Saturday, April 13, 2024

Atlantic Crossing concerns, Houston’s & Delray supports the Inspector General

Atlantic Crossing

Atlantic Crossing was controversial long before the Delray Beach City Commission approved the mixed-use project in December 2012. Demolition is underway, but the controversy continues.

The immediate issue is a road—an easement, technically— that was on the Atlantic Crossing site plan and now isn’t. The debate is over whether the city actually gave up rights to that city-owned easement—called Atlantic Court—and, if so, when and how the city did that.

Atlantic Crossing will take up the two blocks between Northeast Sixth Avenue—Federal Highway—and Veterans Park on the north side of Atlantic Avenue and the south side of Northeast First Street, replacing the Atlantic Plaza shopping center. From the start, critics have said the project would overwhelm the area. In approving Atlantic Crossing, the city commission in office at that time approved conditional uses allowing a 60-foot height instead of 48 feet and a nearly 50 percent increase in density.

The site plan from a development agreement dated July 2011 shows Atlantic Court providing access to Atlantic Crossing off Federal Highway, offering an entrance and exit on the west side to relieve traffic congestion. The main entrance will be onto Seventh Avenue from Atlantic Avenue in the middle of the project.

Last October, however, the new site plan from the proposed amended development agreement did not show Atlantic Crossing. The agreement was before the city commission for approval, but the commission took no action. One reason was private lawsuits against the project and the question of whether Delray Beach would be affected if the city approved the agreement and the developers lost in court. Commissioner Shelly Petrolia also had questioned Section 4 of the proposed agreement, which stated that any prior approvals that didn’t conform to the new site plan—minus Atlantic Court—would no longer have “any force and effect.”

Nearly seven months have passed, and the developers are proceeding as if that current site plan is in effect, even though it doesn’t seem to match the plat that is on file with Palm Beach County and includes Atlantic Court. To support their case for moving ahead, the developers point to the January court ruling against residents who had sued over the easement. The judge wrote that in January 2014 the commission approved the new site plan—minus Atlantic Court—“and by extension a new plat. . .”

Petrolia disagrees. She argues that only the city’s Planning and Zoning Board can approve plats, not the Site Plan Review and Advisory Board (SPRAB). A Feb. 23 Planning and Zoning Board meeting on Atlantic Crossing ended inconclusively. As for what the judge called that January 2014 approval of a new site plan, the issue was whether the commission would uphold the private-party appeal of SPRAB’s approval of the new site plan. The commission declined to uphold the appeal. Did that refusal also amount to approval of the new site plan and abandonment of Atlantic Court?

The vote at that meeting was 3-2, with Petrolia and Mayor Cary Glickstein in the minority and Adam Frankel, Angeleta Gray and Al Jacquet in the majority. Frankel and Gray are no longer on the commission.

According to the minutes of the meeting, Glickstein pointed out that while Atlantic Crossing is roughly the same size as Mizner Park in Boca Raton, there are 13 ways in and out of Mizner Park, reducing the impact on neighborhoods to the east. There would be nothing like that, Glickstein said, for Atlantic Crossing. He called the new site plan “deeply flawed” and wondered aloud why the developers were so reluctant to add back the road.

Mitch Katz, who joined the commission last week, also objects to the loss of Atlantic Court. “We gave away alleys and Northeast Seventh Avenue” with everyone’s knowledge, he said in an interview, to help with traffic from Atlantic Crossing, “But nobody noticed on Atlantic Court? I just don’t understand.” Katz says the city gave up the easement “with no compensation, and now we’ve lost the traffic flow.” Petrolia says, “I feel like we’ve been hoodwinked.”

This is a very big question to be left hanging. If the city doesn’t address it soon, the developers could have grounds for a lawsuit that the city objected too late and caused them needless expense. The city might have leverage in the form of that development agreement. After the court ruling, the developers said in a statement that they want Delray Beach “to work with us and expedite the development agreement. . .without further delay.”

Katz told me that he has been speaking with residents who filed the lawsuits against Atlantic Crossing. Those residents, Katz said, would be willing to pursue no more litigation if the developers would return Atlantic Crossing to the site plan. The city would agree to approve the new site plan quickly, so as not to hold up work.

Delray Beach needs to resolve the issue of the Atlantic Crossing easement. Petrolia says the city can give up property only if there is a public hearing. The issue goes beyond Atlantic Court. In May, the city must decide whether to give up an alley that would allow construction of the project that would include an iPic theater. This controversy should stop with Atlantic Crossing.

Houstons?

There still is no proposed lease between Hillstone Restaurant Group and Boca Raton for a Houston’s on the city-owned Wildflower property at East Palmetto Park Road and Northeast Fifth Avenue. Nor is there a proposed site plan. Today, however, the Planning & Zoning Board will consider a rezoning that would be necessary to accommodate the restaurant.

The property is slightly larger than two acres. It has split zoning. If the board recommends approval and the city council agrees, the zoning on roughly the northern half of the property would change from Single Family Residential to Local Business. The council also would have to change the Future Land Use Map of the Comprehensive Plan.

Councilman Robert Weinroth calls the item on today’s agenda a “housekeeping item to deal with inconsistent zoning issues.” This change isn’t controversial. The tough work will come when the city and Hillstone try to agree on a site plan that would make the restaurant compatible with the area. More than residents of the immediate area worry that, with the large Palmetto Promenade mixed-use project just to the west, the restaurant could make gridlock a regular feature of the intersection.

Hillstone and the city also have to decide financial issues: how much Boca Raton would get in lease payments and a percentage of sales. Then there’s the matter of preserving public access to the Intracoastal Waterway—the property fronts it—and not letting restaurant parking interfere with boaters’ use of Silver Palm Park to the south. The hope is for a site plan to reach the Planning & Zoning Board this summer.

Delray is all in for the Inspector General

It can be hard to find lawyers who don’t want to sue, but the lawyers on the Delray Beach City Commission have decided that they don’t want to keep suing the county over the Office of Inspector General.

Tuesday night, the commission formally withdrew from the lawsuit that began in late 2011 and now includes 13 cities, with West Palm Beach taking the lead. Last month, Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Catherine Brunson ruled against the cities on all points, as she should have. The lawsuit seeks to cripple the office’s overwork that city residents asked for, though the cities claim that their only issue is the financing of the office.

With Delray Beach out of the lawsuit, Boca Raton should withdraw. The cities have asked for a rehearing that they likely won’t get. The lawsuit never had merit. That’s why it doesn’t have a chance.

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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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