Monday, April 15, 2024

Atlantic Crossing showdown tonight and other burning issues in Boca and Delray

Breaking news: Delray Beach City Attorney Noel Pfeffer surprised the city commission Tuesday with a letter of resignation. He gave no reason. I will have more about this on Thursday

Atlantic Crossing Showdown 

The Delray Beach City Commission decides tonight whether Atlantic Crossing will come out of the ground or go to court.

       Technically, Item 8A on the commission meeting agenda is the developers’ appeal of the Site Plan Review and Appearance Board’s Jan. 27 denial of Atlantic Crossing’s plan. Practically speaking, however, this is the biggest vote since a prior commission approved Atlantic Crossing in December 2012.

       Many residents criticized the project as being too large for the two blocks on the north side of Atlantic Avenue west of Veterans Park. Only Al Jacquet remains from that 2012 commission, and he voted against Atlantic Crossing. The wrangle over the project led the developers to file a lawsuit, claiming that the city has unfairly delayed final approval and seeking $25 million in damages.

       The city has no legal leverage to make Atlantic Crossing smaller. The commission, though, asked the developers to include an access road to the north along Federal Highway—Northeast Sixth Avenue—with the idea of easing traffic at the main entrance at Atlantic and Northeast Seventh avenues. Such a road was in the original site plan but not in the version the commission approved in January 2014.

       After months of back and forth, Atlantic Crossing added the road. The city’s consultant concluded that the road actually would make traffic worse, and city staff recommended denial by the site plan review board.

       Since then, however, Atlantic Crossing has reconfigured the road to make it function more as a helpful roundabout within the project. The consultant liked the new version, as did the site plan board. So here’s how things could go tonight and afterward.

       Scenario A: The commission votes to grant Atlantic Crossing’s appeal, thus blessing the site plan with the access road the city’s own staff and consultant support. The city negotiates a settlement with the developers. The lawsuit ends, and the developers start building.

       “The window is open” for a settlement of the lawsuit, City Attorney Noel Pfeffer told me. Pfeffer and the commission held an executive session meeting on the lawsuit last week. “I am cautiously optimistic.”

       Scenario B: The commission rejects Atlantic Crossing’s appeal. The lawyers take over. Delray Beach and the developers gear up for a federal court trial starting in October. The city countersues, claiming that Atlantic Crossing has not met its own obligations, and seeks to retake the roads and alleys it conveyed to the developers and without which the project won’t work.

       Based on what I’ve read and heard over the last year, the city’s countersuit wouldn’t be frivolous. As good lawyers know, however, any litigation is risky. The developers’ approach sometimes has puzzled me—making nice one moment, baring fangs the next—but the developers’ biggest legal advantage is that commission approval in 2012. The western block of the site, where demolition has occurred, also will remain an eyesore until someone builds on those three-plus acres.

       Atlantic Plaza’s current plan calls for: 343 residential units—261 rentals and 82 condos; 83,000 square feet of Class A office space; and 76,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. There would be almost 1,100 parking spaces. Six buildings would comprise the project.

       I can appreciate the feelings of some residents and commissioners who wish the project were different. Mayor Cary Glickstein, for example, worries that Atlantic Crossing effectively would wall off Veterans Park. Critics believe that then-City Manager David Harden rushed the project to secure a vote on the project before he retired. Still, rejecting Atlantic Crossing’s appeal would place a big bet on Delray’s outside legal team. Commissioners who vote against Atlantic Crossing might think that a trial still would not be inevitable. After the developers cooled off, they could come back to the city. Delray could get a better deal. A lawsuit is also risky for the developers.

       An Atlantic Crossing representative points out that the project “met more than 70 conditions imposed by the city for approval.” Others are attached to the new site plan, related to potential backups from traffic stacking up on Seventh Avenue. The representative said Atlantic Crossing came “back to the table on the site plan modification even though the project was approved more than two years ago.” Parking space “meets or exceed the city’s requirements.”  

       Though a trial would be six months away, the work could ramp up quickly. A status report on the lawsuit is due to U.S. District Judge Don Middlebrooks on Wednesday.

Changes at Arts Garage

       Delray Beach wanted to see change before giving a new, long-term lease to Arts Garage. On Monday, that change started.

