Saturday, May 18, 2024

Atlantic Crossing Settlement Imminent and Other News of Note

Atlantic Crossing settlement on agenda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uptown Atlantic news

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

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

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

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

Delray South appeals

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

Midtown update

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

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

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

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

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

Golf course news

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

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

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

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

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

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

GL Homes

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

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

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

Kudos to Deutch and Frankel

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

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

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

Randy Schultz
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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