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BRRH News, Delray Wins Big (Again!), Boca Reviews its Top Employees

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First, CEO Jerry Fedele will retire in August of next year, when he turns 65.

When he arrived in 2008, Fedele said, he was asked for a long-term commitment. He pledged five years, but said he would not work past 65. “For personal reasons,” he is sticking to that deadline.

Second, and not related to the first, the hospital announced Monday that it has formed a committee to examine whether Boca Regional should look for a “strategic partnership with another healthcare provider.” Fedele said Boca Regional made the announcement early because board members are sensitive to what happened in the mid-1990s, when the board was less than transparent about its plan to sell the hospital.

“We are not acting out of need,” Fedele said, noting that the fiscal year that ends next week will be the best since he arrived. Boca Regional is starting a quarter-million-dollar upgrade. But the trend in health care has been consolidation. Fedele points out that Boca Regional and Jupiter Medical Center are the only two independent hospitals in this area.

“We want to see if this is the right direction for us.” Fedele said. The committee probably will determine in the next couple of months whether to proceed. If so, Fedele said, the board would decide “in the next 12 months.”

Everybody’s All American

Delray Beach is an All-America City again. The National Civic League announced this year’s winners on Friday. Delray Beach thus becomes the only city in Florida to win the award three times

The league based its 2017 awards on the success of local governments in raising reading scores for at-risk children. “Working together,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said in a statement, “we have made meaningful and measurable progress in addressing one of our country’s greatest challenges—improving reading proficiency among our youth.” The only other Florida winner was the joint entry from Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Ahnell and Freiser pass with flying colors

Last Tuesday, the Boca Raton City Council conducted an evaluation of City Manager Leif Ahnell and City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser that was more like a lovefest.

Mayor Susan Haynie and the council members gushed over the only two employees who report to them. The consensus amounted to “great.” The review, such as it was, came at the end of a four-hour-plus meeting that had come after a two-hour-plus meeting. The day before, all parties had been through seven hours of other meetings. No one wanted to spend a lot of time.

Of course, the lovefest was more of an evaluation than the council had conducted since 2007, even though the contracts for Ahnell and Frieser state that they should be evaluated annually this time of year. Previously, council members simply said they made their own evaluations based on conversations with Ahnell and Frieser.

Both have held their jobs since 1999, which is beyond astonishing, given the politics of local government in South Florida. Delray Beach has had four managers since 2013, though there have been special circumstances. Ahnell and Frieser make nearly a quarter-million each in salary. In 2011, after the recession had forced budget cuts, the council didn’t give Ahnell and Frieser a raise but did give each a five-year severance if they were fired. That deal expired last year. The severance is back to 12 months.

Ahnell, who has entered the five-year mandatory retirement program, had prepared a list of 150 accomplishments. Some were noteworthy. Forty percent of building permits are now handled online, and the average wait for a permit is down to 30 days from 45 days. Permit delays have been a problem in Boca Raton for years.

But other numbers—75,000 building inspections in the last year, issuing 2,900 dog beach permits—simply reflect a growing city with a similarly growing demand for services. Getting the basics done is the manager’s job. As my old boss at The Palm Beach Post told me, “Don’t expect praise for getting the paper out each day.”

Similarly, running the city well should be the standard in Boca Raton. There’s also a way to tell a manager that he or she is doing well—even very well— and also set out strategies and expectations for doing better.

Implicitly, the council did this in its goal-setting session. Rather than propose new projects, council members asked for timetables for progress on current projects, such as the waterfront master plan and the student district near Florida Atlantic University. That demand indicated that the council wasn’t completely satisfied with the city’s progress.

Councilman Robert Weinroth previously had called for evaluations, but he got no takers. Yet Weinroth gave Ahnell an “A or an A-minus” and Frieser “a B-plus.” Weinroth acknowledged that he had backed off some, but told me that the evaluation amounted to “a starting point.” He would give the council “a C-plus” for Tuesday night’s effort and noted that Scott Singer had talked of a more formal process, which Weinroth would support.

For comparison’s sake, Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency board members evaluated Executive Director Jeff Costello in 31 categories, giving him a rating from five to one.

Here’s one specific reason the council should conduct more thorough evaluations. Council members regularly hear complaints that Frieser and the legal department needlessly delay development approvals. I hear the same complaints. I don’t know if they’re true. If they are, however, the council should deal with the issue. If the complaints are bogus, the council should publicly debunk the myth with evidence.

Here’s a hint for next year: Schedule the evaluations earlier in the meeting.

Midtown update

A big chunk of that seven-hour meeting doubleheader last Monday went to discussion of rules Boca Raton will set for the Midtown area. I would describe the tone as diplomatically testy.

Mayor Haynie had asked for the update on three land development regulations that, most notably, would allow residential development in Midtown, whose boundaries are Town Center Mall, Glades Road and Boca Center. The city has designated the area for Planned Mobility Development, focused around transit to reduce traffic. Current proposals would allow 2,500 residential units, all rentals.

Crocker Partners owns Boca Center and other key properties in Midtown. Angelo Bianco, Crocker’s managing partner, did most of the talking last week. He would like the proposals to go before the planning and zoning board in July, and to the council in September.

Bianco’s voice never rose, but he suggested that the city has been “treacherous” toward the property owners. Though Bianco said the property owners “don’t want to steamroll” the process, the prolonged delay made it seem that the city wants to “take away our rights as landowners.”

One frustrating aspect for all sides is that while the property owners presented renderings of development that might work in Midtown, there can’t be actual renderings of projects until the city approves the rules. Design drawings, Bianco said, would cost “seven figures.” Until the city sets rules, any plans are only “aspirational.”

The staff memo noted that the council had sought a “reset” on Midtown. Near the end of the meeting, as Bianco made his request for that July planning and zoning review, Robert Weinroth cautioned Bianco to be patient. “You’re in the red zone. It’s the last 10 yards.” (Actually, that football term refers to the last 20 yards before the goal line.) It would be “a mistake” Weinroth said, to push too hard.

Haynie concluded things by asking the property owners to “please work with (Deputy City Manager George Brown) to move” the proposals “in an expeditious manner.” Bianco told me afterward, “I am encouraged by last evening’s workshop. It appears that all interested parties are ready to work together to finalize regulations to set the framework necessary for property owners to begin the Midtown Boca design process.”

And after Weinroth’s comment, Bianco said that if the issue “rolls over” past his preferred date of July, “I will be back here with a smile on my face.”

Meter invasion

After a decade of talk, there will be paid parking in Delray Beach on public lots and on downtown streets.

At last week’s workshop meeting, the city commission agreed with members of the Downtown Development Authority and the Parking Management Advisory Board to install meters. The primary aim is to help downtown merchants by forcing spaces to turn over more quickly, thus freeing those spaces for customers, but the new system also could help reduce traffic in congested areas.

In separate conversations, Commissioners Jim Chard and Mitch Katz both said that it was time to “stop kicking the can down the road.” Chard recalled the speaker who once told the city “that there really is no such thing as free parking.” Katz said the timing finally worked because the city has a better management system, the meter technology is available and plans are being developed for employee parking and resident plans. Katz suggested that a phone app could alert residents during slow periods that the meters have been turned off.

Because the rate system is contained in an ordinance, Katz said, the commission will have to approve the new one. Chard and Katz said that should not take long.

Swinton Commons

A decision may be coming soon in Delray Beach on the Swinton Commons project.

According to the chamber of commerce, Swinton Commons will go before the historic preservation board on June 26 and the city commission on Aug. 1. Most of the project area is on the two blocks south of Atlantic Avenue between Swinton and Southwest First avenues. The other portion is on the east side of Swinton.

After a verbal drubbing from the historic preservation during its first review, the developer has made significant changes. Last week, the West Atlantic Redevelopment Coalition unanimously endorsed Swinton Commons. I will have more on the project if that Aug. 1 date holds.

More CRA appointments

At tonight’s meeting, the Delray Beach City Commission will make the other two appointments to the community redevelopment agency board. Mitch Katz and Shelly Petrolia are scheduled to make the choices.

Two weeks ago, the commission reappointed Chairman Reggie Cox (Mayor Cary Glickstein’s choice) and Morris Carstarphen (Commissioner Jim Chard’s choice.) Some applicants failed on a 2-2 vote, with Katz absent. Katz or Petrolia could renominate any of those applicants tonight. The four-year terms start July 1.

Senior living complex

A different kind of downtown development project will go before the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board on Thursday.

The applicant seeks to replace a two-story apartment building at 375 East Royal Palm Road with a 193-unit complex for seniors who need assisted living and more. Sixty-three units would be for what the backup material calls “memory care,” presumably seniors with dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease.

Under current downtown rules, there is not enough space for that many units in the section along East Palmetto Park Road between Mizner Boulevard and Fifth Avenue. So the developer would take space from the southwest section, near Camino Real and Dixie Highway.

The staff recommends approval, but cautions that the project would require more emergency service calls than standard multi-family dwellings. Adult congregate living facilities (ACLFs), the report says, generate 1.19 calls per bed compared to .76 calls per bed. That’s more than a 50 percent increase. Calls also take longer. Expansion of ACLFs, the report says, will demand more tax revenue to support emergency service demand.

Which brings us to a related item on this week’s planning and zoning board agenda.

Goray Senior Living LLC also wants to build an ACLF. It would include 151 beds and a medical center on Congress Avenue north of the Interstate 95 interchange.

But Goray would need a land-use change and a rezoning. Four of the five council members would have to approve the land-use change. The current land use is designed to encourage Planned Mobility Development projects. If the city approved this change, the staff report says, similar projects could follow, thus dramatically changing the character of the area. The report calls the proposed change “incompatible.” Staff recommends that the planning and zoning board deny the request.

Campus note

I wrote Thursday about the idea of The Related Group participating in Boca Raton’s government campus, most likely by building city hall and other facilities in return for developing residential on the campus or elsewhere.

Three of the five council members gave their opinions, or lack of them. Scott Singer later responded that he thought I had covered the issue. I also heard from Jeremy Rodgers, who said, “On the face of it, I don’t really have enough information on it. Resident units on city campus doesn’t seem like the best idea to me, but I’m always willing to hear someone out.”


Missed the last City Watch? Visit our Community/City Watch page, and subscribe to the magazine for more City Watch columns in every issue.

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.
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Politics as Usual Keeps ‘Related’ Government Campus in the Boca Conversation

Should Boca Raton let a private developer build a new government campus in return for being allowed to put up a lot of new downtown housing?

And is that private developer really interested?

Photo courtesy of the City of Boca Raton.

A new government campus could include a new city hall, police station, community center and recreation complex. The properties include the tennis center, ballfields, a skateboard park and a basketball court. Photo courtesy of the City of Boca Raton.

