Wednesday, November 30, 2022

House Candidate Trashes Boca and Ocean Breeze Concept Advances

The woman who wants to represent Boca Raton in the Florida House isn’t making any friends in the city with her increasingly shrill, fact-challenged campaign.

Republican Peggy Gossett-Seidman—a town commissioner in Highland Beach—is challenging Andy Thomson—a Democrat and Boca Raton city councilman—for the open District 91 seat that also includes parts of West Boca. To run against Thomson, Gossett-Seidman apparently believes that she also must run against Boca Raton.

In her campaign commercials and materials, Gossett-Seidman portrays Boca Raton as a city of high taxes and out-of-control spending. Thomson, Gossett-Seidman said, “raised property taxes” and “increased spending $200 million.”

These ads, which the Republican Party of Florida has been running for weeks, finally angered Mayor Scott Singer enough last week that he responded. Raising taxes, Singer said, has not happened “on my watch.” He has been mayor since 2018 and served on the council for four years before that. Singer is running for a second full term in March.

Then on Sunday, Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke posted a “BOCA RATON RESIDENT ALERT” on Facebook. Calling Boca Raton “the best city around,” O’Rourke said Gossett-Seidman “doesn’t really like Boca Raton.” O’Rourke cited Gossett-Seidman’s “silly attacks” on the city. As for raising taxes, O’Rourke said, “WE DID NOT.”

I’ll get to other aspects of Gossett-Seidman’s campaign in a moment. First, here’s a fact check on the tax issue.

If you define raising the property tax rate as “raising taxes,” Gossett-Seidman is wrong. Boca Raton’s rate has stayed the same for several years.

Because property values have increased, though, many property owners will pay more. The Save Our Homes law limits assessed value, so taxes on primary residents will go up very little. Owners of business property or second homes don’t have that protection.

But Gossett-Seidman’s accusation is hypocritical. Though Highland Beach kept its rate the same this year—like Boca Raton—values increased. So will most bills.

As for that supposed $200 million in additional spending, Gossett-Seidman doesn’t say where the number comes from. But the budget in Highland Beach goes up each year, as it generally does in Boca Raton.

In addition, Gossett-Seidman accused Thomson of raising “sales taxes.” Cities don’t set sales taxes.

Ideally, a campaign for the Legislature would focus on issues that especially matter in Boca Raton. Example: whether cities or Tallahassee will set rules on vacation rental properties. Another pertinent topic is the rising cost of property insurance.

With Gossett-Seidman, however, the Republican Party escalates the nationalization of local races. The GOP seeks to tie Thomson to President Biden on such issues as inflation and immigration, neither of which cities deal with. One ad portrays Thomson as “another WOKE liberal.” That would be the same Andy Thomson who has endorsements from generally conservative business groups and police and fire unions.

In fact, almost no issue that comes before the Boca Raton City Council is partisan. Thomson thus has no actual partisan record on which Republicans can pounce. So Gossett-Seidman seeks to trash him through guilt by association. As O’Rourke points out, she is trashing Boca Raton in the process.

Ocean Breeze concept advances

The former Ocean Breeze golf course

The Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District got a kinda, sorta approval from the city council Monday of its Ocean Breeze plan.

As I reported last month, the district has big plans for the 212 acres in the city’s north end. Speaking to council members, Board Chairman Erin Wright said the district envisions 10 miles of hiking and biking trails, which community outreach identified as the top priority.

But the district also wants golf facilities that would complement—not compete with—the new Boca Raton Golf & Racquet Club. Another big item is an Olympics-level aquatics facility. Boca Raton does not have one.

Though the district owns the site of the former Ocean Breeze Golf Course, the city must approve the site plan. Wright wanted assurances that the city agreed with the rough concept so that the district could start planning and design.

O’Rourke said she wants the city to “get in front of this project.” City Manager Leif Ahnell responded that there were “lots of blank spaces.” What if the district later wanted to build a hotel or a restaurant? “That would change many things.”

Not surprisingly, the main difference was over golf. The district wants a nine-hole short course, a putting course and a practice area. Council members would like less golf. Wright said there would be more details after the district learned about possible private sponsorship opportunities.

Yet nothing seems to loom yet as a deal-breaker. Wright said the district plans to address concerns among residents of the Boca Teeca community about security. The property threads among Boca Teeca’s residential buildings.

But this will be a complex issue. If the district gets to build even most of what it wants, traffic to what Wright hopes will be Boca Raton’s “next great park” could increase substantially. That could require a widening of Northwest Second Avenue, the main entrance to Ocean Breeze.

Still, Wright proclaimed herself satisfied after double-checking that the council was in support. On to the details.

Osceola Park project faces opposition

The developer of a proposed eight-unit townhouse in Delray Beach faces staff opposition.

On the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting of the site plan review and appearance board—if the approaching storm doesn’t force cancellation—is a project in the Osceola Park neighborhood across Southeast Fifth Avenue from Mallory Square. It would be a three-story project on a vacant lot of roughly one-half acre.

That land has been a hot item. In June 2015, it sold for $1.6 million. Thirteen months ago, it went for $3.425 million. The developer wants three waivers. One would remove the requirement to provide 235 square feet of open space. Another seeks a bigger façade. The third concerns rooftop pools.

According to the staff memo, giving up the open space—which the developer calls “a token gesture”—would leave the project “out of scale” with the area. Granting the waiver on pool construction would present “possible safety issues.” I’ll have a report after the meeting.

Changes to Northwest 20th Street?

Photo by Alex Dolce

Boca Raton has talked for several years about rezoning to change the area east of Florida Atlantic University into one oriented toward college students. An item on tonight’s Boca Raton City Council agenda might be part of that change.

An entity of Investments Limited wants to replace Calico Corners, the fabric shop that has operated at 170 N.W. 20th Street for 35 years, with an athletic training facility that would include an intravenous infusion area and juice bar.

Intravenous infusion is like an IV drip; it just doesn’t happen in a hospital. It’s designed to help hydration and performance. According to the staff memo, a nurse practitioner would have to administer it under a doctor’s supervision. The public could not use the area. The planning and zoning board unanimously recommended approval.

Bernhard Langer wins PGA event

The annual PGA Tour Champions event shifted locations in Boca Raton this year, but it didn’t matter to Bernhard Langer.

The city resident won the event, now known as the TimberTech Championship, for the third time. It moved to Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club because of renovations to the Old Course at Broken Sound.

Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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