list Zucaro and Boice as agents of International Council of Advisors.

Schnurman’s lawyer, William Pruitt, told the Palm Beach Post that Zucaro pitched the investment as a “sure bet.” Zucaro denies that. When the deal went bad, Pruitt said, the semi-retired Schnurman had to sell his house because he had fallen behind on the mortgage payments.

Zucaro sought to dismiss the case on technical grounds. The judge dismissed one count but left the four others in place. A year ago, the parties reached a confidential settlement.

Zucaro married Boice about a year after his first wife, Maria Bello Zucaro, had died. In March 2010, Maria Bello Zucaro’s parents — Avelino and Caridad Novoa — sued Zucaro. So did Maria Zucaro’s aunt and uncle — Charles and Eva Hutton.

The plaintiffs claimed that they had loaned Zucaro a combined $40,000 — $25,000 from the Huttons and $15,000 from the Novoas — so Zucaro could buy property in the Georgia mountains. Zucaro, according to news reports, had been making only interest payments on the loans. After his wife died, the plaintiffs said, Zucaro had stopped making any payments.

Zucaro moved to dismiss the lawsuits, claiming that there was no written contract or evidence to show that the plaintiffs had made the loans. “I can’t believe he would do this to me,” Hutton, then 83, told the Palm Beach Post. “I’m upset. I’m hurt.” The Novoas’ son said the $15,000 was “a relatively large percentage of their savings. It’s very hard. They feel betrayed.”

According to the Post article, Zucaro offered to deed the property to the Huttons and the Novoas. He said they declined. Hutton said he wasn’t interested in taking over mortgage payments. The Novoas’ son agreed. “Are you kidding me?” he was quoted as saying. The article reported that the Novoas relied on Social Security and a small savings account.

In May 2010, Zucaro settled both cases. Court records do not give specifics. According to property records in Rabun County, Georgia, Zucaro bought the property in 2005 for $182,000. The property was in his name only. In May 2010, however, the property was sold for almost $206,000, and the names of the Novoas, the Huttons and Maria Bello Zucaro appear in the records.

Zucaro would not discuss the details. “There is a confidentiality clause in the settlement,” he said in an email. “This matter has been settled.”

In October 2010, BAC Home Loans Servicing filed a lawsuit to foreclose on Zucaro’s home in Jupiter. He had bought the property in March 2006 — just as the real estate boom began moving to bust — for $515,000.

Zucaro’s defense was to question whether he actually had signed the note. In October 2012, BAC was awarded summary judgment — basically winning on the facts without the need for a trial. In January 2013, the property was sold at auction for $207,000.

Finally, Citibank sued Zucaro in August 2011 for $30,300 in credit card debt. Zucaro sought to dismiss the case by claiming that a “statement is not an account.” In July 2013, Zucaro settled the case for $9,000.

I asked Zucaro if the lawsuits should be a campaign issue. He responded that I was “digging into issues that occurred 10 years ago during a time of economic challenges for all. . . The residents of Boca Raton want to hear about solutions to the challenges we face, not ‘gotcha campaigning’ and gutter politics.”

In fact, a review of Zucaro’s record is not “gutter politics.” He is seeking the most important elected office in Boca Raton, and if Haynie had such a record — which she doesn’t — he surely would make it an issue. Her voting record is an issue, and I will review that before the election.

One other point:

The loan that resulted in the $406,000 judgment dates to 2003, before the “economic challenges” that began in 2007. Zucaro also has regularly touted his business background. When he was up for a county economic advisory board in 2007, his bio called him “one of South Florida’s most captivating voices on international trade and commerce. . .” I asked Zucaro if he could cite an example of his World Trade Center venture producing a successful trade-related deal. He did not respond by deadline for this blog post. If he sends a response, I will report it. I will also review the record of the other mayoral candidate in upcoming columns.

Campaigns in full swing

You can tell that it’s election season in Boca Raton.

Tuesday morning, I was at the Starbucks in Mizner Park to meet Councilman Scott Singer, who’s running for re-election in Seat A. Inside at one table was Emily Gentile, who’s running to succeed Seat B Councilman Mike Mullaugh, with Anthony Barbar, chairman of the Florida Atlantic University trustees. Five feet away at another table was Andrea O’Rourke, who’s also running in Seat B, with two Boca residents.

Mullaugh endorsement

Speaking of Mullaugh, he has endorsed Gentile as his successor.

Mullaugh told me Wednesday that he considers Gentile the best-qualified because she has run her own business and served on many city and civic boards. Gentile, O’Rourke and Andy Thomson, the third candidate, approached Mullaugh directly or indirectly seeking his support. “I was going to just let it play out,” Mullaugh said, but he decided to go public because he believes that electing Gentile “is in the best long-term interest of the city.”

Misleading email

Sometimes, of course, candidates don’t tell the whole truth about endorsements.

O’Rourke sent out an email Wednesday touting her supposed endorsement by the city’s firefighter union. O’Rourke didn’t mention that the union has endorsed all three candidates in the Seat B race.

Candidate forum

The Federation of Boca Raton Homeowners Association will hold its candidate forum from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday night at the city’s municipal complex on Congress Avenue north of Yamato Road.

More troubling news for South Florida Water Management District

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), the most important public agency in this area, is losing the department’s second-in-command.

Sources had told me that Assistant Executive Director Len Lindahl was leaving. A district spokesman confirmed that Lindahl will work for a Palm Beach Gardens company called Special District Services that “creates and manages special taxing districts” in Florida. These entities are different from counties and cities, but they levy their own taxes for specific purposes. One example is the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District.

If you wonder why I’m including this item, the water management district matters very much to everyone in this area. Without the flood control and water supply the agency provides, South Florida as we know it doesn’t exist.

Lindahl actually knows how the water management district works and has much related experience. Executive Director Pete Antonacci is a lawyer by training whom Gov. Rick Scott forced the district board to hire in late 2015 after the governor forced out Antonacci’s predecessor, who also was very qualified but dared to suggest that the Scott-ordered budget cuts could hurt the district.

Antonacci’s new priority is opposing a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to which lake water could be released, thus sparking the St. Lucie estuary. U.S. Sugar, one of Scott’s patrons, opposes the reservoir. Lindahl’s departure means that the district has less engineering expertise. Politics has become the main qualification.


Missed the last City Watch? Catch up on all of Randy’s blogs here

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.
Randy is married to Shelley Huff-Schultz, director of Access PC at Pine Crest School. Their son, Alec Schultz, and daughter-in-law, Meredith Schultz, are lawyers in South Florida. They live in Boca Raton and have three children: Carter, 8; Preston, 6; and Lila, 4. Their daughter, Mara Howard, is a veterinarian practicing in Hunt Valley, Maryland. She lives with her husband, Chip Howard, in Reisterstown, Maryland.
Atlantic crossing

Atlantic Crossing Settlement Postponed and More From Boca/ Delray

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       So much for Atlantic Crossing Settlement 1.0

When I spoke to Mayor Cary Glickstein and commissioners Mitch Katz and Jordana Jarjura on Monday morning and early Monday afternoon, all were ready to approve the settlement, which was designed to end the developer’s lawsuit that began in June 2015.