The idea likely will come up next Wednesday when the city holds an open house on the campus from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the downtown library. With their consultant, Song & Associates, city officials will hear ideas for those 28-plus acres on either side of Northwest Second Avenue north of Palmetto Park Road. Few would have more impact than turning over the project to Miami-based Related, one of the country’s largest residential developers.

Last October, Related Vice President William Shewalter wrote to Mayor Susan Haynie. Related, Shewalter said, “would like to engage in a discussion of potential amenities and ideas which might permit a significant ‘value added’ benefit to this initiative as well as provide some process ideas.” Shewalter said the company wanted to make a presentation to the mayor and council.

For a long time, nothing happened. Haynie wasn’t interested in private participation. City politics, however, has kept the idea alive.

During the May goal-setting session, BocaWatch Publisher Al Zucaro touted Related’s participation. Zucaro challenged Haynie in the March election. More recently, he has used BocaWatch to criticize Haynie for not considering Related’s offer.

Aside from a revenge factor, Zucaro’s support is hard to reconcile with his past statements. On BocaWatch and as a candidate, Zucaro has complained about downtown residential overdevelopment. Yet Related would want either to acquire some of those 28 city-owned acres or other public property for even more residential development.

In an email, Zucaro said he had no “relationship with Related.” He was a city commissioner in West Palm Beach when Related helped to develop the CityPlace project—I was working for The Palm Beach Post at the same time—and believes, “based upon my personal experiences, that they are an outstanding organization and should be given an opportunity to present a plan, especially one that may result in significant benefit to the resident.”

Zucaro did not explain what that “significant benefit” might be. Presumably, however, it would be fronting part or all of the money for the campus, which could include a new city hall, police station and community center and new recreation complex. The properties include the tennis center, ballfields, a skateboard park and a basketball court. Related, though, surely would want a lot in return.

Another interesting angle is the involvement of Glenn Gromann, who served for nearly a decade on the planning and zoning board. Gromann said he is “an independent consultant” for Related and has registered as a lobbyist, though he doesn’t characterize his contribution as lobbying. Gromann said he has “specialized knowledge” of downtown development in Boca Raton. In an email, Gromann said, “I can assure you that the pursuit of this matter and getting the city to do the right thing will be unrelenting.”

In March, when Gromann came up for reappointment to the planning and zoning board, BocaWatch ran a commentary calling Gromann “Resident-Unfriendly Personified.” BocaWatch previously had criticized Gromann repeatedly for what Zucaro considered Gromann’s pro-development philosophy. Gromann withdrew from consideration for a new term, though he claimed that the reason was business opportunities, not the BocaWatch piece.

Soon thereafter, BocaWatch began offering Gromann space for his thoughts—unedited, as with seemingly everything on BocaWatch—on development. Gromann and Zucaro now are aligned in their belief that the city should give Related a hearing. In an email, Zucaro said Gromann “has opinions and knowledge that are useful in fostering the public debate.”

Three years ago, Shewalter worked for Elad. In 2014, Elad Properties proposed four condo towers averaging roughly 300 feet for Mizner Boulevard. After the city council refused even to consider New Mizner on the Green, Elad shrunk the project to Mizner 200, which goes to the council—as the community redevelopment agency—on July 24.

Amid all the opposition to New Mizner on the Green, Gromann said, “It’s going to put Boca on the map.”

Haynie remains concerned that there isn’t room within those 28 acres for “all the desires people have for the campus.” She also worries about “accountability” if the city were to turn over construction “of such an important project” to a private company.

On June 2, Councilman Robert Weinroth emailed City Manager Leif Ahnell to say that it “would be beneficial” for Ahnell and/or Deputy City Manager George Brown to meet with Related and “flesh out their thoughts.” Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke said she does not have “a formed opinion” on the idea.

Perhaps Related doesn’t have one, either. I contacted a Related representative on Tuesday, seeking to interview Shewalter. The representative emailed back to say that she had been trying to find “information on the Boca Raton government campus and The Related Group’s supposed interest. . .” I sent a copy of the letter Boca Raton got from Shewalter, who is not registered as a lobbyist. The next response from the Related representative? “Unfortunately, it’s no comment at this moment.”

More on Gromann

Another aspect of this activity regarding Related and the government campus is Gromann’s characterization of himself as a major real estate intermediary.

In an email, Gromann said he “got Toll Brothers to bid” on the western golf course, thus starting the process that has led to three $73 million offers for the course and the possible acquisition of the Ocean Breeze course. “I am in almost daily contact with major developers,” Gromann said, “trying to get them to enter the market. . .”

Gromann also said he has talked to All Aboard Florida about a Brightline station for Boca Raton. The new passenger service will have stations in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. All are part of mixed-use projects, especially the station in Miami. There would seem to be no need or room for a station in Boca. On that topic, an All Aboard Florida spokeswoman said the company is focused on launching the first phase of the service.

Mizner Amphitheater replacement?

Amphitheater roof top Lg

Another related—as opposed to Related—aspect of the campus discussion is the talk that AEG is interested in building a performance venue at de Hoernle Park.

Los Angeles-based AEG bills itself as “one of the leading sports and entertainment presenters in the world.” The company books acts at the Mizner Park Amphitheater. Among the many ideas for Boca’s campus is a performing arts center that might displace the amphitheater.

The city, which took over the amphitheater from the Center for the Arts in 2010, operates the facility as an amenity. It loses money. What AEG might want from the city besides land for its venue would be just one of many questions. Would a performing arts center make sense for the campus? If it displaced the amphitheater, what would go on the amphitheater site? The Boca Raton Museum of Art has expressed interest. All these questions likely will come up next week.

Next steps in sober home regulation

Delray Beach’s next sober home regulation, which I discussed on Tuesday, is on Monday’s agenda of the planning and zoning board. If the board recommends approval, the item would go before the city commission next month.

Controversial beach-side property gets construction permit

The controversial property at 2500 North Ocean Blvd. in Boca Raton has received its construction permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. There is no indication, however, that work will begin soon.

In December 2015, the city council—with Jeremy Rodgers dissenting—approved a zoning variance that could allow a four-story, single-family home on the undersized lot. The city’s planning staff legal department recommended approval, noting that the owner had not caused the conditions that created the lot size.

Though the city could have faced a lawsuit by denying the request, the decision was controversial because the lot is on the beach side of A1A. The zoning board of adjustment also denied the request.

Despite the DEP permit, a city spokeswoman said the status of the project with the city is “under review.” She added that the city is “waiting for information from the petitioner.” The owner of the property is Natural Lands LLC. Its principal is Gavriel Naim, who is a partner in Beach Hill Capital Partners, a private real estate investment company.

Eat trash!

After hearing repeated complaints from residents about trash in canals, the Boca Raton City Council has asked staff to include money in next year’s budget to purchase and staff a skimmer boat.

As the name implies, the vessel removes trash from waterways the same way a backyard device skims leaves and other objects from pools. Baltimore uses one to collect trash from the Inner Harbor, the hub of the city’s tourist district. Boca Raton’s purchase will come as the city seeks to finalize the waterfront master plan.

Speaking of which, the city’s consultant—EDSA—will hold a second open house next month on the waterfront plan. The July 12 event will take place at the downtown library from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. A news release says EDSA “will be sharing conceptual plans and recommendations.” The plan includes Spanish River Park, South Beach Park, Red Reef Park, Ocean Strand, Palmetto Dunes Park, Rutherford Park, the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Lake Wyman Park, J. Patrick Lynch Golden Fig Park, Silver Palm Park, Camino Villas Park, Carriage Hills Park, Hillsboro El Rio Park and the Wildflower property.

No swim zone

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Unfortunately, that master plan probably can’t address water quality. On Wednesday, Boca Raton announced beach closures at Spanish River and South Inlet parks. The Florida Department of Health found excessive levels of bacteria in the water. Most likely, heavy rains this month have caused higher-than-normal runoff, which carries waste from our suburban lifestyle.


Missed the last City Watch? Visit our Community/City Watch page, and subscribe to the magazine for more City Watch columns in every issue.

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.
Macro of oxycodone opioid tablets

Should Delray Sue Over Opioids? A Downtown Boca Shuttle and More

Will Delray take legal action over opioid crisis?

Macro of oxycodone opioid tablets

Should Delray Beach, beset by problems related to prescription painkillers, join class-action lawsuits against the pharmaceutical industry? Mayor Cary Glickstein will raise the issue at tonight’s city commission workshop.

Governments at all levels are going to court against the distributors of oxycodone, hydrocodone and other opioids that began flooding the country a decade ago through overuse and illegal trafficking. The pills created a new generation of addicts.

When law enforcement shut down “pill mills,” cheap, illegal heroin replaced the legal opioids and overdoses skyrocketed. Governments have faced new costs to deal with the epidemic. The lawsuits seek compensation.

Last month, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine sued five companies—among them Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson—alleging that they violated state laws and committed Medicaid fraud. Mississippi has filed a similar lawsuit. So has McDowell County, West Virginia, which has the highest overdose rate in the nation. Another party is Welch, a town of roughly 2,000 that is in McDowell County.

In April, Glickstein told me that he spoke to CEOs of Delray Medical Center and Bethesda Hospital on this topic. They talked, Glickstein said, “about patients being discharged with potentially addictive opiate painkillers.” The prescriptions “are then extended by private physicians, and new addicts are created” who “until that point were highly functioning adults living normal, productive lives.

“Now introduce synthetic and far more powerful heroin into the mix, and it’s not surprising that the faces of those we are losing every day to this scourge are the faces of friends and family members.”

Glickstein, an attorney, told me last week that after following recent developments he believes that “the timing is appropriate now.” Cases are not being dismissed. “This is how you start incremental change.”

That change may be more than incremental in Delray Beach. This month or next, the planning and zoning board probably will consider the next sober home regulation. The city already required applicants seeking “reasonable accommodation” to reapply every year. The new rule would raise the standards for group homes seeking such accommodation for those in recovery, who under federal law are a protected class.

The city also is acting to prevent the clustering of sober homes in certain neighborhoods. Such concentration hurts not just homeowners but those trying to stay clean. It makes it easier for bad operators to use patients as ATMs without providing good treatment. “All this is being done,” Glickstein said, “in the name of consumer protection.”

Elsewhere, the legislature this year increased the penalties for deceptive marketing of group homes. Previously, the legislature acted against patient brokering. The Food and Drug Administration just asked the maker of Opana—an opioid painkiller—to pull it from the market. Physician groups are recommending against over-prescription of opioids. “A lot of tumblers,” Glickstein said, “are falling into place.”

It would be heartening if Florida joined the legal pushback against opioids, as Florida joined the tobacco lawsuit two decades ago. Pam Bondi, though, has been an undistinguished—at best—attorney general in all ways, especially on the opioid crisis. That would leave the field open to cities like Delray Beach.

