Thursday, April 18, 2024

Atlantic Crossing bobs up again, fire department blues & other items of note

Atlantic Crossing: the latest generation  

There is yet another version of Atlantic Crossing. It’s too early to be sure, but this latest change might be a sign of progress.                                 

       To recap:

       The first site plan for Atlantic Crossing included a two-way road called Atlantic Court that provided a way in and out from Federal Highway, on the west side of the project that adjoins Veterans Park. In January 2014, however, the commission approved a new site plan that didn’t include the road.

       Residents who live near the property support an access road because they believe that it would ease traffic at the project’s main entrance: Northeast Seventh Avenue and Atlantic Avenue. Without such a road, the only other entrance would be from Northeast First Street, which is much more cramped than Atlantic Avenue.

       Though a majority of the commission has agreed on the need for a road, the commission never settled on an option. So a city consultant chose a one-way road. Atlantic Crossing submitted a new site plan with the road. In January, the Site Plan Review and Appearance Board rejected that plan. City staff had recommended denial, based on a report by yet another consultant that the one-way road would exacerbate traffic problems.

       Atlantic Crossing’s appeal of that denial is on tonight’s agenda, but a vote on the appeal may not take place. Atlantic Crossing has submitted a revised plan that addresses the consultant’s concerns, most of which focused on traffic flow within the project.

       Atlantic Crossing attorney Brian Seymour notified Delray of the changes in a Feb. 10 letter. Two days later, the traffic consultant sent a letter to Planning and Zoning Director Tim Stillings. The new plan, the consultant said, “provides substantial site circulation improvements” and “the most reasonable on-site traffic circulation and site access.” Among other things, the changes would allow a straight shot from the valet parking loop to the outlet road to Federal Highway.

       The commission tonight likely will not vote whether to grant or deny the appeal because Atlantic Crossing has changed the site plan that the advisory board rejected. The new version would go back to the Site Plan Review and Appearance Board, at which time the city staff probably would recommend approval. Of course, any individual or group then could file a new appeal.

New fire chief?

       Add another question to the future of the Delray Beach Fire Department: Who’s going to be the next chief?

       Danielle Connor submitted her resignation last week. Her retirement will take effect May 31. The timing of Connor’s departure could not be worse.

       With the city commission having decided not to consider contracting with Palm Beach County for fire-rescue services, Delray must upgrade its department. Just one example: The city must build a new station/training facility near the outdated station on Linton Boulevard.

       A Feb. 19 letter from Connor to City Manager Don Cooper said, “The department is at a critical juncture.” Connor cited high turnover—40 employees in the last four years—and the impending retirement of 17 senior department officers.

       Those uncertainties influenced Connor’s decision regarding the issue on tonight’s agenda: Should Delray Beach continue to provide service for Highland Beach? Connor recommends that Delray Beach end the contract and focus on “internal upgrades that will support long-term growth and self-reliability (sic).”

       Delray’s contract with Highland Beach expires on Sept. 30, 2017. The town must notify Delray by March 31 of this year if it wishes to continue the agreement. Delray then has 60 days to decide on a renewal. The city has been Highland Beach’s fire-rescue provider since 1993.

       In December, Cooper sent a final draft of a contract renewal, which the Highland Beach Town Commission approved. Cooper, however, hadn’t checked with his commissioners. A new draft contained an “administrative fee” of 20 percent above reimbursement for the service cost. The demand displeased Highland Beach. Tonight, the town commission will vote to rescind approval of that first contract. With regard to seeking a revised contract past next year, Town Manager Beverly Brown said Highland Beach would react to what Delray Beach does.

       Delray commissioner Shelly Petrolia supports the administrative fee, to cover what she believes would be compensation for the time city administrators must spend to monitor the Highland Beach agreement. Not surprisingly, given their new scrutiny of all contracts, Delray commissioners generally believe that the agreement has favored Highland Beach at Delray’s expense.

       Ending the contract would have consequences for both parties. Highland Beach would need another provider and might look to Boca Raton. Any new contract might be more expensive.

       Delray Beach would have to absorb the 22 department employees deployed in Highland Beach. Connor notes in her memo that those “additional resources” in Highland Beach are “a definite benefit to our citizens and visitors.” They cut response times and serve as “secondary units” for emergencies in Delray.

       Without the Highland Beach agreement, Delray would have just one fire station east of the Intracoastal Waterway, on Andrews Avenue. If the agreement with Highland Beach ends, Connor wrote, “we will have to further analyze our current response zones, staffing and apparatus deployment strategies. . .”

       The decision would be hard enough if Connor were staying. It’s even harder now that she is going.

Goldman orders cameras

       Connor’s police counterpart has made a big public safety decision for Delray Beach.

       Chief Jeffrey Goldman has approved a program to equip all officers with body cameras. According to a department spokeswoman, the first phase will involve 20 officers over six months. The department is seeking a vendor, with the goal of starting the program this summer. The date will depend on how quickly the department can buy the equipment and train the officers.

       “The hope,” the spokeswoman said, “is to work out any issues or concerns before moving forward with full deployment.” That could come in two or three years. One of those issues will be a body camera policy.

       When I interviewed Chief Goldman in January of last year, he wasn’t yet a fan of the cameras. He noted the cost of storing the footage. He wasn’t dismissive, but he was skeptical. That was before the recent string of officer-involved fatal shootings. Some were caught on camera. Some, like that of Delray Beach resident Corey Jones in Palm Beach Gardens, were not.

       Since our conversation, the spokeswoman said, “the products have improved, policies have become more available, and we have had the opportunity to conduct a lot of research. We decided that the timing was right to move forward with a pilot program, which will lead to full deployment over the next few years.”

       Boca Raton also is starting a body camera experiment. A department spokeswoman said Monday that the details are “being worked out.”

More on that

       On a related note, I wrote last week about the Palm Beach County sales-tax referendum that might be on the November ballot. Revenue from the one-cent increase over 10 years would go to the county, the school district, the cities and cultural organizations.

       On the county’s list of priorities for money from the referendum is $27 million to equip all sheriff’s deputies with body cameras.

Puppy mill measure

       At the end of Delray’s commission agenda for tonight is first reading of an ordinance that would ban the sale of puppy-mill pets. Such mills, most of them in the Midwest, breed animals far more often than is safe.

       Since the issue must come back to the commission, tonight may not draw the usual crowd that animal issues do. Or the advocates may appear. Their cause certainly is the right one.

       As for the ordinance, it’s technical to the point of defining a cat—“an animal of the Felidae family of the order Carnivora”—and a dog—“an animal of the Canidae family of the order Carnivora. Fines for violating the ordinance would run from $400 to $500.

 

About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.

       

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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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