All three, however, noted that before Tuesday night’s meeting they would be asking questions of the city’s special counsel, Jamie Cole, and City Attorney Max Lohman. The lawyers held no executive session – closed to the public – to brief commissioners on the settlement and hear comments. Instead, the lawyers met individually with Glickstein, Katz, Jarjura and Shelly Petrolia.

Apparently, there weren’t enough good answers to those questions. After much griping, the commission postponed a decision. For how long? Maybe until the next scheduled meeting on Feb. 9. Or maybe sooner, if the lawyers can work things out after this crack-up.

From the developer’s standpoint, the main element in the settlement was Atlantic Crossing agreeing to add back an access road to Federal Highway. That road would require four waivers. Some speakers praised the commission for getting Edwards Companies — Atlantic Crossing’s developer — to return the road. Others complained that the road design remains inadequate.

From the city’s standpoint, however, there were other issues. Would there be $500,000, as previously discussed, for improvements to Veterans Park, which would adjoin Atlantic Crossing to the east? What about traffic calming measures that residents of the marina district had sought? What about a roadway and alleys the city would convey. Would the city get them back if the project didn’t get built?

Cole said the settlement didn’t cover those issues. The December mediation session that led to the settlement proposal, he said, covered only the access road. Some of the questions, Cole said, “came up today” — meaning after the lawyers had negotiated.

Commissioners acted poleaxed. “It never occurred to me that the Veterans Park and traffic issues, which were vital, wouldn’t be in the settlement,” Jarjura told me Wednesday. “This is all we can get?” Glickstein asked, rhetorically, at the meeting. “I have no idea which parts fit where, Petrolia complained. “We’re doing this on the fly,” which they were.

In an email Wednesday morning, Glickstein elaborated on his comments. Cole, he said, had presented “an incredibly presumptuous and sloppy settlement proposal, in that it resolved the pending litigation but left wholly unaddressed the myriad of public and commission concerns regarding significant on-site operational issues – both during construction (parking and traffic) and as a completed project.”

Those “operational issues” include traffic and garage collection. Notably, they also include the planned underground parking garage. The area around Veterans Park habitually floods during high tides. In 2014 and 2016, winter rains caused serious flooding. A bad storm surge could leave water in the garage. If that happened, would the developer or the city be liable?

Planning, Zoning and Builder Director Tim Stillings told me previously that construction plans “will need to address how the structure/property will handle water intrusion/waterproofing/water retention.” Those aspects of the project are not part of site plan review, and the city has not discussed them with Atlantic Crossing.

Such matters, Glickstein said, “are typically codified in a developer’s agreement that provides start-to-finish clarity for developer, city staff and the public, and should have been attached to the settlement proposal. What was submitted was a sloppy settlement agreement tied to a 2011 developer’s agreement relating to a different site plan.”

Though frustrated, Glickstein added, “Shame on me for not knowing what we had and didn’t have.” He acknowledged that he didn’t review his notes until Monday afternoon, a process that “led me back to the gaping hole in this. Settlements are intended to provide clarity for the parties, which in this context includes the public. The proposed settlement failed in that regard, and I don’t think it’s asking too much after two years and $400,000 that Mr. Cole would have done a better job with this.”

Despite Tuesday’s outcome, the commission still wants to work out a settlement — soon. Though Edwards Chief Operating Officer Dean Kissos said the company would continue the lawsuit, his statement was tempered. Kissos called it “disappointing to have yet another delay after working in good faith, devoting substantial time and money, to reach a proposed settlement by again providing the city what it requested” — the access road.

As discussion ended Tuesday and everyone filed out, Glickstein said, “We’ll get there.”

Blame game for Atlantic Crossing

So who is to blame for Tuesday’s Atlantic Crossing debacle? Commissioner Jarjura probably came closest when she told me, “I guess I blame all of us.”

Cole, having been the litigator from the start, should have made sure to go over all the issues with the commission. Lohman, who is new to the city, should have scheduled an executive session, given the importance of the case. Such a session might have delayed things, and Atlantic Crossing wants a quick resolution. Now, however, the delay may be even longer. And the commissioners should not have assumed that what they thought was in the settlement actually was in the settlement.

 

Delray’s city clerk leaving in February

Delray Beach’s sandbox political culture has cost the city a valuable employee.

City Clerk Chevelle Nubin is leaving at the end of February for a similar job in Wellington. Nubin lives in Greenacres, so she will have a shorter commute, but Acting City Manager Neal de Jesus touched on the real reason for Nubin’s departure during his comments Tuesday night.

De Jesus noted that Delray Beach receives an inordinate amount of broad public records requests from individuals, as opposed to those from reporters. In many cases, de Jesus said, the “work products” sought in the emails don’t exist. When city staff can’t find material that doesn’t exist or doesn’t respond quickly enough, the individual attacks the staff. Public records requests go through the clerk’s office.

I oppose efforts by cities to weaken Florida’s public records law. I also acknowledge that some public records requests from residents amount to self-promotion and are absurdly far-reaching. Delray Beach seems to get more than other cities, but Delray Beach also has a political subculture that offers far more gripes than ideas.

De Jesus made clear that he has told staffers to process public records requests as quickly as possible without disrupting the work of the city. Imagine, he said, a mechanic who normally could do a brake job in an hour. If he was continually bothered, it might take three days.

Whatever happens from here, however, Delray Beach’s very competent city clerk will be gone.D

Initial action made toward sober homes

Things did go normally Tuesday night when the city commission approved the first of what officials believe will be several changes to begin regulating sober homes. Other proposals likely will wait until the city’s outside attorney has reviewed Delray Beach’s existing rules and reported on where the city might go next. Mayor Glickstein said Daniel Lauber, whom the commission hired last week, probably would complete his report in three or four months.

Boca to study waterfront land

Despite the lawsuit challenging the waterfront ordinance voters approved in November, Boca Raton is moving ahead with its study of waterfront land.

The goal is to increase public access. During this first phase, the consultant basically will take inventory, documenting the condition of all public waterfront and how much use each parcel gets. The consultant will evaluate the potential for added use, produce maps and offer ways to link the properties, such as a water taxi.

In addition, the consultant will assemble floodplain and watershed maps. That aspect of the study will be crucial, given the rise of sea levels. A city spokeswoman said the report should be ready by mid-to-late February.

Fighting for a hole-in-one

To understand how much developers covet open land in coastal South Florida, witness the fight over who would get the 200 acres that are Boca’s 27-hole municipal course on Glades Road next to the Florida Turnpike.

On Monday, the city council got an update on the three offers, from Compson Associates, GL Homes and Lennar. After all the obligatory pleas from residents of Boca Teeca that the city and/or the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District buy the community’s Ocean Breeze course, the lawyers took over.