Downtown transportation opens floodgate of options for Boca

Boca Raton caused a free-for-all with its handling of the western golf course and its potential sale. Another is developing over a downtown transportation system.

The city council has whiffed repeatedly on a replacement for the Downtowner, which ended service a year ago. The company offered free rides, with revenue coming from advertising on the cars. Two familiar issues dominated discussion at Monday’s community redevelopment agency meeting:

  • What kind of service should the city seek? On-demand with a phone app? A scheduled trolley?
  • What should be the service area? Just downtown? Downtown and the area around Florida Atlantic University, to attract students? Downtown and the beach?

Those details matter in ways not always apparent. The city might decide to subsidize a service, if the need for one became that much of a priority. Delray Beach provides its free trolley with money from the CRA. In Boca Raton, the CRA does not include the beach, so any subsidy would have to come directly from the city.

Boca Raton considered seeking formal proposals, a process that could take months. On Monday, however, a lawyer named Michael Liss pitched a company called The Free Rider, which operates in Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and other cities. A representative of a similar service called Slidr also spoke. There was talk of the city spending $5,000 a month for advertising on cars. Such money, in effect, would be a subsidy.

So the staff will prepare the proposal for bid, but the city simultaneously will wait to hear more from companies that might provide what Mayor Susan Haynie called the “quickest and easiest” service.

Singer vs. Weinroth

Under one scenario, Boca Raton council members Scott Singer and Robert Weinroth would face each other in a special election for mayor in 2019. During Monday’s CRA meeting, they faced off over a downtown parking garage.

Singer wants the city to move ahead with a garage east of the downtown library, on the west side of the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. Weinroth wants the city to look for a location on the east side of the tracks.

Basically, Singer and Weinroth are debating which consultant the city should believe. Singer goes with Song & Associates, which is working on the government campus plan. Weinroth goes with Kim Delaney of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, who is working on the student district near Florida Atlantic University.

At its May goal-setting session, the council favored the location near the library. But at a subsequent meeting, while briefing the council on the U.S. 1 study, Delaney noted that a garage west of the FEC would need an overpass to connect it with downtown. Tri-Rail, Delaney said, discovered that commuters don’t like overpasses. Delaney also suggested that a garage on the west side of the tracks would be less efficient.

That Singer-Weinroth election scenario goes like this: Weinroth wins re-election next year; Haynie resigns to run for the county commission; a special election for mayor takes place in early 2019. Singer said Monday that he wants a garage complete in late 2018, in time for tourist season. “I think we need a plan now.” Haynie disagreed, calling the library “not the right location.”

Debate on the garage will resume at the July 24 CRA meeting, when the city’s consultant will present a downtown parking report.

Delray Commission meeting agenda

There will be no votes at today’s Delray Beach City Commission workshop meeting. But in addition to Mayor Glickstein’s thoughts about opioid legislation, the commission will deal with three other meaty topics.

  • Parking. The staff will recommend that the city install paid meters in all city-owned spaces that don’t have them. Staffers want the commission to let them create a system for those meters that would “set the highest parking rate where and when the demand is the highest, and the lowest parking rate where and when the demand is the lowest. Basically, that would be surge pricing.

That system would include options for monthly and seasonal rates, resident rates and rates for employees of downtown businesses. In addition, the staff wants permission to set rates for non-high demand usage (monthly rates, seasonal rates, resident rates, Central Business District employee rates, etc.).

Delray Beach has 3,277 public parking spaces—727 in the garages near Old School Square, 941 on downtown streets, 909 in downtown lots and 700 on the beach. Aside from the beach spots, which have meters, all the other spaces are free or mostly free.

  • Rising seas. The commission will get an update from the Rising Waters Task Force. The report will call for more money to help Delray Beach cope with the effects of climate change.

The report says, “The costs of preparing and implementing adaptation now is (sic) lower than the cost of recovery and responding to problems once they occur.” The task force says the city must plan for the investments over periods of 15 years, 30 years and 50 years, “or roughly the lifecycle of various municipal infrastructure elements and private property buildings. . .The investment amounts are NOT staggering if viewed over these long-time horizons. The amount of infrastructure costs and reserves needed over the long haul will require buy-in from the city’s taxpayers into a long-term sustainability program, which can only be accomplished through a serious, continuous, and transparent public engagement program.”

  • Historic preservation. A task force will recommend that Delray Beach offer more incentives and toughen current rules, especially those against letting a property deteriorate. The task force wants renewed emphasis on preservation in Frog Alley, on North Swinton Avenue and Atlantic Avenue.

Follow the yellow striped lines

By Wednesday, a minor annoyance at a major Boca Raton intersection should end.

The Florida East Coast Railway crossing at Dixie Highway and Palmetto Park Road was the site of safety improvements that will help create a quiet zone—no horns—along the corridor. In making the improvements, however, All Aboard Florida’s contractor misjudged the striping of the left-hand, westbound turn lane. Following the lines, you wound up in the median.

This week, the lane is being restriped. The work closed the intersection Monday night and will close it tonight. According to an All Aboard Florida spokeswoman, one lane should be open Wednesday night.

When All Aboard Florida begins its passenger service, 32 trains a day will travel on the FEC corridor—16 each way. The spokeswoman said service is still planned to start in “late summer.” She offered no details.

 


Missed the last City Watch? Visit our Community/City Watch page, and subscribe to the magazine for more City Watch columns in every issue. 

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.
delray cra

Delray Goes 2-For-4 and Boca In Climate Change Game?

The CRA has developed a master plan for renovations and changes to Old School Square.

The CRA has developed a master plan for renovations and changes to Old School Square.

CRA board appointments

The Delray Beach City Commission got halfway Tuesday night toward creating a new board for the community redevelopment agency.

One headline is that the board won’t be all new. Mayor Cary Glickstein nominated CRA Chairman Reggie Cox for another four-year term. Cox also got support from commissioners Jim Chard and Shirley Ervin Johnson.

Had the March election gone differently, Cox would have been a one-termer. Commissioner Shelly Petrolia voted against him, and Commissioner Mitch Katz told me that he wouldn’t support any incumbents. Katz, who missed the meeting because of travel problems from the relentless rains, and Petrolia voted last month to disband the CRA board. In March, Chard and Johnson defeated candidates whom Katz and Petrolia backed.

Still, if the commission wants change at the CRA, why return Cox? Chard told me, “Reggie is recognized as a leader in the Northwest neighborhood. To remove him would have been a bit of disservice to that community.” It’s also worth noting that Cox opposed choosing Uptown Atlantic to develop the three, CRA-owned acres east of the Fairfield Inn. Last December, after three years, the CRA terminated the purchase agreement with Uptown Atlantic for breach of contract.

In an email, Johnson said, “If you review the record, you will see that I have always been ‘supportive’ of the CRA,” which she called “a key difference” between her and Josh Smith, Johnson’s opponent in March. “My vote in support of renominating Mr. Cox would then be an extension of that support. I have attached no conditions for this support but would only encourage more interaction/communication between our two bodies.”

Entering the meeting, Chard was the only commissioner not scheduled to offer an appointment. He got a chance when Johnson’s two choices couldn’t get a majority. Glickstein and Chard voted against Annette Gray. Chard and Petrolia voted against Samuel Spear.

Chard’s first choice, Ryan Boylston, also failed on a split vote. But his second choice, Morris Carstarphen, got a unanimous vote. Carstarphen, a longtime employee of Target Stores who lives in the Rosemont Park neighborhood, has served on the West Atlantic Redevelopment Coalition. The commission made clear at its goal-session meeting last month that West Atlantic is the redevelopment priority.

On his application, Carstarphen also showed that his priorities for the CRA mirror the commission’s priorities. He wants the CRA board to be “better stewards” of public money and establish better communication with the commission. He also would like the CRA to be “rated on ALL projects.”

The commission will fill the other seats at its June 20 meeting. Petrolia deferred to that date after her first choice, Allen Zeller, failed to get even a second. Katz is scheduled to make the other appointment.

Boca agrees to regional climate change compact

Especially in contrast to Delray Beach, Boca Raton had been a laggard in supporting the Southeast Florida Climate Change Compact and endorsing the Mayors Climate Action Pledge. That changed last month, when the council adopted a resolution backing both.

Members of the city’s green living advisory board had raised the subject at the city council’s goal-setting session. Councilman Robert Weinroth proposed the resolution. The council acted just before President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, joining Nicaragua and Syria as the only countries to do so.

Mayor Susan Haynie acknowledged that it took Boca Raton two years to act. The compact, she said, “became kind of controversial. Counties were pulling out.” Yes, Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River withdrew from what had been the seven-county compact, but the “controversy” had more to do with climate denial among elected officials. They made the same arguments Trump did: the compact tramples on local sovereignty.

In fact, it doesn’t. As City Manager Leif Ahnell said, the compact makes no demands of the city. Instead, it “provides options that each regional and local government may align to their own plans and adopt and utilize based on their interests and vision for the future.” Boca Raton doesn’t have as much routine high-tide flooding as Delray Beach, but the city has as much interest in dealing with the effects of climate change. Approval of the resolution should lead to more focus on the problem.

Sober home issue

Similarly, sober homes can appear to be more of an issue in Delray Beach than Boca Raton. Delray is moving quickly on new regulations. In Boca, City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser will “report back soon,” Haynie said on whether the city should seek new rules. In the last decade, Boca Raton lost a lawsuit over the city’s attempt to restrict where sober homes could go.

The issue, however, doesn’t stop at the Delray-Boca line. Councilman Weinroth commented at a recent meeting that the fire department had reported five drug overdoses in one 24-hour shift. That’s almost routine in Delray Beach and Boynton Beach. Many addicts who once used prescription painkillers now use cheaper heroin, which can be laced with the powerful addictive fentanyl.

One aspect of the issue is city rules on how many unrelated individuals can share a home. Boca Raton’s limit is three. In April, a group called Centerhills Enterprises withdrew its request for a reasonable accommodation under federal law for what would have been a sober home on Northwest Fifth Avenue just south of Spanish River Boulevard. According to a letter from Frieser to Centerhills’ attorney, seven “clients” were living there.

Because of sober houses and the renting out of single-family homes to college students and vacationers, Boca Raton wants to create a rental registration system. Mayor Haynie said she hears more complaints these days about vacation rentals than sober houses. The proposal was due to the council late last year. “I don’t know what the holdup is,” Haynie said. A city spokeswoman said staff hopes to put the proposal on the July meeting agenda.

More woes for Jacquet

It’s been a bad stretch for ex-Delray Beach City Commissioner/State Rep. Al Jacquet.

