Sunday, April 14, 2024

Boca annexation comes to a halt and other news of note

No More Boca Annexation

Annexation in Boca Raton is dead. Long live annexation in Boca Raton.

On Tuesday, Boca cancelled next week’s special city council meeting at which council members could have placed on the November ballot annexations of several neighborhoods on the city’s northwest border. Aug. 26 is the deadline for getting any items on the Nov. 8 ballot.

For the city, it was a strategic retreat. Residents of the neighborhoods in question had too many questions, and the city didn’t have time to answer them.

If smart lawyers know now to ask a question unless they already know the answer, smart cities don’t attempt annexation unless they know that vote will be favorable. In Florida, the area to be annexed must approve it in a referendum. Boca Raton first had hoped to hold votes for those neighborhoods in December, which would have allowed more time for an information campaign.

But Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said her office could not stage the vote so soon after the general election. So the push was on to make the November ballot.

At the last council meeting, however, residents of Boniello Acres opposed coming into the city. Many speakers feared losing their suburban menageries. Though Deputy City Manager George Brown explained, correctly, that they would retain the Palm Beach County code that allows the animals, the suspicion seemed to remain.

Ideally, Brown and council members would have met with those residents in their neighborhood to address that and other issues long before any council meeting. Similarly, an email this week to Mayor Susan Haynie from the secretary of the Fieldbrook Estates Homeowners Association noted that residents had received notices of the proposed annexation by mail and that no one from the city ever had attended an HOA meeting.

“To bypass community advisories, and deliver notice by mail right before your first meeting,” Brian Ross wrote, “in the dead of summer, when much of our membership are not in town, has been considered disrespectful by many in Fieldbrook and our neighboring communities. It gives many of us the feeling that the whole exercise is designed to insure that we have no say in the matter, and rush it through.”

Ross is correct about the optics. Done right, annexation is a business proposition. Potential residents determine that they would be better off within a city than within a county. They compare taxes, service levels and other factors. The city determines that adding the residents would be a net revenue gain after calculating the cost of providing services to the new residents.

City staff had determined that Boca would come out ahead financially by adding the roughly 700 residents of Azura, Boniello Acres, Fieldbrook, Le Lac and Newport Bay. That is no small consideration. As with a restaurant on the Wildflower property, Boca Raton is seeking ways to add revenue beyond that from property taxes. Those opposed to annexation and/or the restaurant haven’t offered their ideas for alternate revenue sources.

Obviously, though, cities shouldn’t hold annexation votes if they might lose. Councilman Robert Weinroth had strongly favored annexing the northwest neighborhoods, but on Tuesday he emailed an Azura resident to say that he would recommend cancelling next week’s meeting “so we don’t make people feel they are being railroaded into joining the city.” Weinroth said his interest in annexation began with Azura expressing interest in being annexed.

Haynie told me Wednesday that even with a December election it would have been hard to conduct a proper outreach because of holiday schedules. “I’m also disappointed,” she said, “that we didn’t do better than a letter in the mail.”

Haynie and Weinroth, whom, I also spoke with, agreed that it’s time for a “restart” on annexation, probably early next year. Haynie intends to meet with the president of the Boniello Acres HOA. In his email, Weinroth said he wanted to schedule a meeting with Azura residents.

Ross’ email to Haynie lists all the items the city will need to discuss, and it shows how misinformation can spread. Ross raises the issue of the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District. Current county residents would have to know that they would pay the district tax in addition to the city tax. Making that possible, however, would be simple. A local bill in the Legislature would bring any of the neighborhoods into the district.

Weinroth raised another factor for residents in those neighborhoods to consider. Residents of those neighborhoods northwest of Boca Raton vote only for their county commissioner – Mary Lou Berger. The other six commissioners run from their own districts, and thus aren’t accountable to Berger’s constituents.

Two years ago, Boca Del Mar residents opposed development of the former Mizner Trail Golf Course. Steven Abrams, who represents the area, voted against the development with Paulette Burdick, the one reliable vote against overdevelopment. The other five, however, formed a majority to approve the project. Boca council members run citywide; all of them are accountable to all residents.