An attorney for Lennar, which has an option to buy Ocean Breeze but wants to convey it to the city as part of a deal to get the western course, complained that the debate had “devolved.” He means that the council is discussing whether the city could sell the western course to the highest bidder — which Lennar isn’t — and take Ocean Breeze by using eminent domain. That would be the worst outcome for Lennar.

The staff material for Monday’s workshop included a primer on eminent domain from the city’s legal office, though City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser said it was “not an exhaustive analysis” of whether the tactic would work with Ocean Breeze. A lawyer for Lennar cautioned that eminent domain would be costly, lengthy and ultimately unsuccessful. GL Homes argues otherwise.

A lawyer for GL Homes followed up by accusing Lennar of seeking unfair advantage by consulting with the beach and park district. Its board would like to buy and operate Ocean Breeze. To GL Homes, that would amount to a subsidy for Lennar, whose offer is $32 million less than the GL Homes offer. GL Homes presented an appraisal that values Ocean Breeze at $3.2 million, not the $10 million Lennar is using. Lennar contends that the price would amount to a discount.

Not to be left out, a lawyer for Compson accused GL Homes of using “alternate facts” and “substantially distorting” Compson’s offer. A mailer from GL Homes had listed the Compson bid at $47.5 million in large type while noting in small type that the company’s second offer was slightly higher than what GL Homes offered.

A second GL Homes mailer, which arrived Wednesday, compares the GL offer only to the Lennar offer. The mailer notes that $32 million difference and suggests ways that the city could spend the money, such as on “beach renourishement” (sic) and eight other items.

GL Homes wants the council to take its mostly guaranteed $73 million now and worry about Ocean Breeze later. Councilman Jeremy Rodgers expressed support, but Monday’s meeting was a workshop. There was no vote. Council direction was to wait for the beach and park district’s answers to the city’s questions.

For now, the golf course issue is acting as a lawyers’ stimulus program. But the volume is rising quickly over the issue of golf course real estate. A Lennar vice-president called GL Homes “horrible” for “trying to steal our property.” Boca Raton must take care not to turn a potential windfall into a legal brawl.


Missed the last City Watch post? Visit our Community/ City Watch page, and subscribe to the magazine for the best local coverage of Boca and Delray. 

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.
Randy is married to Shelley Huff-Schultz, director of Access PC at Pine Crest School. Their son, Alec Schultz, and daughter-in-law, Meredith Schultz, are lawyers in South Florida. They live in Boca Raton and have three children: Carter, 8; Preston, 6; and Lila, 4. Their daughter, Mara Howard, is a veterinarian practicing in Hunt Valley, Maryland. She lives with her husband, Chip Howard, in Reisterstown, Maryland.
atlantic crossing

Atlantic Crossing Settlement Imminent and Other News of Note

Atlantic Crossing settlement on agenda

home_twoA settlement of the Atlantic Crossing lawsuit is on the agenda for tonight’s Delray Beach City Commission meeting. If approved and carried out, the legal bills would stop and construction might begin.

Under the agreement, Atlantic Crossing would add a two-way road from Northeast Seventh Avenue, within the project, to Northeast Sixth Avenue/Federal Highway. The city would approve permits and work out any issues that arose during review of the modified site plan. The city would ensure conveyance to the developer of alleys and that stretch of Seventh Avenue that are part of the project, and Atlantic Crossing would drop the lawsuit in which the company has been seeking $40 million in damages.

If a settlement is supposed to leave no one completely happy, that’s how Mayor Cary Glickstein sees it. “It’s not a victory,” Glickstein told me Monday, and he was in the city commission majority that last April voted to deny Atlantic Crossing’s appeal of an unfavorable decision by the Site Plan Review and Appearance Board. That action put the city and the developer—Edwards Companies, of Columbus, Ohio—on course for a trial.

Though most members of the current commission believe that Atlantic Crossing is too big for those two blocks west of Veterans Park, a previous commission approved the project in December 2012, with conditional uses for height and density. Given that reality, the commission’s priority has been to restore an access road from Federal Highway that had been part of the 2009 site plan. When the commission approved a new plan in January 2014, that road was gone. The idea is that the road would reduce traffic congestion in the area.

Though the settlement would restore the road, the city’s traffic consultant actually recommended a one-way road. Glickstein said an exit road west could help traffic circulation, but the eastbound entrance road “would just take cars into a parking garage.” Commissioner Jordana Jarjura, who was not part of the majority last year, agreed that the two-way road might not be helpful.

Still, Glickstein and Jarjura said they would vote for the settlement, even though the alleys and road apparently would go back to the city if Atlantic Crossing flipped the project or if the project did not get built. Glickstein likes that this version of the road would be wider, but he nevertheless wonders how much the road would help.

Commissioner Mitch Katz is more optimistic. With the settlement, he said, Atlantic Crossing has given the city “everything I had asked for” regarding the road. A change in an entrance to a parking garage, he said, will make the two-way road function as the commission had hoped. The traffic consultant “never got a chance to look at a configuration like this.” The access road also would have a 10-foot pedestrian arcade on one side.

Whatever the details, the settlement essentially would leave Delray Beach and Atlantic Crossing about where they were three years ago. With better communication and/or more willingness to negotiate out of court, the project might be complete. Instead, Delray Beach has spent nearly $400,000—as of November—on legal bills, according to what Jarjura told me. One can assume that Atlantic Crossing has spent much more.

As Glickstein acknowledged, though, he started that clock running. “It was just such a bad site plan.” He still believes that the project could cause “long-term problems for that part of the city.” Would he do it again? “Is (the legal cost) worth it to get this improvement? I guess.”

Atlantic Crossing has been fighting the city in federal and state court. From what I heard Monday, the settlement came out of a court-ordered, December mediation hearing in the state case. Atlantic Crossing came to the hearing with the proposal, and the attorneys worked from there.

The city’s legal team briefed commissioners individually, not in executive session. City Attorney Max Lohman surely would not have put the settlement on the agenda unless he was certain of three votes, which he seems to have. Glickstein worries about the cost of “10 years of litigation in state court.” Jarjura never thought the city’s case was that strong, so she will support the settlement. Katz said, “It would be very hard for me to vote against” the settlement.

That would be enough, even if Shelly Petrolia maintains her opposition. Petrolia did not return a message seeking comment.

If nothing else, the settlement would end the frustrating status quo. Glickstein doesn’t like the two blocks “lying fallow in such a key part of town.”

In a statement, Edwards Chief Operating Officer Dean Kissos said, “Obtaining the final approvals for Atlantic Crossing’s approved plan has been a lengthy, unnecessarily delayed process. Edwards remains committed to putting the litigation behind us and focusing on realizing this site’s tremendous potential. We look forward to working with the city to see that the process runs smoothly, and to getting Atlantic Crossing underway.”