In March, The Palm Beach Post reported that Jacquet and his fellow Haitian-American and political ally, Mack Bernard, exploited loopholes in state law by helping voters fill in their mail-in ballots. Rumors of the tactic were around last year when Jacquet was running for State House District 88 and Bernard was running for County Commission District 7. Both districts include many of Delray Beach’s minority neighborhoods.

Jacquet’s and Bernard’s victory margins came from mail-in ballots. When The Post interviewed him about entering homes and helping voters, Jacquet issued a classic non-denial denial: “I worked hard and played by the rules! No laws were broken. I will not answer to your trumped up scare tactics. Blacks have been terrorized long enough!”

Then last week, the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics found probable cause to investigate Jacquet for violations of two ethics rules. According to the complaint, Jacquet allegedly got the Delray Beach Police Department to wrongly void a $35 parking ticket he received. Jacquet said he had forgotten to display his city commissioner pass that supposedly absolved him of the violations. The city issues no such passes.

Jacquet is charged with misuse of public office and corrupt misuse of public position. The alleged violations are not criminal.

Sugar Sand cost overrun

On Tuesday, I discussed the $500,000 cost overrun for reconstruction of the playground at Sugar Sand Park. Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District Chairman Bob Rollins explained his decision to approve the payment.

Craig Ehrnst was the only board member to vote against the payment. In an email from Australia, where he is on vacation, Ehrnst said, “I think (Rollins’) comments are consistent with sentiment expressed at the meeting. For me, I voted against it because the entire process did not seem proper: fixed-price proposals, and then time and material change orders after the fact.

“The $500,000 overrun surprised everyone and was not expected. The entire playground project was not well thought out from a financial management perspective, and no one seemed accountable for project delays/cost.” Ehrnst said the makeover of the swimming and tennis center and new field at Patch Reef Park “will provide the district an opportunity to redeem themselves.”

Correction: In my Tuesday post, I said Scott Singer is the only attorney on the Boca Raton City Council. Robert Weinroth also is an attorney.


Missed the last City Watch? Visit our Community/City Watch page, and subscribe to the magazine for more City Watch columns in every issue. 

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.
golf / golfer

Update On All Things Ocean Breeze, Decision Time in Delray

golf / golfer

New ideas on Ocean Breeze’s fate

The latest idea regarding the Ocean Breeze golf course is for Boca Raton to take over negotiations from the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District. After that, the city would seek to take the land by eminent domain.

That likely won’t happen—probably for good reason.

The idea comes from Judith Teller Kaye, who with Betty Grinnan founded Boca Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility. Their issue was unfunded liabilities in the city’s police and fire pension funds. The city council responded with reforms in the current contracts that reduce those liabilities by nearly $100 million over 30 years.

That background explains why Teller Kaye’s proposal on Ocean Breeze got noticed. She believes that the $24 million price for Ocean Breeze—which the district’s executive director and attorney, Art Koski, negotiated with Lennar—is too high. So do some council members. The district has signed the contract, but it’s contingent on the city council agreeing to issue bonds for the purchase, with the district reimbursing the city for the debt payments. Lennar must return the $2.4 million down payment in the contract if the council doesn’t approve the bonds. Teller Kaye also believes that the city could obtain Ocean Breeze for less through eminent domain.

For the council to intervene at this point, Mayor Susan Haynie told me, “We would have to have this policy decision. I think it’s rather questionable that we could do it. That’s a very tough mountain to climb.”

Councilman Robert Weinroth said of Teller Kaye, “She is jumping the gun. Negotiations haven’t evolved to the point of (the council) taking that extraordinary step.”

As to the council’s potential use of eminent domain, Scott Singer said the tactic “is not appropriate here.” Singer, the only attorney on the council, said Lennar would cite the $24 million figure “as the minimum value in any eminent domain proceeding, so eminent domain here would likely result in only higher costs and delay.” Lennar and Wells Fargo, which owns Ocean Breeze, have the deep pockets to drag out any litigation.

The district’s consulting attorney concluded that eminent domain could result in a price of at least $36 million for Ocean Breeze after legal fees were added. Though the analysis concluded that the district might have a legal basis for taking Ocean Breeze, the council might have a separate problem. The city already has a 27-hole golf course. What is the public need to take Ocean Breeze except to cash in by selling the existing course?

Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke declined comment on Teller Kaye’s idea: “I would prefer not to be quoted at this juncture.” Jeremy Rodgers was the most receptive to Teller Kaye’s comments. Rodgers said Teller Kaye “made some good points.” The district, he said, “outrageously bid the price up with no financial basis for that $24 million number.” Though Rodgers called eminent domain “not the preferred option,” he said it was “something we should explore in parallel to move forward most quickly.”

Despite the collective wish to resolve the issue, Haynie acknowledged that the council can’t make a decision on selling the western course without “some clarity on Ocean Breeze.” By its July 24 meeting, the council may have the staff’s analysis of the Lennar contract and a better idea of how much it would cost to renovate Ocean Breeze. Board chairman Bob Rollins told me Monday that the district definitely also would want the city’s help on securing the money—now estimated at between $9 million and $12 million—to make the closed course playable and to build a pro shop.

City takeover of the Ocean Breeze negotiations “is not the direction I’m reading” Rollins said. For now, he’s right.

      More on Ocean Breeze:

Haynie complained that she had been speaking with district officials about the Lennar offer “and the next thing I read is that they’ve signed the contract.” The district, Haynie said, “seems to be pushing the council” to act.

Rollins acknowledged that “Lennar was anxious,” but defended the district as “just trying to move forward.” The move, however, puts a timeline in play. The closing date for the purchase of Ocean Breeze is Oct. 27. Koski said Singer asked that the district include options to extend the closing. There are three, each for 30 days.

Haynie wanted to know if the land within Ocean Breeze that is zoned for a hotel could be separated from the golf course deal. That property is not under the covenant that restricts use of Ocean Breeze to golf. Cutting out that land could reduce the overall purchase price.

Apparently, that is one other unanswered question. Koski said he is “working on the response.”

       And finally on Ocean Breeze:

The beach and park district is asking the city council to take a lot on faith: the $24 million price, the estimate for renovating the course and the district’s ability to run the course at a surplus.

So, as Rollins admitted, “The optics are not good” when the district just agreed to pay $500,000 in cost overruns for the makeover of the playground at Sugar Sand Park. That was one project on a small piece of land, not the roughly 200 acres that make up Ocean Breeze.

In retrospect, Rollins said, it would have been better to “start fresh” than to rebuild. One factor was sentiment. Volunteers built the original playground, before the Americans With Disabilities Act. There was community sweat equity in the structure. Making the playground accessible to all children, whatever their limitations, proved very complicated and expensive.

Much of the overrun, Rollins said, was overtime pay to meet the March 17 reopening date that the district already had postponed from November. Rollins said the public likes the result, and he’s probably right. But I would expect those playground “optics” to come up when Ocean

Breeze returns to the city council.

Waiting with bated breath for Delray CRA appointments

Appointments to the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency usually don’t generate much attention. Not this year.

Just three weeks ago, the city commission came one vote short of abolishing the independent CRA board and taking over policymaking. Tonight, the commission will appoint four board members – a majority. Whatever happens, there will be change at the CRA. The only question is how much change.

Board member Paul Zacks declined to seek appointment to another term after Mayor Cary Glickstein’s May 24 letter to the CRA offering “suggestions” on policy. Zacks considered that overreach. Board member Herman Stevens is term-limited. Joseph Bernadel did not apply for a second term. Chairman Reggie Cox is the only incumbent among the roughly two dozen applicants.

Glickstein told me, “I’m looking for board members who offer renewed focus and sense of urgency to finish the job, but who also can work together.” Though Glickstein voted against the commission takeover, he made clear in his letter that he wants major policy changes.

Commissioner Jim Chard also opposed the takeover. Critics note that Delray Beach is one of the few CRAs in Florida still with an independent board. In Boca Raton, the city council also functions as the CRA board. Chard responds, “Our CRA is different from almost every other in the state.” Among other things, the CRA gives money to non-profit groups, a policy that has been controversial. Commissioner Mitch Katz criticized the CRA for giving incentives to the iPic project on East Atlantic Avenue, but Chard pointed out that the Fairfield Inn on West Atlantic Avenue also received incentive money.

Chard said he and Commissioner Shirley Ervin Johnson have attended meetings of the CRA board and the West Atlantic Redevelopment Coalition. Chard told me, “There are some very good people” among the applicants, though he declined to name them.

Katz emailed four questions to the 23 applicants. He told me that the questions centered on Glickstein’s letter—“I got a lot of interesting comments on that one”—the iPic money, whether a community benefits agreement should be required for any project within the CRA and what financial experience qualifies the applicant for the job. Katz also said he will not support Cox. “We all said we wanted something new. The incumbents are what got us here.”

CRA appointments rotate among the commissioners. Chard is the only one without an appointment. But that could change. Each commissioner presents the name of an applicant for nomination. The applicant must get a second and receive at least three votes. If a commissioner offers two names that the others reject, that commissioner loses a turn. Commissioners also could defer their choice to the June 20 meeting. The appointments take effect July 1.

I will report Thursday on the outcome.

Delray CRA grades in

With Zacks off the board, CRA Executive Director Jeff Costello will lose one of his biggest supporters.

In their annual evaluation, the board members ranked Costello over 31 areas related to budget, staff, policy and community outreach. Rankings ranged from 5 (outstanding) to 1 (unsatisfactory).

Zacks gave Costello 148 points, which amounted to a grade of 95 percent. The only board members to rank Costello higher were Bernadel, Stevens and Daniel Rose, at 97 percent. Bernadel and Stevens are leaving the board. Among other board members whose seats are not up this year, Cathy Balestriere gave Costello 70 percent and Dedrick Straghn ranked him at 86 percent. Cox, who has applied for another term, was hardest on Costello. He gave the director a failing grade of 50 percent.

Commission members applying for CRA seats

During our conversation about the CRA, Katz said he has filed for re-election to Seat 1. Glickstein and Seat 3 Commissioner Shelly Petrolia also can seek re-election. Both have been elected twice, but the first time, in 2013, each was running to fill out a term. The city’s term limits apply only after two consecutive three-year terms.

There has been talk that Katz or Petrolia might challenge Glickstein. Katz told me that he filed early “to let people know I was running for my seat, nothing else.”

Mizner 200’s city council  judgement next month

The Mizner 200 downtown condo project will go before the Boca Raton City Council on July 24. Mizner 200 easily got favorable recommendations from the community appearance and planning and zoning boards. It would replace the Mizner on the Green rental community across Mizner Boulevard from Royal Palm Place.

Is economic development really what Rick Scott wants?

 

Gov. Rick Scott, who claims that economic development is his priority, vetoed roughly $6 million worth of requests by Florida Atlantic University.

