Sunday, April 14, 2024

Boca charts a plan, real estate market on a roll and other items of news and note in the city

Boca’s strategic planning issues

The biggest difference between this year’s Boca Raton goal-setting session and last year’s is that it’s no longer called a goal-setting session. Mayor Susan Haynie told me Monday that it’s now “strategic planning.” That’s because so many “goals” hung around for lack of completion.

That’s also the case this year. As City Manager Leif Ahnell’s recent “action update” noted, among the holdover issues are downtown parking, the waterfront plan, the 20th Street student district and the downtown Pattern Book, which the city seemingly has been working on the since first Bush administration.

Still, there’s also been progress on past priorities. Boca opened a communications office, and I can report that it’s much easier to get information. The city is approving permit applications faster and has moved those employees into their own space at the old library. Relations with the Boca Raton Airport have improved.

Much of this week’s session will focus on speeding up other holdovers. Haynie said the city is ready to hire a consultant who will inventory all the property the city owns along the Intracoastal Waterway and recommend ways to increase public access. “We have so much,” Haynie said, “and we’re just not using any of it.” Councilman Mike Mullaugh said, “We want to open up the waterfront to all Boca residents.”

Current projects, however, won’t wait for that study. Momentum is building for a makeover of Lake Wyman Park four years after neighborhood opposition killed an earlier version. Design work could start in July on Phase 2 of Hillsboro/El Rio Park. Negotiations continue for a Hillstone restaurant on the former Wildflower property. Haynie would like to have that issue before the city council in early June. Otherwise, it would have to wait until fall, to ensure maximum public comment.

Newer council members want to target current goals, not just add new ones. Scott Singer wants “to focus more in completing what we started last year than re-ranking a list of projects.” One of Jeremy Rodgers’ goals is an “execution plan” for current items. “All goals,” he said, “should have milestones in place within the first quarter, with tentative dates through completion.”

In addition to waterfront land, the council wants to develop a plan for all the other city-owned land, notably the cluster of City Hall, the police station, the community center and surrounding athletic fields. City Hall is almost a half-century old, and the staff has outgrown it. Recent flooding showed the structural problems. Haynie points out that smaller cities have more elaborate community centers. Boca Raton needs to decide how to use that land for the next 50 years, what the effects will be—displaced fields?—and how to pay for the resulting plan.

Other items, in no particular order:

• Levels of service. Haynie said Ahnell worries about the number of adult congregate living facilities in Boca. ACLFs demand more emergency management services than other residential. With forecasts of rapid growth in off-campus housing for college students, the city must prepare for the effect on police services.

• Annexation. Haynie said the city will consider adding neighborhoods in what she calls the “northern tier”—Le Lac, Newport Bay and St. Andrews Country Club. With the city having annexed Royal Palm Polo, Haynie said, Boca could “square off” its northwest boundary.

• Transportation. This issue goes beyond downtown traffic and parking. Rodgers wonders how Boca “will develop” around the second Tri-Rail stop north of Boca Center. That development itself could be in for big changes that include new residential units marketed to those who use public transit.

• Economic development. Boca Raton must hope that Office Depot stays—at least in some form—but plan as if some or all of those 2,000 jobs will be gone in the next few years. Though the city is becoming a draw for tech start-ups, Rodgers—who works for IBM—said there’s still “too much Del Boca Vista, not enough birthplace of the personal computer and best place to start your business.”

This year’s goal-setting/strategic planning session will take place at the Municipal Services Complex on Northwest First Avenue. Public sessions are from 1 p.m. to 4:30 on Wednesday, 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 on Thursday and 8:30 until noon on Friday, with an afternoon session if the discussion spills over.

South Florida real estate market update

It’s no surprise that the South Florida real estate market is better than the national real estate market, or that the Boca Raton-Delray Beach market is better than the South Florida market. Thanks to The Washington Post, however, we know just how much better.

The Post this week published an interactive article on how much home prices have changed since 2004, as the real estate bubble was swelling. In this area, prices peaked in late 2005, sank during the financial crisis of 2008, and have been rising since 2010. The premise of the Post piece —headlined “The Divided American Dream”—is that while some of the country’s 19,000 ZIP codes have more than recovered, others are flat or worse.

Nationwide, the typical single-family home was worth 14 percent more in 2015 than it was in 2004. Not surprisingly, the coastal sections of South Florida have performed best. In ZIP code 33432, which includes Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club and the section south of Glades Road and west of Dixie Highway, prices are up 21 percent, or about $110,000 on average.

In the next ZIP code to the west—33486, to Military Trail—prices are up 17 percent. In 33433, west to Lyons Road, the increase was 15 percent.

ZIP code 33431, which runs generally from A1A to St. Andrews Boulevard between Yamato and Glades roads, saw an increase of 15 percent. The increase was the same for ZIP code 33434, from St. Andrews to State Road 7. In 33487, Boca’s far northeast, prices rose 14 percent. The worst performer was 33496, was the far northwest. The increase there was just 7 percent.

Delray Beach’s four ZIP codes run the length of the city from east to west. The city’s numbers support those who believe that real estate is all about location.

In ZIP code 33483, from A1A to Federal Highway, prices rose a whopping 29 percent—or roughly $186,000 on average. In 33444, between Federal Highway and Interstate 95, the increase was 19 percent. In 33445, from I-95 to Military Trail, prices went up 10 percent. In 33484, between Military Trail and Lyons Road, prices were flat.

Not surprisingly, the town of Palm Beach has recovered nicely. Prices there are up 62 percent since 2004 —or roughly $740,000 on average. And think of the jump if Donald Trump becomes president.

Tax roll predictions

Those higher prices are reflected in the preliminary tax rolls that Palm Beach County Property Appraiser Gary Nikolits announced last week.

Nikolits estimates that Boca Raton’s property tax roll will rise from $19.6 billion to $20.6 billion and Delray Beach’s from $8 billion to $8.7 billion. Delray’s increase would be higher on a proportional basis—9 percent compared to 5.2 percent—but no municipality had a higher overall increase than Boca’s $1 billion. Palm Beach was next at $900 million. Boca Raton’s base is nearly twice the amount in West Palm Beach, the county’s largest city.

The appraiser’s office releases preliminary totals now, so that cities and the county can start work on their budgets. Final numbers come out July 1.

Insurance commissioner

State Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, won’t be sending Gov. Rick Scott a Christmas card this year. Or maybe ever.

On Friday, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater wanted to make Hager the state’s insurance commissioner at a salary of $190,000. But in picking a commissioner, the governor and the CFO have to agree. Scott didn’t want Hager, just as Atwater didn’t want Scott’s favorite, Jeffrey Bragg, who had run the federal flood and terrorism insurance programs.

I never understood Atwater’s push for Hager, beyond the fact that they’re both from Palm Beach County. Despite Hager’s successful sponsorship this year of legislation that requires life insurers to make sure that all beneficiaries from a policy have been paid—we needed a law for that?—Hager has spent most of his life working for the insurance industry. During the Cabinet debates, Atwater stressed consumer needs more than Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Scott and Atwater settled on Deputy Insurance Commissioner David Altmeir. As for Hager’s future, he’s term-limited in 2018, when term limits also hit Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams. One can assume that Hager is considering a county commission run.

Sober house issue heating up again

On Monday, Delray Beach hosted a meeting of federal and local officials to discuss sober houses. The office of U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, facilitated the nearly daylong event.

Delray and other cities are seeking a change in the 1999 federal statement that has made it nearly impossible for local governments to regulate sober houses. I will have more about this on Tuesday.

 

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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