Uptown Atlantic news

An Atlanta company has contacted the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency to express interest in the three blocks that were to have been Uptown Atlantic.

In a Jan. 11 letter to CRA Director Jeff Costello, Dawson Company Executive Managing Director Dennis Pemberton said the company had conducted “preliminary research on your property. . .” The CRA has assembled nearly seven acres east of the Fairfield Inn on West Atlantic Avenue. The CRA chose Uptown Atlantic in 2013, but last month terminated the purchase agreement.

For Dawson to get involved, the CRA would have to seek new bidders. The other option is to first contact the other two bidders from 2013 to see if either or both remain interested. The CRA tabled the issue at its Jan. 12 meeting because only four of seven members were present. The next meeting is Thursday.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle referred to the company’s founder, Harold Dawson Sr., as a “real estate legend” when he died in 2012. He mixed business success with civil rights accomplishments. Such a record could matter if Dawson gets involved, since Uptown Atlantic is considered essential to redeveloping the minority areas around West Atlantic.

Delray South appeals

The appeals of Delray Place South also are on the city commission agenda tonight. The developer almost certainly will lose, and will have to start over on a plan that would not disrupt the adjacent Tropic Isle neighborhood.

Midtown update

The scheduled second presentation last Thursday of changes that would add residential development to Boca Raton’s Midtown neighborhood didn’t happen at the city’s planning and zoning board.

An attorney representing the landowners seeking the changes asked for the delay so the applicants could address questions from residents who live around the 300 acres in question. The attorney did note that, contrary to what some speakers claimed, the changes would not add new commercial development. “This is not a free-for-all.”

Some residents of Paradise Palms, south of Boca Center on Military Trail, said they opposed the changes, despite a letter of support from the community. Board chairman William Fairman advised the speakers to research “transit-oriented development” to better understand the proposal. The changes would seek to have residents live near their jobs or public transit.

Before the delay, the city council had been scheduled to introduce the ordinances related to the proposal. Mayor Susan Haynie said Monday, however, that she would remove those items from tonight’s meeting agenda.

There’s a lot going on with this issue. I’ll have more about Midtown this week or next week.

Golf course news

Monday’s discussion showed again how much the Boca Raton City Council doesn’t know about the possibility of selling the western golf course and acquiring the Ocean Breeze course at Boca Teeca.

As usual, Boca Teeca residents filled the council chambers and some overflow seats to tout the benefits of making Ocean Breeze the city’s new course. Doing so would force all city taxpayers—and possible taxpayers of the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District—to solve a problem for Boca Teeca.

Residents there don’t want the course developed. Lennar, which has an option to buy the property, closed the course last summer, but couldn’t develop unless the residents lifted a deed restriction under which golf is the only allowed use. For now, the covenant prevents development, but sentiment could shift. Also, the property will deteriorate if nothing happens.

Council members didn’t have many questions after Deputy City Manager George Brown updated them on the three offers. Brown said it could take 18 months for the county, within which the course lies, to decide how much development it might permit. Two offers are contingent on how much the bidder could build.

But there remains no study of whether a golf course —whether 18 holes or 27 holes—at that north-end location could succeed. There is no good estimate of how much it would cost to clean up environmental problems on the 200 acres and make the course ready for play. Does the city want a championship-level course or something less? The beach and park district doesn’t yet know the impact on its budget of acquiring and running the course. The only estimated value of Ocean Breeze—$10 million—is from Lennar. How real is that number?

Despite the questions, there are 2,000 votes in Boca Teeca, and this is an election year. Between now and March 14, I would expect no decision but lots of continued public support for public acquisition of Ocean Breeze.

GL Homes

GL Homes, which is one of three bidders for the western course, struck the first public relations move.

In a mailer that arrived over the weekend, GL claimed to have made “the best offer, hands down.” The company has an arguable point. Its $73 million offer includes only one contingency: an inspection of the course. If nothing turned up, the city would get that $73 million regardless of how much development the county approved.

Mostly, the ad was truthful. The headline asked, “Imagine what the city could do with an extra $25.5 million?” The ad gets that figure by subtracting Compson’s $47.5 million from GL’s $73 million. (The offer from Lennar would net the city $41 million.) In fact, the Compson offer is a bit higher than the GL Homes bid, which the mailer notes in small print. Correctly, that footnote says, the higher offer came late.

Kudos to Deutch and Frankel

Good for Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel. This area’s members of Congress attended Friday’s inauguration of President Trump. About 70 of Deutch’s and Frankel’s Democratic House colleagues boycotted the event.

However one feels about the results of an election, lawmakers should respect the office. Democrats surely would have criticized Republicans if they had boycotted a Hillary Clinton inauguration, as they surely would have. Deutch and Frankel now have more credibility when they criticize Trump on policy, as they surely will.


Missed the last City Watch? Visit our Community/ City Watch page to catch up on news from Boca and Delray, and subscribe to the magazine for the best coverage of Boca and Delray. 

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.
Randy is married to Shelley Huff-Schultz, director of Access PC at Pine Crest School. Their son, Alec Schultz, and daughter-in-law, Meredith Schultz, are lawyers in South Florida. They live in Boca Raton and have three children: Carter, 8; Preston, 6; and Lila, 4. Their daughter, Mara Howard, is a veterinarian practicing in Hunt Valley, Maryland. She lives with her husband, Chip Howard, in Reisterstown, Maryland.
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Boca Downtown and Midtown Updates and Delray News of Note

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Downtown observations

Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie says of Al Zucaro, “I see a very different city than he does.”

Zucaro, the former publisher of BocaWatch who is running against the mayor, believes that “we’re in peril,” Haynie told me. “I see a city that is moving in the right direction” along with the city’s most important institutions, such as Boca Raton Regional Hospital, Florida Atlantic University and Lynn University.

Responding to Zucaro’s accusation that Haynie and others have allowed too much downtown development, Haynie said voters approved the blueprint and rules for downtown 24 years ago. “We are executing that plan.” To the idea that developers get whatever they want, Haynie notes the status of Mizner 200, the luxury condo proposed for Mizner Boulevard across from Royal Palm Place (above). “It is still not coming forward,” because of concerns that the project is out of scale for the area. Mizner 200 is on its third design, and has not had a formal hearing before the community appearance board.

Haynie said her role is to “mitigate the negative impact” from development. To most residents, that means traffic, even though downtown traffic counts are well under projections from when the city approved the plan.

Still, Haynie said she has asked the city’s consultant, Kimley-Horn, to study the idea of making Federal Highway one-way northbound and Dixie Highway one-way southbound, similar to Federal Highway through downtown Delray Beach. Haynie believes that the change could allow Boca Raton to narrow Federal Highway and make it more pedestrian-friendly.

Another criticism is that Boca’s downtown is short on public space beyond Sanborn Square. If re-elected, Haynie wants to address that issue through redevelopment of the city’s roughly 28-acre campus along Northwest Second Avenue. She envisions “significant green space,” perhaps including a performing arts center, and additional downtown parking.