The vetoes make no sense because a) better universities help to create jobs and b) most of the money was to promote economic development. FAU’s Tech Runway, which helps startup companies, lost $1.2 million. The other money was to enhance FAU’s biotech work at the Jupiter campus, where Scripps Florida and the Max Planck Florida Institute share space. Nearly $10 million for a long-awaited life sciences building in Jupiter survived.

Scott vetoed roughly $400 million because his political priority was to find money for the awful budget deal he worked out with legislative leaders. As part of the deal, Scott will get $85 million for what amounts to a political slush fund disguised as economic development incentives. Tech Runway will have to wait.


Missed the last City Watch? Visit our Community/City Watch page, and subscribe to the magazine for City Watch columns in every issue. 

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.
boca raton airport authority

Calmer Skies in Boca, More People and Money Are Coming

 

The Trump effect

StockSnap_00QY8CD88B

President Trump has blown Mar-a-Lago for the summer. City politics are quiet. For now, there’s no turbulence at the Boca Raton Airport Authority.

That’s a change from two years ago. The city council had just named one of its own, Robert Weinroth, and Deputy City Manager George Brown to the authority board. It was the first time a council member and a top administrator had served on the governing board.

To the council, the move was necessary to change rules that had made the board too secretive. To others, the move hinted at a takeover by the city. As it turned out, Weinroth and Brown stayed for only a few months, until the board altered policies about how board members communicated with the council.

Notably, this year the board switched attorneys. Weinroth and his colleagues believed that the attorney at the time had crafted those policies to which the council objected. Also notably, Brown served on the committee that drew up the qualifications for the job. The authority now uses Lewis, Longman & Walker, a state firm based in West Palm Beach, and Kaplan Kirsch Rockwell, which has offices in Denver, Washington and New York.

But just as the authority was closing that chapter, Trump opened a new one. Everyone assumed that the new president would visit his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach every now and then. No one—certainly not Clara Bennett, the airport authority’s executive director, and her staff—assumed that he would spend 23 of his first 84 days in office at Mar-a-Lago.

Clara-Bennett

Boca Raton Airport Authority Executive Director Clara Bennett.

Because of flight restrictions that the Secret Service imposes within a 30-nautical mile outer circle of restricted airspace around the winter White House, many planes—especially private jets—that normally would have landed at Palm Beach International Airport diverted to Boca Raton. Bennett told me that traffic nearly doubled during a Trump visit, from about 200 to about 400 planes. The increase in traffic meant a corresponding increase in noise for residents who live northeast and southwest of the airport under the flight paths.

Also because of those restrictions, planes had to alter their usual takeoff pattern to the northeast. To avoid having jets violate the 10-mile inner circle of restricted airspace, pilots had to angle more to the east. “We had aircraft over homes that never see them,” Bennett said.

It was winter. People had their windows open. Noise complaints doubled. Neighborhoods to the southwest were used to the lower noise levels from landings, but the number of landings had doubled. “The calls were intense at first, “Bennett said. “It was an education issue. When we told them that it wasn’t a permanent change they weren’t happy, but they understood.”

For Bennett and Deputy Director Scott Kohut, the frustration is that they have almost no control over what will return as a problem with Trump, probably in November for Thanksgiving. Since they can’t change the rules for presidential visits, they will work to reduce noise when Trump isn’t at Mar-a-Lago. They also will try to alert nearby homeowners when Trump is coming and remind everyone about the rules.

Higher traffic did bring one benefit. Because the two fixed-base operators that service planes had much more business—“They were exhausted,” Kohut said—the airport got more in fees.

Elsewhere, Bennett expects that construction on the airport’s customs facility will be complete in late July. After that, Customs and Border Patrol comes in with its punch list. When the feds are satisfied—perhaps in September—the facility will be open from Thursday to Monday. Jets that now have to clear customs elsewhere can come directly to Boca Raton.

Customs facility at the Boca Raton Airport Authority.

Customs facility at the Boca Raton Airport Authority.

The facility should help the city’s image as a place to do business. Certainly, the regional demand is there. Bennett notes that Fort Lauderdale Executive, where she worked previously, is the busiest non-commercial customs airport in the country. Bennett expects about 700 airplane clearings and 200 boat clearings a year. The facility isn’t planned as a profit center. Bennett said fees will be designed to have the authority “eventually break even.”

In addition, the airport is starting the second phase of safety upgrades at each end of the runway. Known as EMAS—Engineered Material Arresting System—it greatly reduces the danger if planes overshoot or come in too low. The north end was first. Now comes the south end. The runway itself also is getting rehab work.

Looking back at that turbulent period two years ago, Bennett says the authority “is much stronger for it.” Her comment is probably both diplomatic and accurate, but I wanted to ask about one other issue that came up in 2015: the authority’s new headquarters.

Some council members had wondered whether the move made financial sense. Bennett said the authority is paying $30,000 a year to lease the building while taking in $750,000 in lease payments from the old space.

Stronger indeed.

Airport Authority board

The city council fills five of the seven seats on the airport authority board. The county commission fills the other two. The commission just reappointed Cheryl Budd and will decide Tuesday on Tom Thayer, who has applied for another term.

When the council last month named Jack Fox to fill a vacancy, it amounted to a jab at BocaWatch Publisher Al Zucaro. Two years ago, he filed an ethics complaint against Fox, then serving on the board, regarding Fox’s ownership of a plane and a hangar at the airport. The Florida Commission on Ethics rejected the recommendation of its advocate and found no probable cause to proceed. Fox, who had resigned from the board, and Zucaro later ripped at each other at council meetings.

Three candidates sought appointment to the vacant seat. Fox had support from Mayor Susan Haynie and council members Jeremy Rodgers and Scott Singer.

Rising property values

In Boca Raton and Delray Beach, population and property values continue in the right direction.

According to new data from the Census Bureau, Boca Raton gained 2,750 residents between mid-2015 and mid-2016. As of roughly a year ago, the city’s population was 96,114. That’s an increase of almost 14 percent since the start of the last decade.

The pace in Delray Beach was nearly the same. The city added almost 1,200 people year over year, raising the population to 67,371. Delray Beach’s increase since 2010 is 11.3 percent.

Like long-timers in both cities, those new residents will want excellent services. Paying for them depends mostly on property taxes. There will be more revenue for the 2017-18 budgets. Nearly final property rolls released this week show that Boca Raton’s taxable value—the highest in the county—increased 7.1 percent from last year, to $22.5 billion. Delray Beach increased to $9.6 billion, or 9.2 percent. City staffers, however, have not calculated how much of that came within the community redevelopment agency and thus must stay with the CRA.

Sales tax

Money also is flowing to Boca Raton and Delray Beach from the one-cent sales increase that voters approved last November. This money, however, can’t go for operating expenses. Cities must spend it on infrastructure.

Through March, Boca Raton had collected about $1.5 million, on sales within the county and sales of goods shipped to the county. Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus said Delray Beach had received about $1 million over the same period. Both totals are in line with county projections. Analysts had forecast that Boca Raton would receive between $52 million and $61.5 million over the 10 years the tax will be levied. The projection for Delray Beach was between $37.7 million and $44.5 million.

Boca Raton has created an account to hold the money until the council decides how to spend it. Unlike Boca, Delray Beach has a backlog of capital projects and is moving quickly to leverage the revenue. De Jesus said the city will issue a 10-year revenue bond based on getting slightly less than $3 million a year. That’s a very conservative approach, but sales taxes can drop quickly if the economy slows down.

De Jesus hopes to present the bond proposal to the city commission for review and approval at the June 20 meeting. Bond revenue, he said, won’t pay for all items on the city’s project list. The balance will come from the capital improvement plan, the CRA and the utility fund.

Raise for de Jesus

Since we’re speaking of Delray Beach and money, de Jesus is up for a raise on Tuesday. On the commission agenda is an item to raise his salary to $200,000.

De Jesus remains the interim manager, having taken over for Don Cooper at the end of last year. It was first thought that he would oversee the choice of a permanent manager. His extended stay, however, remains amicable to de Jesus and the commission. Certainly there’s no reason to start a search now, with the preliminary budget due in a few weeks. With every month, though, it looks more likely that de Jesus will lose that adjective in his title.

McAuliffe is back

Talk about getting into a race early.

Former Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe filed this week to run for the Group 13 circuit court state. David French is the incumbent, but he is not expected to seek re-election next year.

McAuliffe served as state attorney from 2008 until early 2012. He resigned to become general counsel for Oxbow, the West Palm Beach energy company run William Koch. His brothers, Charles and David Koch, are well known for their support of Republican candidates and political organizations. McAuliffe is a Democrat, but judicial races in Florida are non-partisan.

If he wins, McAuliffe and his wife would form quite the power couple. Robin Rosenberg is a federal judge who hears cases in West Palm Beach and Fort Pierce. President Obama nominated her to the federal bench. McAuliffe is the first candidate to file for one of the 13 circuit court seats that come up next year. The terms are for six years.


Missed the last City Watch? Visit our Community/City Watch page, and subscribe to the magazine for more City Watch columns in every issue. 

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.
delray cra

Delray CRA Seats Open, Boca Plans Another Downtown Garage, and More Boca/Delray News

Delray CRA independent, but commission aims to tighten its grip

delray cra

The CRA received money toward community engagement and project design for Old School Square.

At least one board member of the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency won’t return after the city commission makes new appointments in July.

Last week, Paul Zacks withdrew his application for another four-year term. Zacks, a former chief assistant in the state attorney’s office, previously served on the board of adjustment and the planning and zoning board.

One day before Zacks withdrew, Mayor Cary Glickstein sent a letter to CRA Chairman Reggie Cox and Executive Director Jeff Costello. A week earlier, Glickstein and city commissioners Jim Chard and Shirley Ervin Johnson had formed a one-vote majority to keep the CRA board independent of the commission. Glickstein, though, made clear that he wanted the CRA board to align its policies more with those of the commission.

In the letter, Glickstein specified those preferred changes, calling them “suggestions.” He argued that though the CRA is an “independent agency,” it nevertheless is also “an agency of the city. . .In that regard, it is entirely consistent with the CRA’s legislative mandate that CRA policies remain consistent with policies adopted by the city commission.” Among Glickstein’s suggestions are:

  • That the city tell the CRA which important capital projects are within the CRA and thus could become funded by the CRA, not the city
  •  That the CRA no longer budget money that can’t be used in the next fiscal year
  • That the CRA maintain a contingency fund for infrastructure and public safety. The city manager would approve any expenditures from the fund
  • That the CRA not approve “third-party funding requests”—such as for non-profit groups—that the city has rejected unless the city’s denial comes with a recommendation that the CRA approve the request.
  • That the city attorney and the commission review proposals for sale of public land before the CRA sends out the proposals
  • That the CRA allow all of its board members to review meeting agendas in advance, as the commission does for agendas of its meetings
  • That Costello attend the weekly meetings of top city administrators and meet regularly with the city manager.

