Tuesday, August 9, 2022

More Chick-fil-A Battles and an Unexplained Boca Robbery

Neighbors opposed to another Chick-fil-A in East Boca Raton didn’t come to last month’s planning and zoning board meeting just with their grievances.

They came with their attorney.

The owner of the Best Western Hotel at 2700 North Federal Highway wants to redevelop the roughly 3.5-acre site into a complex of three buildings that would include a bank, an Aspen Dental office and two restaurants. One would be the Chick-fil-A on the project’s south end, with drive-through service.

Attorney Larry Schner represents residents of the Harbour East neighborhood on the east side of the property. He noted that though the board approved the Chick-fil-A under construction in the Palmetto Park Square shopping center, that location was not near single-family homes. “The building of a Chick-fil-A” on Federal Highway, Schner said, “is not responsible.”

Across the country, the chain’s popularity has created controversy. In Toledo, Ohio, and Beaumont Tex., nearby businesses sued the company because drive-through backups kept customers from reaching their property. A New Jersey judge ordered one franchise to close because customers couldn’t get to an adjoining restaurant. Residents of Santa Barbara, Calif., demanded that local officials declare a popular Chick-fil-A to be a public nuisance.

Schner and his clients, however, could find examples much closer to home. Backups at a Chick-fil-A in Fort Lauderdale—on a stretch of Federal Highway—have prompted complaints from neighbors. Speakers also cited backups at Linton Boulevard and Federal Highway in Delray Beach.

Ele Zachariades represents the property owner, a Pittsburgh-based company. She conceded the problems in Delray Beach but said Chick-fil-A “has learned” and now builds its restaurants “differently.” Zachariades said the East Boca Raton restaurant could hold 44 cars in its drive-through without backing up onto the street. Customers whose orders were simpler could cut past cars whose orders were taking longer.

A year ago, Zachariades was before the board about the Chick-fil-A near Palmetto Park Road. In that case, city staff was appealing the board’s approval of the site plan. Planners believed that it didn’t place enough requirements on the company to control traffic.

As I wrote at the time, it almost seemed that the staff was trying to kill the project. The board agreed with Chick-fil-A.

For this project, the staff also recommended unusual conditions. One would require the developer to bury power lines of the homes behind the project.

Boca Raton generally asks developers to bury lines on their property and adjoining land. The adjoining property is Northeast Sixth Drive, east of the site. The problem, according to Florida Power & Light, is that the utility can’t take lines underground and bring them back up to neighboring homes in so little space.

As a result, the developer also would have to bury lines for the 45 to 50 homes that the line feeds. Zachariades estimated that cost to be “at least” $500,000 and said the city never had required developers to bury lines that far from their property.

And what if all homeowners didn’t agree? Development Services Director Brandon Schaad said the developer would have to “at least prove that they tried.”

Eventually, the board approved the project unanimously. But board members attached the undergrounding requirement. They also rejected Zachariades’ request that Phase 3—the Chick-fil-A—start with Phase 1, the middle portion, ahead of Phase 2. Schaad said that sequence would leave the project three short of the required parking spaces.

The neighbors have 30 days from the approval to appeal to the city council. Even if they don’t, the cost of that undergrounding remains an issue for the developer. Zachariades told me Monday that she isn’t sure whether her client would get enough return from the 18,000-square-foot project—one-third as large as the Best Western—to justify the expense.

As for the phasing problem, Zachariades blamed it on an error by the development team. If the project goes to the council, she will try to amend the plan.

All the neighbors said they favored redevelopment of the property. They just didn’t want the Chick-fil-A, even though the developer had dropped plans for a second drive-through restaurant and made the overall project smaller.

The board had to cast several votes. Things got confusing. Chairman Arnold Sevell mentioned requiring speed bumps on Northeast Six Drive. Zachariades wasn’t sure Monday whether that requirement would replace the one to bury the lines.

Zachariades wasn’t sure what would happen next. I’ll have an update when something does.

Banyan Road robbery

Photo by kat wilcox from Pexels

Last week, the Boca Raton Police Department issued a news release about an armed robbery that took place on Banyan Road. The release contained details about the suspect, who took “wallets, phones and cash” from the victims and fired a shot at them as he fled.

But the release did not give details about where the crime took place. Banyan Road runs for many blocks south of Camino Real east of the Intracoastal Waterway. Some neighbors might have wanted to know more.

Don’t blame the police department. All law enforcement agencies in Florida must decide how they will comply with “Marsy’s Law,” the constitutional amendment voters approved in 2018. It prohibits release of information that “could be used to locate or harass” crime victims or their families or “could disclose confidential or privileged information” about victims.

Supporters modeled Florida’s law after those in other states. It is named for a California woman whose ex-boyfriend stalked and murdered her in 1983. A week later, the killer confronted her parents, who did not know that he had been released on bail. The law requires such notifications.

Before that vote four years ago, opponents warned about misuse of the benign-sounding measure. Example: The Boynton Beach Police Department used the law to shield the name of an officer whose chase of a teenager led to the boy’s death. The department classified the officer as a victim because of threats he had received.

The incident in Boca Raton shows the difficulty of balancing victims’ rights and public safety. Opponents warned about these unintended consequences. They have arrived.

Moore up for evaluation

Delray Beach City Manager Terrence Moore has been on the job for a year. That means the city commission will evaluate him this month.

Terrence Moore, photo courtesy of the City of Delray Beach

Moore’s long agenda got longer eight days after he started, when a commission majority ended the lease for Old School Square. Moore also has been preparing a revenue bond to finance a new water plant and discussing whether to issue a property tax bond for citywide improvements.

Voting for Ocean Strand to get $75,000

The Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District wants residents to help the agency get $75,000 toward development of the Ocean Strand property.

The National Recreation and Parks Association is offering the money as part of its “Park Your Parks” program. You can vote for Ocean Strand once a day until Sept. 12 by visiting NiagaraPerkYourPark.com. The sponsor of the contest is Niagara Bottling.

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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