Though the FEC railroad tracks and Dixie Highway separate the campus from Mizner Park and downtown, Haynie believes that creative design and planning could achieve her goal. She correctly points out that the campus area is within the downtown boundaries.

Overall, Haynie said she is running “on my record of service to this community for more than four decades. People want to be here.”

New campus

The city council just took the first step on that campus plan by hiring Song & Associates, a West Palm Beach architectural firm, to conduct what a city spokeswoman called a “needs assessment.”

The boundaries of the area are the downtown library, Crawford Boulevard, Palmetto Park Road and the FEC tracks. The city’s holdings include not just the city hall, the police station, the tennis center and the new and old libraries, but undeveloped properties. In addition to what the council might decide to add, another feature might be a commuter rail station on the FEC near the library.

Though Song & Associates had hoped to design a new campus, the council — and especially Mayor Haynie — didn’t like the responses to the original request for proposal and now wants something more ambitious. Haynie especially doesn’t like the firm’s design of other municipal complexes. The assessment shouldn’t take long to complete, and then it will be time to hear what the community hopes to see. One hopes there is agreement that Boca should do something special.

Midtown update

Changes that would transform Boca Raton’s Midtown neighborhood are back before the planning and zoning board at tonight’s meeting.

Though board members expressed support for the concept last month, they also had questions, most of them about parking. The proposals, which are contained in three items, have been altered to address those questions.

Basically, the changes would allow up to 2,500 residential units in an area where residential is not allowed. That area is the roughly 300 acres between Glades Road, Town Center Mall, Boca Center and the CSX railroad track. Most of the area was outside the city until Boca Raton annexed it in 2003.

In 2010, Boca Raton added the Planned Mobility Development element to the city’s comprehensive plan. The purpose is to cluster housing near job centers, and thus reduce the impact of traffic. The city has implemented the PMD designation in the northwest, but not in Midtown.

The changes don’t include specific projects, but the changes would allow landowners to submit projects. Cypress Realty has applied for one on the property that is now Strikes of Boca, but it hasn’t been able to proceed. In addition to Cypress Realty, the other landowners are Crocker Partners, Glades Plaza and Simon Property Group, which owns the mall.

Wendy Larsen is an attorney with GrayRobinson, which represents all the landowners except Simon. Larsen said the landowners could have sought 3,600 units if they had followed densities in other PMD areas. Instead, Larsen said, the landowners submitted their desired numbers and agreed on the lower figure.

According to Larsen, roughly 8,000 people commute each day to jobs within Midtown. For the area, she said, the PMD designation could be “a godsend, if it’s done properly.” Nothing could happen, Larsen said, before agreement on a shuttle system that would move people from these new homes to their workplaces. The shuttle also could serve the Tri-Rail station that is planned for just north of Boca Center.

The four surrounding neighborhoods support the changes. City staff recommends approval. There is time sensitivity. Crocker Partners owns the land for the station, and must notify Tri-Rail by March if the developer will convey the land. If that doesn’t happen, the station will drop behind schedule and could lose money to other area transportation projects. If the city doesn’t approve the changes, conveying the land won’t make sense for Crocker.

The ordinances are set for introduction at Tuesday’s regular city council meeting. A public hearing would follow two weeks later.

And what BocaWatch says

Because the planning and zoning board held that first Midtown hearing three days before Christmas, the conspiracy theorists at BocaWatch complained that the city was trying to rush through a big issue without public input. Similar suspicion attended the informal community appearance board hearing for Mizner 200 on Dec. 20, the night of the Boca Raton Bowl.

Councilman Scott Singer raised the issue at last week’s meeting—the first after the holidays. Not coincidentally, the conspiracy theorists oppose Mizner 200 and are skeptical of the Midtown proposal.

As it turned out, however, there was more quirk than conspiracy. Meeting schedules for both boards already exclude holidays—civic and religious—and events like the city election. After just three years, the Boca Raton Bowl date is not burned into the public mind. In a nod to the conspiracy theorists, however, the community appearance board will not meet if the game is on a Tuesday, which is the board’s regular meeting day.

For the record, though, residents of neighborhoods around Midtown knew that the issue was on that Dec. 22 planning and zoning board agenda. Some showed up to comment. Boca Raton also can’t schedule its business around everyone’s holiday vacations. Those who want to speak up need to keep up and show up.

Golf course update

On Monday, the Boca Raton City Council will get an update on the three offers for the western golf course and the options for acquiring the Ocean Breeze course at Boca Teeca. Because it’s a workshop meeting, the council can’t make a final decision. That’s good, since council members won’t have enough information to decide.

Most notably, the council won’t have responses from the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District to questions from the city about the district’s possible participation. Art Koski, the district’s executive director, sent a letter expressing the district board’s support. The city, however, wants such specifics as whether the district could buy and operate Ocean Breeze within its current budget and tax rate.

Two other key issues are whether the city or the district could take Ocean Breeze using eminent domain. Under the offer from Lennar Homes of $51 million for the western course, the company would convey Ocean Breeze to the city for $10 million, for a net price of $41 million. Lennar has a contract to buy Ocean Breeze from a subsidiary of Wells Fargo.

The offers from Compson Associates and GL Homes, however, are for $73,180,180 and $73 million. The GL offer isn’t even contingent on county approval of its residential project. Accepting one of those offers would require eminent domain to acquire Ocean Breeze. The council would have to determine if such a strategy would survive a court fight and how much Ocean Breeze is worth, since the city/district would have to pay fair market value.

Not surprisingly, GL Homes sent a letter to the city supporting the case for eminent domain. Also not surprisingly, Lennar rejects the idea that $10 million is too high a value for Ocean Breeze, even though the course has been closed since last summer and development couldn’t happen unless residents voted to lift a deed covenant. Indeed, Lennar calls the $10 million figure a “substantial discount,” though Deputy City Manager George Brown said the company would not disclose its contract price.

In another twist, Lennar offers to renovate Ocean Breeze. The price would be $11 million. That would lower still the net profit from the Lennar deal, although the city and/or district would face renovation costs if the council wants to keep an 18-hole course within the city.

Almost everyone continues to like the idea of selling one course and reopening another. But at this point, no one knows enough of those devilish details.

Side note

Here’s why that Compson offer isn’t just a round $73 million, like the GL Homes offer:

In Hebrew, 18 is the numeric alternative to the word chai, which means life. Gifts in multiples of 18 signify a wish that the recipient have a long life. Compson would donate about 25 acres of the western course to Torah Academy for a new campus. Inclusion of that land allowed Compson to make the final cut of bidders.

Great shape

Despite the talk of selling the western course, city employees who run it would like the public to know that the course is in top shape.

According to a city spokeswoman, the staff expected more rounds to have been played by now, given the mild winter. In addition, part of the Boca Dunes course on Southwest 18th Street was sold for development, which the golf staff believed should have driven more players to Boca’s municipal course. Whatever may happen, the staff wants golfers to know that they are welcome.