To Glickstein, these changes would create “a more cohesive” relationship that would “produce better results and lessen/eliminate controversy and misunderstanding.” To Zacks, it amounts to overreach, a sign that the CRA “will no longer enjoy independence in its decision-making.” Regarding his service, Zacks said, “It always struck me that Delray valued the input of its citizens so highly that we were empowered to make decisions on behalf of our fellow citizens. . .unfettered by either politics or the dictates of elected officials.”

Zacks again noted what he called the “irony” that “the same city commission which has shown difficulty in governing themselves now wants to govern the CRA as well.” Zacks did note that the results of the March election gave him “some reason for optimism in that regard.” He closed by praising Costello, the CRA staff in general and the other board members.

As of last week, the city had received nearly two dozen applications for the four CRA seats that the commission soon will fill. With Zacks out, Cox is the only incumbent at this point seeking a new term. In his letter, Glickstein said “significant change. . .is absolutely essential for the continued progress of our city.” One would assume that the letter will be required reading for the applicants.

Where to put new Boca downtown garage?

Boca Raton City Council members agreed on the need for another downtown parking garage. They kind of agreed that the garage could be west of the FEC tracks, part of the planned city campus makeover.

Maybe not.

During last Monday’s meeting of the council acting as the community redevelopment agency, Kim Delaney of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council updated council members on the plan for making Federal Highway more inviting to cyclists, walkers and commuters. Delaney compared the narrower, downtown “urban” section of U.S. 1 in Boca Raton to the wider section at the city’s north end. During the discussion, the subject of the garage arose.

Any “downtown” garage on the west side of the tracks likely would need a walkover to the east. Delaney noted that such walkovers—costing $7 million each—at Tri-Rail stations along the CSX corridor farther west have become problematic. Riders don’t like them. “People like to cross at the street,” Delaney said. At night, they’re unsafe. Tri-Rail stations on the FEC tracks—the so-called Coastal Link—would not have walkovers.

Delaney asked the council to consider, “What is the main purpose” of the downtown garage. “What is the best efficiency?” Councilman Robert Weinroth, who pushed hardest to speed up the garage, allowed that Delaney had “changed a few minds.”

So city staff will work with Song and Associates, the West Palm Beach architectural firm that is gathering information about the city-owned 28 acres just west of the FEC tracks and where the garage might have gone. The focus will be on where a garage might go and how the city might work with a private landowner, since there isn’t much open land east of the railroad.

College student district: Info needed

After the CRA presentation, Delaney returned during the city council workshop to talk about Boca Raton’s effort to create a college district near Florida Atlantic University. She was similarly helpful.

Until now, the area under study has been FAU and the area east to Dixie Highway, covering just the four blocks north and south of 20th Street. Delaney said the affected area actually goes west to Interstate 95, east to Federal Highway, north to Spanish River Boulevard and south to Glades Road.

Here’s one reason why: Boca Raton is upside down in terms of employment, with most people commuting in. The same is true of FAU. Most students drive to the commuter college that President John Kelly wants to make into a more traditional college. If more students live on or near the campus, traffic problems will decrease.

Some relief should come this summer, with the opening of the new I-95 interchange at Spanish River Boulevard. A different kind of relief, however, must come to single-family neighborhoods bordering FAU where many students rent houses. When such neighborhoods reach a 30 percent rental rate, Delaney said, they are “hard to bring back” to home ownership.

This district should happen. It makes sense for FAU. It makes sense for the city. The area is moving that way, and the demand is there. Delaney noted, however, that there will be “displacement.” Change will force out some incompatible businesses. Delaney warned that the city and FAU could go t0o far. The city still needs some of the businesses in what has been an industrial district. Example: car repair shops. Students drive, too.

Delaney said the city needs “a full economic assessment. We are data poor.” City staff will draw up a plan for the scope for the study’s second phase and how much it would cost. The hope is to have a second public meeting, known as a charrette, in January.

It’s the progress, stupid

Developments on the downtown garage and the student district reflect the city council’s new emphasis on showing progress toward completion of old priorities. Council members expressed this sentiment at their goal-setting session. Expect to hear it again when the session’s facilitator holds a follow-up meeting next month.

Boca approves hospital parking garage

After securing some minor concessions, the Boca Raton City Council last week approved zoning changes for Boca Raton Regional Hospital’s proposed parking garage.

Residents of single-family homes to the south and condos to the east objected the changes, which at first had the garage 100 feet away. After discussions between hospital representatives and the council, the setback went to 140 feet. Other conditions apply to landscaping that would buffer and the garage’s design, which will seek to minimize the amount of light the neighbors get.

Some neighbors wanted the hospital to put the garage on the north side of Meadows Road. Since the garage would be primarily for doctors and patients, that would be impractical. Boca Regional already ferries many employees to the hospital on shuttles from off-site parking.

A lawyer for some of the neighbors complained that the hearing should have been quasi-judicial, requiring sworn testimony and allowing more time for opponents to make their case. City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser responded that the issue involved an application of current policy, and thus no such hearing was required. All hearings involving the site plan for the garage, Frieser said, will be quasi-judicial.


Missed the last City Watch? Visit our Community/City Watch page, and subscribe to the magazine for more City Watch columns in every issue. 

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.
sober home regulation

Delray Seeks Sober Home Regulation, Mizner 200 Gets P&Z’s Stamp of Approval

Delray: Protecting residents of sober homes means protecting their neighbors, too

sober home regulation

People who relapse in sober homes fall prey for drug dealers, creating the city’s opioid overdose epidemic and flooding local emergency resources. Photo courtesy of Delray Beach Fire Rescue.

Daniel Lauber gets right to the point:

“In more than 40 years of working on zoning for community residences for people with disabilities,” said the attorney whom Delray Beach is using to craft sober home regulations, “the author of this study has rarely seen such a large number and intense concentration of community residences of any type in a single town of any size.”

Delray Beach has confirmed the presence of 183 sober homes and suspects that there are at least 64 more. Lauber said 183 alone would be high for a city of 100,000 (that’s  roughly one-third larger than Delray).

Well-run sober homes would not cause a problem. Badly-run homes victimize their residents as much as the single-family neighborhoods around them. Those in recovery who relapse become prey for drug dealers, which creates the city’s overdose epidemic that has strained the resources of the police and fire departments.

Just last week, Police Chief Jeffrey Goldman announced the arrest of 55 people in the anti-drug Operation Street Sweeper. The department also reported that the city had 49 drug overdoses and six deaths barely through mid-May. From 43 overdoses in January, the total has risen each month, to 75 in April. What a sad irony: things get busier with this scourge as the season ends.

As it turns out, helping those in recovery means helping the city. Mayor Cary Glickstein said, “We seek to ensure that (those in recovery) receive the counseling and treatment they need to achieve long-term sobriety. We seek to prevent operators from dumping expelled residents on the streets just to become homeless and defenseless, falling back into drug or alcohol abuse.”

       Bad operators cluster their homes. Lauber notes that this practice creates an unsuitable environment for recovering addicts. I also believe that it degrades neighborhoods. By June, Glickstein hopes that the city’s planning and zoning board will consider an ordinance that would require any new sober home to be at least one block from another—roughly 660 feet. Sober homes also would have to be certified under the new state law.

Lauber writes that, to survive a court challenge, any ordinance must meet three conditions: It must be designed to serve a legitimate purpose; it must achieve that purpose; and it must seek the least drastic action. Lauber believes that these proposals qualify.

The certification change seems especially important. Lauber states that because Florida waited so long to impose any rules, “a key expert estimates that 80 percent of the sober homes in Delray Beach do not comply with the minimum standards that the National Alliance of Recovery Communities has published. Only 11 homes, according to the report, have become certified since the voluntary law took effect two years ago.

Glickstein hopes that the proposals can get to the city commission by July. They come as the county’s sober homes task force has compiled a growing record of arrests. New legislation to crack down on patient brokering will help even more.

Consensus has emerged that what’s good for those in recovery is good for cities. “Our citizens,” Glickstein said, “will understand that in protecting the residents of sober living homes we will protect the surrounding neighbors, neighborhoods and our citizens at large.”

Little ruckus as P&Z board approves Mizner 200

The remarkable thing about the Mizner 200 debate before the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board on Thursday night was that nothing remarkable happened.

After the predictable objection from residents of Townsend Place and a representative of Investments Limited, the board voted 5-1 to send the project to the city council with a recommendation of approval. Board member Janice Rustin was absent.

Consider that Mizner 200, in the mind of some critics, resembled the very controversial Archstone/Palmetto Promenade in that it would be very long. Board member Larry Cellon, however, said, “The building process works.” Mizner 200 is on its third or fourth iteration after incorporating suggestions—such as adding townhouses—from the community appearance board that two days earlier also blessed the 384-unit condo project. The developer also agreed to a couple of minor changes that planning and zoning board members proposed.

Perhaps the strongest critics are waiting until Mizner 200 gets to Boca’s elected leaders. The harshest speaker Thursday called Mizner Boulevard “a death trap,” citing no statistics. The planning and zoning board, though, certainly gave the council every reason to say yes.

CRA dodged takeover, but open seats open new concerns

In writing last week about the Delray Beach City Commission’s refusal to take over the community redevelopment agency, I quoted City Commissioner Mitch Katz as saying that he favored public interviews of candidates for the four CRA board seats that open in July. Katz voted for the takeover.

Count Mayor Glickstein as a vote against it. He told me that the change was “unneeded and may thwart good applicants from applying.” Glickstein said commissioners “are free to speak with all board applicants now, and I would expect they would.” Glickstein said he already does so with those “that have a qualifying resume. I’m not sure a public vetting for a volunteer board gets you anything you can’t discern privately, and public interviews for volunteer boards would create a chilling effect for otherwise capable applicants who conclude, ‘I don’t need this.’”

CRA board member Paul Zacks is one of those whose seat opens up in July. He already has applied for another four-year term, and said, “I have not and will not lobby for the appointment.”

Responding to critical comments from city commissioners, Zacks said, “Just because some commissioners don’t agree with some of our decisions does not mean the decisions were wrong. Our board continues to work aggressively and cohesively (unlike the city commission) to redevelop those areas in need.” Zacks said residents of West Atlantic Avenue “who know our work best came out in strong numbers to support the CRA.”

I wondered Tuesday if the resolution to dissolve the volunteer board could come back. Glickstein acknowledged the possibility, but said the “combination of some new board members and new perspectives” might better “continue doing the important work they do.  In many ways, the CRA was a small microcosm of what I found at City Hall four years ago—doing business the way it was always done.  That worked years ago when the financial imbalance (between the CRA budget and the city budget was negligible, but no longer.”