So the city will “regroup,” to use Weinroth’s term. This attempt failed, but annexation of some or all of those neighborhoods still could make sense. If it does, Boca Raton should make it happen.


Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District Budget

As I had reported last week would happen, the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District on Monday revised its upcoming budget to reflect a full payment to the Boca Raton Community Redevelopment Agency.

In a letter last month, district board chairman Bob Rollins had informed the city that the district’s payment would be the same as this year, even though property values have increased. Any entity that levies taxes within a CRA must remit added revenue to the CRA.

City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser had responded that state law didn’t permit such a reduction. She was right.

On Monday, Rollins said the district wants to be a good partner with the city, perhaps by helping to build parks within the CRA and renovate the community center next to the City Hall.


Communication Issues with the Beach & Park Disrict

I have written recently about complaints among Boca city council members and administrators about the beach and park district’s lack of communication. Some of those complaints are valid.

The city, however, also can be guilty. Example:

For weeks, city staff members have been reviewing the district’s revisions to the city’s version of an agreement that would cover all joint park and beach operations. As of Wednesday, according to a city spokeswoman, that review still wasn’t complete, though the city continues to insist that the agreement is a priority.

Mayor Haynie told me Wednesday that some key staff members have been on vacation, but she acknowledged that the review has dragged on. “I will speak with (City Manager) Leif (Ahnell),” Haynie said. “We should have a timely turnaround.”


Beach & Park District Endorsements

Here’s one last item on the beach and park district:

The political action committee of the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce has endorsed challenger Craig Ehrnst in the Seat 1 race and incumbent Earl Starkoff in the Seat 3 race.


Second Story Self-Storage

Before the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board tonight is a very Boca item.

The owner of a self-storage facility on 20th Street wants to add a second story. According to the staff backup, the change would require changes to the comprehensive plan and the code. Nine staff reports are involved.

Mayor Haynie told me that the company wants to add a “mezzanine.” Where else but Boca Raton could a self-storage unit sound like a theater?

According to Haynie, the problem is that the change would mean an increase in the floor-to-area ratio, and the increase could apply to all areas of similar zoning within the city. Staff recommends denial.


All Aboard

At Tuesday night’s Delray Beach City Commission meeting, a representative of Human Powered Delray asked about the recent death of a Boca Raton woman who was killed when she fell on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks north of Atlantic Avenue before an oncoming train. Her husband was unable to move her in time.

Patrick Halliday asked if the city would meet with representatives of All Aboard Florida whose Brightline passenger service is supposed to start operating next year. Thirty-two trains a day will be using those tracks. Halliday wants the city and the company to discuss ways to prevent similar tragedies.

City Manager Don Cooper told me Wednesday that he has contacted Halliday “and we are in the process of arranging a meeting” with All Aboard Florida.

As the meeting ended, Mayor Carey Glickstein also said he had discussed with U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel the need for safety measures along the track. The recent tragedy, he said, occurred with a train blowing its whistle. When All Aboard Florida begins, improvements are crossings will have a created a “quiet zone” that will remove the need for trains to blow their horn.

And, Glickstein said, the passenger trains will be traveling much faster than freight trains do.


Florida House District 88

Al Jacquet did show for Tuesday’s night Delray commission meeting, but he didn’t stop campaigning for the Florida House District 88 seat.

During discussion of next year’s budget, Community Improvement Department Director Michael Coleman cited the department’s success in helping Haitian-American residents to understand the requirements to maintain their property and, more important, to understand how they can meet those requirements. The result is nicer neighborhoods.

Mayor Carey Glickstein praised Coleman. No one praised him more, however, than Jacquet. He is Haitian-American, as are many residents of District 88. Jacquet faces former Delray Beach commissioner Angeleta Gray and Riviera Beach lawyer Edwin Ferguson.

Jacquet went on and on about past poor treatment of Haitian-American residents – he had a point — and the need for more government documents to be in Creole, not just Spanish. “Haitian-Americans,” Jacquet stated, “are the largest immigrant group in Palm Beach County.”

At one point, Jacquet said of his colleagues on the dais, “I think I speak for all of us.” Despite his colleagues’ praise for Coleman, my guess is that, no, Jacquet was speaking for himself — to an audience beyond the commission chambers.

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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