 Sober homes

The Delray Beach City Commission may have gone 0-for-2 in trying to fill Al Jacquet’s seat, but they took almost no time in voting unanimously Tuesday night to hire a lawyer to guide the city as it writes rules for sober homes.

And railway landscape barrier

Discussion of another public safety item took longer, but the commission settled on the railing-with-landscaping option for a barrier along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks north and south of Atlantic Avenue.

Adding a wall, said Acting City Manager Neal de Jesus, could create a canvas for graffiti. Adding benches could a) attract the homeless or b) make people wonder what Delray Beach is thinking. Commissioner Jordana Jarjura asked rhetorically why someone would plop down on a bench by a railroad track.

Mayor Cary Glickstein believes that the barriers along Atlantic will be more expensive than the staff predicted. The numbers in the backup material for the meeting are so low, he said, that they are “not close to being accurate.”

Nevertheless, Glickstein urged action, regardless of cost, to prevent another tragedy like the death last August of a Boca Raton who stumbled trying to cross north of the Atlantic Avenue crossing. A train struck her, causing fatal injuries. “We can cheap out,” he said, but “someone else is going to get killed.”


Miss the last City Watch blog? No problem. Click here for all the blogs, and subscribe to the magazine for the best coverage of Boca and Delray. 

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.
Randy is married to Shelley Huff-Schultz, director of Access PC at Pine Crest School. Their son, Alec Schultz, and daughter-in-law, Meredith Schultz, are lawyers in South Florida. They live in Boca Raton and have three children: Carter, 8; Preston, 6; and Lila, 4. Their daughter, Mara Howard, is a veterinarian practicing in Hunt Valley, Maryland. She lives with her husband, Chip Howard, in Reisterstown, Maryland.
Zucaro

Zucaro says he and Boca Watch will part ways and other election news and notes

Zucaro and BocaWatch

Al Zucaro

Al Zucaro

Apparently, Al Zucaro believes that what worked for Donald Trump could work for him.

Last week, the BocaWatch publisher challenged Mayor Susan Haynie in the March election. In an email announcing his candidacy, Zucaro said, “City hall has changed. Our city council has changed. Lately, it seems like we live in a city where the developers and special interests come first — and the interests of residents are forgotten about. No Longer (sic).”

That’s the sort of us-against-them language — word-for-word, in some cases — that Trump used. Zucaro, who served on the West Palm Beach City Commission in the last decade, called himself “then and now a powerful voice in protecting the interests of the people.” BocaWatch, Zucaro said, has “brought about significant change to Boca Raton.” He cast his campaign as the people against the “developer class.”

Also like Trump, Zucaro has a divestiture issue. Also like Trump, he’s dealing with it halfway.

Though BocaWatch isn’t a news organization, it nevertheless has served as Zucaro’s vehicle to raise his profile and could pose ethics issues if he kept his role as publisher while campaigning.

In an email to me Monday, Zucaro said he is “stepping down for the duration of the campaign from any editorial involvement with BocaWatch.” Other BocaWatch contributors will take over the duties.

The separation would seem to be in name only, like Trump supposedly having his sons run the Trump Organization independent of their father. Zucaro will retain ownership. Presumably, his allies will promote Zucaro and like-minded candidates. We will follow BocaWatch’s campaign coverage to see just how independent it is from the Zucaro campaign.

The Baronoff effect

In one way, Zucaro is an easier opponent for Haynie than Peter Baronoff would have been. Up until the qualifying period, which ended last Wednesday, there had been talk that the former city councilman would run against Haynie, with Zucaro’s blessing.

Though he now lives on the Intracoastal Waterway, Baronoff previously lived in the city’s northwest, which has become a voter stronghold. Baronoff also is Jewish, like many voters in that area. He might have pulled votes away from Haynie, who did very well in the northwest three years ago against Anthony Majhess.

Zucaro lives in the east, near the Golden Triangle. Still, Zucaro — himself and through his wife, Yvonne Boice — might be able to overcome his late start with a lot of self-financing. And there’s that BocaWatch audience, though it’s mostly those who supported Majhess.

What works on the national level, however, doesn’t always work on the local level. Haynie isn’t a faceless Washington bureaucrat. She’s been associated with Boca Raton since 1974. But after what Trump did, you can assume that Haynie is assuming nothing.

More surprise candidates

Zucaro was not the only surprise candidate who came late to Boca Raton’s election.

The other was Patricia Dervishi, who filed against City Council Seat A incumbent Scott Singer. Dervishi has served on no city boards or civic organizations, but she told me that she has attended council meetings for the last eight years. Minutes show that Dervishi has commented critically on development projects.

Her motivation? “Just being tired of how our city is being run.” The council, Dervishi said, “always sides with developers.” Like others in the Golden Triangle, Dervishi opposed Archstone, now Palmetto Promenade.

Dervishi said it is “not my intention” to run in tandem slate with Andrea O’Rourke — another Golden Triangle resident who is running for the open Seat B. “She has her views, and I have mine.” As for Zucaro, “I have to talk to him. I’m in agreement with a lot of his ideas.”

Whatever these early comments, it’s hard to see this election shaping up as anything but Zucaro, Dervishi and O’Rourke running as a slate—officially or not—against Haynie, Singer and Emily Gentile and Andy Thomson, the other Seat B candidates.

Sober House update

Delray Beach continues what Planning, Zoning and Builder Tim Stillings calls the city’s “slow and cautious” approach to regulating sober houses.

Last week, the city commission approved a change that requires operators of group homes to re-register every year. The operators will have to show that need for “reasonable accommodation” — the key phrase in law — for people with disabilities — recovering addicts — is still necessary. Reasonable accommodation can apply in other instances, Stillings told me, but sober homes is the “predominate” such request in Delray Beach.

According to Stillings, the city has approved 235 such accommodations since 2009. Yet Delray Beach doesn’t know how many sober homes the city has, because that number includes only those for which officials have approved an accommodation.

Next, Delray Beach will try to regulate the number of people who can live in a sober house. The city considered adding that element to the regulation the commission just approved, but decided to be more methodical, given the sober house litigation filed against Delray and Boca over the last two decades.

Sober house operators, Stilling said, like to put two residents in each bedroom, claiming that roommates can reinforce each other’s desire to stay clean. Crowded sober houses, however, can increase the impact on city services. That’s especially true with so many bad operators. When Hurricane Matthew approached last October, Stillings said, some sober houses “just dropped off” patients at shelters. And the impact on fire-rescue services from patients who relapse and overdose is well-known.

To get a comprehensive view of the city’s legal options, the commission at tonight’s special meeting may hire an Illinois attorney to “produce an expert report on the current state of Delray Beach’s land development regulations governing community residences for people with disabilities” and to offer revisions that would help the city regulate what has been an unregulated industry.