I’ll have more on this before the commission decides on those July appointments.

Pondering party control of U.S. House

It’s never too early to wonder what role South Florida might play in the mid-term fight for control of the U.S. House. So let’s wonder a little.

District 21, which includes Delray Beach and areas north to Palm Beach, will re-elect Lois Frankel and thus remain Democratic. So will District 22, which includes Boca Raton and the western suburbs and part of northwest Broward County. Frankel got 63 percent of the vote last November. Deutch got 59 percent.

Potential swing seats are north and south. Republican Brian Mast represents District 18, which takes in northern Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. Republicans Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen represents district 26 and 27, respectively, in Miami-Dade. President Trump carried District 18—which leans Republican—with 53 percent, about what Mast received. Hillary Clinton carried 26 and 27, getting nearly 60 percent in both.

The two issues most in play now are the Republican health care bill, which Trump supports, and Trump himself. Mast and Curbelo voted for the bill. Ros-Lehtinen opposed it. Curbelo praised the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Mast said, “We should never run or hide from the truth.”

Ros-Lehtinen’s victory shows how personality can lead to ticket-splitting. But Ros-Lehtinen is retiring. Expect Mast to emphasize his work on local issues, notably the health of Indian River Lagoon. Democrats must win 24 seats to take control of the House.

FAU’s new #winning football strategy

The South Florida Sun Sentinel recently reported on a smart change in philosophy by Florida Atlantic University about its football team.

As a member of the lower-tier Conference USA, FAU can get a payoff by playing on the road against teams from the five top-tier conferences. The problem is that FAU regularly loses those games. That’s the deal, after all. The Owls got some cash, but they also got three straight seasons of three wins and nine losses. So it’s no surprise that attendance at home has been lousy.

Athletic Director Pat Chun said FAU, under new coach Lane Kiffen, will take less money to play more beatable teams. President John Kelly has tied FAU’s future to athletics—meaning the Schmidt Center—which means that he’s tied the future to football. Students and locals won’t turn out until the team wins more often.

Tri-Rail gets its funding back

Tri-Rail is a big issue in Boca Raton. The Yamato Road station is Tri-Rail’s busiest, and the city favors a second station near Boca Center in tandem with plans for residential development in the Midtown section.

A brief controversy over Tri-Rail’s new operating contract caused Gov. Rick Scott to eliminate Tri-Rail funding from his budget. Fortunately, Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams—who is vice-chairman of Tri-Rail’s board—and others persuaded legislators that the board had awarded the contract properly.

The compromise that I reported on last month held. Tri-Rail will get its money, but will have to get state approval for any new contract. Tri-Rail won’t need that approval for at least five years. So work can continue on planning for the Coastal Link—commuter service on the FEC tracks.

BRRH to request for rezoning

On tonight’s Boca Raton City Council agenda is Boca Raton Regional Hospital’s request for a rezoning that would allow a 900-space parking garage 100 feet from homes, rather than the current 250 feet. The project, the first of four that are part of the hospital’s new plan, got a favorable recommendation from the planning and zoning board. It would surprise me if the council disagreed.


Missed the last City Watch? Visit our Community/City Watch page, and subscribe to the magazine for more City Watch columns in every issue.

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.
mizner 200

Mizner 200 Gets its Test, CRA Survives in Delray, and More Boca/Delray News

Mizner 200’s prospects before P&Z Board look favorable

mizner 200

A rendering of the view of Mizner 200 from ground level.

Mizner 200 will go before the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board tonight with a favorable recommendation from the city’s community appearance board. The vote Tuesday night was 5-2.

Approval came with two amendments. The board asked if the developer, Elad Properties, could put canopy trees—such as oaks—along the sidewalk, not just farther back near the building and around the main entrance in the center. One member also didn’t like the trellis-like structures on the north and south ends that the architect added in the most recent rendering.

Bonnie Miskel, the attorney who represents Mizner 200, said the developer also would prefer to use something besides palm trees. The problem, Miskel said, is that canopy tree root systems can damage utility connections that run under the sidewalks. The root systems of palm trees are much shallower. Miskel also said Boca Raton has made palms “its tree of choice.” For those reasons, city staff might not share the board’s sentiment.

Tonight, however, the focus will be on what critics call Mizner 200’s “massing.” The 384-unit condo would front onto nearly 900 feet of Southeast Mizner Boulevard across from Royal Palm Place. Some residents of Townsend Place, the condo to the south, would lose their views and will ask the board to demand greater setbacks. There will be lots of discussion about whether Mizner 200’s three buildings would be compatible enough on those nearly nine acres. Though there would be three driveways, residents would enter only through that central portal.

Whatever criticism Mizner 200 draws, rejecting it would be a tough call for the planning and zoning board and eventually for the city council, acting as the board of the community redevelopment agency. The staff recommendation is for approval. The backup material notes that the projects meets or exceeds all requirements of Ordinance 4035, which governs downtown development. Mizner 200 also secured a favorable recommendation from the city’s architecture consultant.

Whatever the outcome, Mizner 200 is the last major residential project in the downtown pipeline. Boca Raton’s focus is shifting toward unifying the downtown elements and developing the 30 acres of city property across Dixie Highway and the FEC tracks from the heart of downtown. There isn’t much land left, but there does remain a lot of work to complete downtown Boca Raton.

Delray CRA dodged commission takeover but is still under scrutiny

Delray Beach City Commissioner Jim Chard called Tuesday night’s debate over a takeover of the community redevelopment agency “very exciting. It was like leaving a movie theater and looking at your watch, and it’s been four hours and you thought it was too short.”

Chard acknowledges being a “government nerd.” Still, all 30 speakers and all five commissioners did speak articulately and passionately. As I had forecast in earlier posts, Chard sided with Mayor Cary Glickstein and Commissioner Shirley Ervin Johnson against the takeover. Mitch Katz and Shelly Petrolia voted for it.

It would be a mistake, though, for the CRA board members consider the vote a reprieve. Commissioners expressed a collective frustration with a board that they believe too often doesn’t align its priorities with those of the wider city and its elected leaders. In her closing argument, Petrolia referred to “too little on West Atlantic (Avenue) and too little accountability.” Petrolia and others want “seamless” redevelopment from Interstate 95 to A1A, and blame the CRA for failing to create enough of it east of Swinton Avenue.

Then there’s the money issue. The commission wants the CRA to spend more of its money for work inside its boundaries, freeing more money for the other 80 percent of Delray Beach. Glickstein cited a South Florida Sun Sentinel article about the potential failure of Fort Lauderdale’s water and sewer system that could cost the city $1.4 billion. In Delray Beach, Glickstein said, “We have to fix what we can’t see.”

What now? In July, the terms of CRA board members Reggie Cox—the chairman—Joseph Bernadel, Herman Stevens and Paul Zachs are up. That’s a majority. Commissioners make rotating appointments to the board. Katz has the first, with another going to everyone but Chard. His predecessor, Al Jacquet, had the last one.

Normally, a commissioner offers the name of his or her chosen applicant and the full commission votes it up or down. Katz wants the commission to hold public interviews of the applicants, as Boca Raton does for all board appointments. That could be a good idea. Though not all the commissioners favored the takeover, all favor a shift in board policy. How can that happen without hearing directly from those who want to set the policy?

Chard said he wants to attend “as many CRA meetings as possible” and speak to the board members. He and Katz want to recruit people for the positions. Katz is skeptical that the close vote alone will change policy. “We warned (the CRA) two years ago, and here we are.” Perhaps this stronger warning will mean a new ending to this movie.

iPic finally has a place to rest its head                                     

If Tuesday night was uncomfortable for the Delray Beach CRA, some good news came earlier in the day.

The CRA and iPic finally closed on the sale of three-plus acres the CRA assembled for Fourth and Fifth Delray. The developer picked up the permits, having reached agreement last week with the city on a plan to provide public parking during construction.

Even with the best plan, however, there probably will be complaints. In Boca Raton, iPic redid existing space in Mizner Park. In Delray Beach, iPic is building the whole project. The immediate hope is that if work can start soon, any disruption will affect just one full tourist season, with the project opening in late 2018. The long-term hope is that Fourth and Fifth Delray so complements downtown Delray Beach that the only complaint in five years is the difficulty in buying a ticket.

Delray’s goal-setting meeting sought to accomplish old ones

At Delray Beach’s goal-setting session last week, members of the public who attended got bacon and eggs with their coffee. A week earlier, Boca Raton had provided breakfast bars and trail mix. Score one for Delray.

In terms of substance, though, Delray Beach had the more limited menu. There was no talk of grandiose new projects. The discussion focused on getting right the basics of municipal government, a goal the city commission has been pursuing since 2013. Frustration was evident as Assistant City Manager Caryn Gardner-Young explained the ongoing problems with a $3 million IT upgrade. The original 18-month timetable, she said, is “not reasonable.” Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus said, “A lot of money and time has been invested and lost.” What will it cost and when will it be completed? “We don’t know.” The IT project predates de Jesus and Gardner-Young.

For commissioners, the consolation seemed to be that de Jesus and his assistants—Gardner-Young and Dale Sugerman—are getting a handle on where things stand, even though all have been in their current positions less than a year. Gardner-Young was hired in March. She promised to tell commissioners “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” There also continues to be general satisfaction with the police department under Chief Jeffrey Goldman and the fire department under Interim Chief Keith Tomey. If de Jesus does not become the permanent manager, he will go back to the fire chief’s position.

Mayor Glickstein called it the best of the five such session he has attended: “Concise and fact-based, matching critical needs with finite dollars for this year and next.” De Jesus focused on realistic expectations. Commissioner Johnson, who was elected in March, said the tendency is “for newcomers to want to impose their ideas onto an already established agenda or to set new directions, establish new programs, project different ideas onto an already full plate of the same. Resolving these two processes takes time and often produces friction. We need to stabilize our city personnel, complete many of the projects that have been pushed forward—infrastructure, building projects—and just work towards those forgotten goals while allowing for emergency unexpected events (crumbling water and sewer pipes).

Chard was frustrated that there was no talk of “sober homes, sea level rise, affordable housing or mobility beyond what each department was doing.” The focus was more on finishing current projects than scheduling new ones. Chard acknowledged that “while this may not have incorporated all issues, it is a good step forward.”

In an email, de Jesus said, “Clearly, as shown in their support, the commission understands the situation that we are in and the need to catch up so that we can start doing things better. We will focus on doing just that, and having the commission’s support is paramount to our success.”

Student district proposals already underway                        

Progress toward a student district near Florida Atlantic University is happening even before Boca Raton writes rules for the area.

Before the planning and zoning board tonight is a proposal from Tottenham Investments for a roughly 10,000-square-foot building at Plum Park, on 20th Street between Boca Raton Boulevard and Dixie Highway. Eight warehouses first went on the property 30 years ago. This project would include medical, retail, fast food and restaurant uses.