       According to a news release, President and CEO Alyona Ushe will leave Arts Garage. The group’s parent company, Creative City Collaborative (CCC), also contracts with Pompano Beach for programming at that city’s amphitheater and a cultural center set to open next year. Ushe will work full-time in Pompano Beach, having split her time between Pompano and Delray.

       CCC expanded without consulting the city, from which Arts Garage leases space in Pineapple Grove. The move angered the commission, which cited poor communication as one reason to deny Arts Garage’s request for a 10-year lease. Most likely, the new lease will be for a maximum of five years. The commission tonight will extend the lease, which expired last month, until September while negotiations go on.

       Ushe’s departure is not a surprise. The commission clearly did not want her to retain full control of Arts Garage, despite the group’s critical programming successes. An audit noted serious management problems. The release said “Ushe and the Arts Garage board had open and honest conversations about her managing venues in two cities simultaneously. . .”

       In an email, Mayor Glickstein said, “Most successful ventures evolve from concept development to sustainable business platform. Alyona was integral to the success of moving this from embryonic idea (five years ago) to relevant performing arts venue. Building on that initial success by expanding its role in the community is now the goal; perhaps more music education for kids without access, which engenders more family support for a taxpayer-supported organization.

       “Like most artistic enterprises, the Arts Garage should be managed in dual roles: financial acumen/oversight and urban programming/music education expertise that mirrors our community demographics.”

Big FAU donation

Florida Atlantic University still isn’t ready to break ground on the Schmidt Family Complex for Academic and Athletic Excellence, but a new, $5 million donation toward the project has brought that day closer.

       Over the weekend, FAU announced the gift from Bobby and Barbara Campbell. The university remains short of the $45 million to $50 million for the entire complex, which FAU will build just west of the football stadium. A spokeswoman, however, said the Campbells’ donation will allow FAU to start architectural and engineering design.

       The Campbells had been FAU donors, but not to the athletic department. They had donated money for a soccer complex at Lynn University.

       Like many self-made philanthropists, Bobby Campbell didn’t attend college. His family was too poor. Still, he’s managed to get by. Campbell is chairman and CEO of Boca-based BBC International, a footwear distribution company that he started after working for Kinney Shoes. According to the trade publication Footwear News, BBC ships 40 million pairs of shoes each year to 70 countries.

CRA director gets a pat on the back

       The board of the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency has given Executive Director Jeff Costello praise and a raise.

       Based on their individual evaluations of Costello, board members collectively increased his salary 5 percent, to nearly $140,000. Costello had received a roughly 20 percent raise in January 15, when the board picked him to succeed long-time director Diane Colonna.

       The vote was 4-2. The dissenters had wanted Costello to complete a self-evaluation before deciding on the raise. The majority sentiment, as one board member expressed it, was that the raise should depend “on what we say, not what he says.” The CRA board is scheduled to hold another joint workshop with the city commission next Tuesday.

New hire

Also at tonight’s meeting, the Delray Beach City Commission will approve an especially timely hire, given all the controversy surrounding police departments.

       One of Delray Beach’s assistant city attorneys also functions as the police department’s legal advisor, even working out of the department. City Attorney Noel Pfeffer said the duties include prosecuting municipal ordinance violations, representing the code enforcement board and handling all forfeiture actions. The attorney, Pfeffer said, also “handles all civil litigation aris ing from police activity,” provides legal training and guidance for police officers and reviews warrants and probable cause affidavits that go to the state attorney’s office.

       Pfeffer said he received 175 applicants to replace the previous advisor, who took a position with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. He chose Lawonda Warren, who has worked since 2014 in the statewide prosecutor’s office of the Florida attorney general and was a county prosecutor for the previous five years.

Boca’s new deputy mayor

At its organizational meeting last week, the Boca Raton City Council named Mike Mullaugh deputy mayor. Mullaugh is term-limited in March 2017. The council gave the same status to Constance Scott for her final year.

       The council also kept Scott Singer as chairman of the Community Redevelopment Agency. He gets congratulations and condolences. Singer must run the CRA meeting of April 11, when the members will discuss the staff report on implementation of downtown open space requirements. The meeting starts at 1:30, and it could stretch well into the cocktail hour.

 

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.

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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