The city would pay Daniel Lauber $300 per hour, the total bill not exceeding $15,000 without the approval of City Attorney Max Lohman. Lauber is a nationally recognized expert on the issue, having written about group homes since 1996. He has described them as “Lulus” — locally unwanted land uses. According to his website, Lauder has represented local governments and sober home operators, giving him a good perspective.

Eventually, Delray Beach would like to break up the concentration of sober homes in certain neighborhoods. Stillings said a law in Prescott, Arizona could offer guidance. Delray Beach may be moving cautiously on sober houses, but the city seeks major change.

Railroad crossing barriers

The death last August of a woman on the Florida East Coast Railway track just north of Atlantic Avenue has led Delray Beach to produce a 23-page proposed Railroad Track Trespass Prevention Strategy. The city commission will discuss it tonight.

The report begins by noting the obvious: It’s illegal to cross any railroad track except at a designated crossing. Robin Landes of Boca Raton was attempting to take a shortcut from a restaurant on one side of the track to a restaurant on the other side. Many people do so.

In mid-year, Florida East Coast Industries will begin operating its Brightline passenger service between West Palm Beach and Miami. That will mean 32 more trains — 16 each way — every day, increasing the risk for anyone who stumbles while trying that shortcut.

Though the project covers the rail corridor between George Bush and Linton boulevards, the key areas are the two blocks north and south of Atlantic Avenue. To be affective, a barrier to prevent trespassing would have to extend 25 feet in either direction from the track. That could mean the loss of parking spaces on Railroad Avenue, though the city could make up some by reconfiguring.

Options for barriers run from the cheapest and least aesthetic—aluminum fences—to the most expensive and most eye-pleasing—landscaping. The report suggests four plants that could work: Cocoplum, Clusia Small-Leaf,  Dwarf Firebush and Bougainvillea.

The city will need to get lots of input. Downtown business owners will be especially interested. But the schedule proposes that construction start in late spring.

No special election

Delray Beach will not have to waste money on a needless special election.

Last week, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Gillen dismissed a lawsuit by J. Reeve Bright — a resident and disbarred attorney—who argued that the city commission had violated Delray Beach’s charter by not scheduling an election to choose a replacement for Al Jacquet. He resigned in November after winning a seat in the Florida House.

Last month, the commission deadlocked 2-2 on filling the seat until the March election. City Attorney Max Lohman argued that, despite the charter, holding an election was not practical.

Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said her office couldn’t help because it was working on the March 14 uniform municipal election. Delray Beach would have had to pay all the cost. A special election would have overlapped with the regular election, thus confusing voters. And the winner might serve for just two meetings.

Gillen agreed. Correctly.

CRA vote postponed

Only four board members were present for last Thursday’s meeting of the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency. So the CRA postponed a vote until its Jan. 26 meeting on what will happen now that the Uptown Atlantic project is dead. As board member Paul Zacks said, “It’s too important an issue to not have everyone’s input.” The city considers the three-block project essential to redeveloping West Atlantic Avenue.

Other development news and notes

Groundbreaking is scheduled for today on Kaufman Lynn Construction’s headquarters in Delray Beach. The company is moving from Boca Raton.

In related news, Boca finally has hired a new development services director. It’s Brandon Schaad, who had been working in Miami Lakes. A city spokeswoman said Schaad started two weeks ago.

The position had been vacant since May, when Ty Harris resigned because of a health insurance issue the city didn’t resolve for him. Harris held the job for less than a year. Before that, the position had been vacant for 15 months, after John Hixenbaugh resigned. His tenure lasted less than two years.

So a dynamic city like Boca Raton now is on its third top building and planning official since 2012. Despite improvements under Harris, developers and residents still gripe about permitting delays. Kaufman Lynn President Mike Kaufmann said Boca Raton never would have shown the flexibility Delray Beach did, allowing him to add a self-storage facility to his headquarters.

Beyond that, Boca Raton has spent a decade trying to complete the city’s Pattern Book for downtown architectural guidelines. Even those who favor the new downtown projects criticize the lack of “vision.”

City Manager Leif Ahnell took over the role of downtown director nine years ago. All department heads ultimately report to him. If the city council finally held a formal, public evaluation of Ahnell, one issue would be why progress on permitting and planning has been slow.


Missed last week’s City Watch? Not to worry. Visit our City Watch page, where you can catch up on all the latest news and notes from Boca and Delray. 

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.
Randy is married to Shelley Huff-Schultz, director of Access PC at Pine Crest School. Their son, Alec Schultz, and daughter-in-law, Meredith Schultz, are lawyers in South Florida. They live in Boca Raton and have three children: Carter, 8; Preston, 6; and Lila, 4. Their daughter, Mara Howard, is a veterinarian practicing in Hunt Valley, Maryland. She lives with her husband, Chip Howard, in Reisterstown, Maryland.
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City Watch: Three elections and other news and notes from Boca-Delray

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Zucaro files for mayoral run

If nothing else, Al Zucaro’s decision to challenge Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie in the March election removes any remaining pretense that BocaWatch is anything but Zucaro’s personal political website.

As publisher of BocaWatch, Zucaro not only regularly criticizes Haynie and the council. He has filed ethics complaints against a council member and the deputy city manager. The complaints were dismissed. Through a business entity, Zucaro donated $500 to Andrea O’Rourke, who is running to succeed term-limited Councilman Mike Mullaugh. BocaWatch’s political action committee acted as a conduit for money to the unsuccessful re-election campaigns last year of Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District board members Dennis Frisch and Earl Starkoff.

Before Zucaro qualified on Wednesday for the mayor’s race, the rumor had been that former Councilman Peter Baronoff, now the CEO of Promise Healthcare, would run against Haynie. BocaWatch was in the middle of that rumor. Last October, Baronoff announced that the Rotary Club of Boca Raton would present an award to Zucaro’s wife, Yvonne Boice. Two weeks later, BocaWatch ran a favorable item about Baronoff and his wife, Carmel, who hosts a lifestyle/fitness show on PBS, receiving a similar award. Zucaro then also gave a fawning interview to Baronoff.

But now Zucaro has moved from aspiring power broker to candidate. He will start his campaign far behind Haynie in fundraising. She didn’t have her official kickoff until last month, but through December she had roughly $41,500 in contributions. The mayor held another fundraiser Monday night.

Haynie has the usual donations from developers that flow to incumbents. Example: about $4,000 from entities related to Compson Associates, which is one of three remaining bidders for the city’s western golf course. Haynie has received $2,500 from Penn-Florida, which is building Via Mizner and University Village. Haynie voted for both projects.

In addition, however, Haynie has received $500 from the chairwoman of the Federation of Boca Raton Homeowner Associations, Christine Cherepy. (Neil Haynie, the mayor’s husband, is the group’s first vice chairman.) Haynie got $250 from Boca Raton Regional Hospital CEO Jerry Fedele, $500 from Planning and Zoning Board Chairman William Fairman and $1,000 from former Mayor Susan Whelchel.