Staff recommends approval, noting that the property already is becoming more of a “typical commercial shopping plaza.” That change aligns with the city’s goal of creating a residential, commercial and entertainment cluster for students at FAU and Lynn University. Coincidentally, at Monday’s city council workshop meeting the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council will present its final report from last December’s “visioning summit” on the new district.

Zoning change for Wildflower property up for approval next week

I reported recently that Boca Raton intended to change the zoning on the Wildflower property and thus rebuff a lawsuit over the waterfront ordinance voters approved last November. The change from commercial to recreation/open space is before the planning and zoning board tonight. It won’t be controversial, and already is on the city council agenda for approval Tuesday night.

Because the ordinance blocked the attempt to lease the land for a revenue-generating restaurant, the new plan is to link Wildflower with Silver Palm Park to create a public promenade with whatever activities the ordinance might permit. Silver Palm is on the other side of the Palmetto Park Road Bridge. That’s a county facility, so the county owns the strip of land under the bridge.

According to a city spokeswoman, discussions between the respective staffs concluded that the city would need only a permit from the county to link the two sites. The city’s consultant on the waterfront master plan will help determine what might go on the roughly eight acres.

 


Missed the last City Watch? Visit our Community/City Watch page, and subscribe to the magazine for more City Watch columns in every issue. 

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.
delray cra

What Will Delray do About the CRA? iPic Still a No-Go

Everything you need to know about possible changes to Delray’s CRA board

delray cra

Gateway feature at West Atlantic Avenue and I-95, a CRA project completed in 2013.

The resolution is barely two pages. The language is simple. The potential effects, however, could be long-lasting and complicated.

We are talking about the potential takeover of the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency by the city commission. For 32 years, since the creation of the CRA, a seven-member board—which the commission appoints—has set policy for the agency. Comparing the downtown of today with the downtown of 1985, the CRA clearly has succeeded. The question now is whether downtown is succeeding at the overall city’s expense.

Politics around the iPic project partly explains the push for this change. More about that in a moment. Mostly, however, this argument is about money—whether too much stays within the CRA boundaries and isn’t available for the many needs outside the CRA.

In an email, former Chief Financial Officer Jack Warner made the case for change. Warner noted that the city spends about $250 million a year on services and infrastructure, much of it within the CRA and within the agency’s mandate. “The city’s annual budget process,” Warner said, “is a continuing balancing act between funding these services and the desire to avoid raising property taxes, which are already uncomfortably high.”

By essentially subsidizing the CRA over the last two decades, Warner argued, the city ran up an infrastructure backlog of $250 million. The CRA could pay a larger share for downtown work and still fulfill its role, Warner said, but progress toward that goal has been “only partially successful.” Placing the commission in control,” Warner said, “is a logical alternative, and should not be dismissed as politics of the product of a few personalities.”

Yet the politics is there. Much of the support for a takeover comes from residents who supported the two losing candidates in the March election. Those candidates had support from commissioners Mitch Katz and Shelly Petrolia. Jim Chard and Shirley Ervin Johnson, the winning candidates, have been more cautious.

On Monday, Katz told me that he is “leaning toward” a vote in support of the resolution. At his town hall meeting last week, Katz said, almost all of the attendees favored a takeover. Though Katz said finances and what he called “potential efficiencies” are a factor, he also cited the CRA board’s decision to give iPic roughly $1 million worth of incentives and subsidies over the next 10 years.

Glickstein, who was happy that Chard and Johnson won, pronounced himself “somewhat neutral” on a takeover as of Monday. “We have a lot on our plate already.” Glickstein noted, correctly, that the resolution arose from a comment by Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus at the end of the last commission meeting. “I’m not sure the best decision-making occurs after being in a meeting for five hours.

“While the subject matter is timely and valid, changing 30 years of direction after a heated conversation at 11 p.m. when we’re all exhausted and impatient may not produce the best outcome.” At last week’s goal-setting meeting Glickstein did rate the redevelopment of West Atlantic Avenue “a fail.” In December, the CRA’s deal for the three blocks east of the Fairfield Inn collapsed after three years.

Johnson remains a likely “no” vote and Petrolia—who didn’t return messages seeking comment—a likely “yes” vote. Chard said Monday that he is “concerned about the tenor of the conversation,” which is moving not just to a takeover but from there to abolishing the CRA. “There’s something of a rush to judgment going on. What would we replace the CRA with?”

Under the resolution, the commission could keep the CRA board at seven by appointing two other board members. The commission also could create an advisory board. Practically speaking, however, the commission would control the CRA.

What would that mean? Would city staff absorb the CRA staff? Would all the CRA employees keep their jobs but report to the city manager? How would the city and CRA budgets work together?

Notes on Boca’s CRA board vs. Delray’s

The Boca Raton City Council long has served a dual role as the CRA board. There are two notable differences, however, between the cities.

First, Delray Beach has a race component that Boca Raton lacks. The CRA district includes most of Delray’s minority neighborhoods. Second, the CRA district includes Delray’s most important tax base. Boca’s key source of property tax revenue is the commercial districts outside of downtown. The CRA controversy in Boca involves individual projects and the work of unifying downtown.

The CRA recognizes the threat. On its agenda last week was repeal of a street-naming rule that had angered the commission. In addition, the CRA discussed whether the agency could pay all $11 million of the Old School Square master plan.

Neither de Jesus nor City Attorney Max Lohman will make a recommendation. This one is all on the city’s elected leaders.

Perhaps the commission will decide the issue tonight. Perhaps the commission will delay a decision and schedule a workshop to consider other options. Example: The commission could change the appointment process, with the goal of naming members who would make more progress on finances. Four CRA positions—a majority—are up for appointment soon.

“I hope (a workshop is) the sort of outcome we get,” Chard said. He has asked—and not received an answer—whether the commission could give itself the power to approve the CRA budget, which could accomplish many of the same goals without a takeover.

Or perhaps the threat alone would have the desired effect. Whatever their respective positions on a takeover, all five commissioners want the CRA to change. The question is whether the CRA will undertake it or the commission will impose it.

iPic reps fail to pick up docs, delay closing on land

Speaking of iPic, the company and the CRA finally were set to close Monday on the land for the project.

And then they didn’t.

Closing had been delayed by negotiations over a plan for parking during the expected 18 months of construction. The project will displace 88 public spaces that mostly serve businesses near the site—between Southeast Fourth and Fifth avenues south of Atlantic Avenue. iPic has agreed to provide 90 public spaces in the parking garage that will serve the movie theater and offices, including iPic’s corporate headquarters.

All seemed fine Monday morning. But according to City Attorney Max Lohman, iPic’s representatives never picked up the building permits that are required at closing. The permits have been ready for weeks.

Lohman said Tuesday morning that the CRA’s attorney had given iPic a deadline of 2 p.m. today to get the permits and close. Otherwise, Lohman said, the company will have to return the closing documents.

iPic’s attorney, Bonnie Miskel, said negotiations over the parking deal went on longer than expected because they included so many people from each side. The company and city actually reached agreement late Friday—the hoped-for date—but too late in the afternoon to obtain the permits.

Miskel called the effort to find parking spots during construction “a big challenge” because downtown parking is so limited. Downtown Development Authority Director Laura Simon, Miskel said, helped out with a suggestion to use a valet system. “We think,” Miskel said, “that we have a way to proceed.”

First, of course, the closing must happen. I will update this saga in my Thursday post.

Wheels begin turning after Boca’s goal-setting meeting

The Boca Raton City Council already is moving on a priority from this month’s goal-setting meeting: a downtown parking garage.

Council members envisioned such a project as part of a remade downtown “campus”—the 30 acres of public land that include City Hall, the police station, the library, the community center and recreation space. With downtown parking so tight during the season, however, the council wanted to move first on the garage.

Having raised the issue during goal setting on May 4-5, the council last week— acting as the community redevelopment agency – formally asked staff to begin studying the garage. One likely site is the city-owned land east of the downtown library. It would be near a Tri-Rail station if commuter service began on the downtown FEC rail corridor. The city would find another location for the Junior League’s community garden on the property.

At this point, there is only a goal—no specifics on size or type. Automated garages, for example, can hold more cars in a smaller space. Staff hopes to present the council with preliminary information soon.

Mizner 200 hearing tonight

Concept view of the entrance of Mizner 200.

Concept view of the entrance of Mizner 200.

Armed with a favorable recommendation from Boca Raton’s architecture consultant, representatives of Mizner 200 will have their formal hearing tonight before the city’s community appearance board.

Arguing against the condo project on Southeast Mizner Boulevard will be Boca Beautiful President John Gore. He lives in Townsend Place, the condo that is just south of Mizner on the Green. Mizner 200 would displace that complex and its 246 rental units with 384 luxury condos. Another opponent could be Investments Limited, which owns Royal Palm Place. Investments Limited might propose its own residential project. If so, the units would look out onto Mizner 200.

Bonnie Miskel, the attorney for Mizner 200, said Elad Properties “has tried to incorporate all the suggestions” from community appearance board members at two prior informal hearings. I would expect a favorable vote tonight. The tougher stop will be Thursday before the planning and zoning board. I’ll update this issue in my Thursday post.

More info needed if city is to buy Ocean Breeze

Include Craig Ehrnst among those who want more “substantial numbers” for buying the Ocean Breeze golf course and reopening it as Boca Raton’s new public links.

That opinion matters because Ehrnst serves on the board of the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District, which has a contract to buy the closed course from Lennar for $24 million. Last week, District Director Art Koski pitched the sale to the Boca Raton City Council. The city would have to issue the bonds, with the district reimbursing the city for the payments.

In an email, Ehrnst—treasurer of the Boca Raton-based National Council for Compensation Insurance—said Koski “effectively articulated the reasons” for the purchase, such as the beneficial effect on property values in Boca Teeca and giving the community “a useful asset.” Ehrnst added, however, that needs confirmation on several points:

  • How did the city-district partnership on the purchase of the Ocean Strand property work? Does that apply with the potential purchase of Ocean Breeze?
  • How much would it cost to make Ocean Breeze playable? At what level of quality? “If we are going to do this,” Ehrnst said, “we need to evaluate options—premium to minimal. My preference is to design it right the first time, with city input. I just don’t know the cost, and we need a better estimate.”
  • How would the purchase affect the district’s long-term priorities, especially if voters in 2018 add $25,000 to the homestead exemption? Ehrnst does not want to raise taxes to pay for Ocean Breeze. The district’s tax rate is slightly less than half of its allowed $2 per every $1,000 of assessed value.

The city council has asked staff to create an interlocal agreement under which the city would issue the bonds. But council members have many of the same questions and want the same information Ehrnst wants.


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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.