More important, the firefighters union supports Haynie. Three years ago, the union backed Anthony Majhess, a county firefighter. Haynie supported reform of the city’s police and fire pension programs, which she and the council approved. Without the union’s support in 2014, she got 59 percent of the vote. In the beach and park district races, the firefighters’ help probably made the difference for challengers Craig Ehrnst and Erin Wright.

Though Haynie is the only council member who lives east of Interstate 95, she received strong support in 2014 from voters west of I-95, who turn out regularly and in higher numbers. But her support was widespread. She won 28 of 37 precincts and ran well in areas near downtown that include her neighborhood of Camino Gardens.

Zucaro’s base will be the Golden Triangle, where he lives, and those who most opposed the attempt to lease the Wildflower site for a restaurant. BocaWatch championed the ordinance that blocked the restaurant and now has drawn a lawsuit. He likely will claim that Haynie has been ignoring “the people” on development. He will portray himself as the insurgent against the establishment, and the portrayal may apply beyond the city.

Zucaro’s fellow Republicans consider Haynie the party’s strongest candidate to succeed Steven Abrams on the county commission in 2018. If Haynie wanted to run for that seat, her position would be stronger if she were the incumbent mayor. Zucaro might try to turn that against Haynie by claiming that she wouldn’t serve out her term.

As of Monday, the March 14 election shaped up as fairly straightforward. It just got livelier.

City Council Seat B election

Having a mayor’s race in Boca Raton may affect the race for City Council Seat B.

Three candidates are running to succeed the term-limited Mike Mullaugh: Emily Gentile, Andrea O’Rourke and Andy Thomson. If only that race had been on the ballot, we could have expected turnout to be roughly what it was in 2012 and 2015, which featured only a single council race. Each drew about 6,800 votes.

In 2014, however, there were about 11,000 votes cast in the mayor’s race. Turnout dropped only slightly for the two council races that also were on the ballot.

Conventional wisdom for the Seat B race is that O’Rourke will get the anti-incumbent vote—the Golden Triangle, where she lives, and the beach—while Gentile and Thomson will split the pro-incumbent vote, allowing O’Rourke to win. Gentile, however, lives on the beach. As the only candidate from west of I-95, Thomson could assume that he will dominate that important area.

Higher turnout could challenge any of those assumptions. O’Rourke would figure to do better in a low-turnout, one-race election. She might have to seek a broader base. So might Gentile and Thomson. An extra 3,000 votes wouldn’t mean much in a countywide election. In a citywide race, they could mean everything.

Note: All three Seat B candidates would like to have the firefighters union working for them. The union will interview the candidates on Jan. 25, with representatives of the police union.

Singer challenger

If Zucaro entering the mayor’s race was a surprise, so was the entry at Wednesday’s deadline of a challenger to Seat A Councilman Scott Singer.

That challenger is Patricia Dervishi. Like O’Rourke, she lives in the Golden Triangle. There is irony in her taking on Singer, who has spent much of the last year courting Golden Triangle residents, especially with his opposition to the restaurant on the Wildflower site.

Singer remains a big favorite. He’s raised about $65,000. He also might benefit from a challenge. He clearly aspires to higher office, and faced no opposition in 2014. He won’t get such free rides if he wants to move up. Running an actual campaign could be good experience.

Ocean Breeze news

With the Boca Raton City Council’s next discussion about selling the western golf course and acquiring the Ocean Breeze course scheduled for Jan. 23, the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District has hired a law firm to assess the idea of acquiring Ocean Breeze in the Boca Teeca subdivision through eminent domain.

On Dec. 1, Deputy City Manager George Brown emailed Art Koski, the district’s executive director. Brown was following up on the district’s offer to help the city acquire the course. Brown asked about the potential impact on the district of buying Ocean Breeze, rehabbing it and operating it as a golf course.

The district has hired the Fort Lauderdale firm of Goren, Cherof, Doody & Ezroll to conduct the eminent domain analysis. The district also has hired a firm to appraise the 200 acres of Ocean Breeze.

Under one of three proposals Boca Raton is considering, Lennar would buy the western course and convey Ocean Breeze to the city for $10 million off the western course purchase price. Lennar has a contract to develop Ocean Breeze, but a majority of unit owners in Boca Teeca would have to agree. The city would net roughly $30 million less from the Lennar deal than what the highest offer, from GL Homes, would bring.

When the council last discussed the golf courses, an attorney representing Lennar basically said the company would fight eminent domain. Koski said the district has asked the law firm and the appraiser to complete their work in time for that Jan. 23 council workshop.

Delray Place South

The developer of Delray Place South had better be prepared to lose on Jan. 24.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, the city commission rejected Delray Place LLC’s request to delay until April 4 appeals of last October’s site plan review and appearance board rulings. The board approved four requests from Delray Place South, but rejected the site plan, which was the main request.

Delray Place LLC appealed to the commission, but sought the postponement to seek “common ground” with potential neighbors in Tropic Isle. As those neighbors made clear Tuesday night, there is no common ground. The developer wants a road that would disrupt the neighborhood, and the neighborhood opposes the road.

The commission voted unanimously to deny the extension. On Jan. 24, the commission almost certainly will vote unanimously to deny Delray Place LLC’s appeal of the site plan rejection.

Uptown Atlantic back at square one

Speaking of starting over, the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency will try to do that on the three blocks that were to have been Uptown Atlantic.

Last month, the CRA terminated the agreement under which Uptown Atlantic would have bought the roughly six acres over three blocks east of the Fairfield Inn for the mixed-use Uptown Atlantic. The CRA had chosen Uptown Atlantic in October 2013 from among three bidders.

At tonight’s meeting, the CRA board will consider two options.

The CRA could attempt to contact the two other bidders from 2013 and see if either is still interested. The board report notes that both bidders wanted subsidies. In addition, construction costs have increased, and the CRA has acquired another one-acre parcel that could be part of any project. The purchase price, of course, would rise.

Or the CRA could issue a new Request for Proposal. Since the city issued approvals for Uptown Atlantic, the property could be more appealing than it was three years ago. Developers now could acquire a portion of the combined property, not all of it. Obviously, that could make for something less than the transformational project that the West Atlantic Redevelopment Coalition believed that Uptown Atlantic could become.

Whatever option emerges, one would assume that the CRA will question bidders more strenuously. Uptown Atlantic was not the staff’s first choice in 2013.


Need to catch up on the latest City Watch? Visit Tuesday’s blog or visit our City Watch page for all of Randy’s city news. 

 

 

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.
Randy is married to Shelley Huff-Schultz, director of Access PC at Pine Crest School. Their son, Alec Schultz, and daughter-in-law, Meredith Schultz, are lawyers in South Florida. They live in Boca Raton and have three children: Carter, 8; Preston, 6; and Lila, 4. Their daughter, Mara Howard, is a veterinarian practicing in Hunt Valley, Maryland. She lives with her husband, Chip Howard, in Reisterstown, Maryland.