Boca Updates on Dispensaries, Performing Arts Center, Golf Course and More

Boca Raton moved a step closer Monday toward allowing medical marijuana dispensaries.

Sort of.

It was a workshop meeting, so the council members took no vote. They told City Manager Leif Ahnell to start the proposed ordinance in the process for approval. That will mean an appearance before the planning and zoning board before it comes back to the council for a vote.

As I wrote last week, city staff members want the council to continue the city’s ban on dispensaries until the Legislature gives local governments more flexibility. Cities and counties must regulate the dispensaries as pharmacies, even though pharmacies can’t sell medical marijuana.

Elected officials, however, make their own decisions. Based on Monday’s discussion, this is how the issue seems to shape up.

Councilmembers Monica Mayotte and Andy Thomson are the most supportive. Thomson said, “A vote needs to happen soon.” Mayotte noted that 70 percent of Boca Raton voters favored the 2016 constitutional amendment that allowed medical marijuana. “We need to act on the will of the voters.”

Councilman Jeremy Rodgers is the most opposed. “I don’t want to be in a rush,” he said. Rodgers worried that council members “haven’t had enough input.” He wants to hear more about why Lake Worth Beach allowed dispensaries and then banned new ones.

Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke said she has no “fear” of the dispensaries, most of which look like bank branch buildings. Her concern is how many might open. Somewhat hyperbolically, she said there might be one in “every single” shopping center. Since these are for-profit businesses, the owners wouldn’t want to set up if they saw saturation.

That leaves Mayor Scott Singer. He supports the “framework” of the proposed ordinance and wants the discussion to continue. Singer wants to know if the city could require a minimum of 5,000 square feet for the dispensaries rather than the proposed 2,500 square feet. The added area might discourage some operators.

This doesn’t loom as a major issue in the March elections. But it highlights the frustration among local officials from the rules imposed by a Legislature that wants to make medical marijuana as inaccessible as possible, despite the overwhelming public support for it.

Performing arts center gets applause

Boca Ballet’s “A Princely Affair”

Boca Raton officially likes the idea of a performing arts center next to the Mizner Park Amphitheater.

At Monday’s meeting, the city council didn’t commit to donating roughly two acres on the east side. As Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke said, however, the council likes “the idea of exploration.”

Collectively, the council was much more comfortable with this downsized vision from last fall’s presentation by the Boca Raton Cultural Constorium for a breathtakingly ambitious complex on 10 acres of city-owned land next to the Spanish River Library. The consortium’s consultant advised that this option made much more sense.

Boca Ballet board member Andrea Virgin delivered the consortium’s presentation. She said the group’s research has shown “considerable” donor support for the center. The amphitheater, Virgin said, would be “an essential component” of the center. The campaign could help finance a roof for the amphitheater and could provide additional parking.

Virgin said the consortium will proceed in three phases—planning, design and funding, calling that last phase “the more important. The group would not building anything “that cannot be sustained financially.”

October 2018 rendering of Boca arts complex

As Virgin noted, Boca Raton from the start envisioned a significant cultural element for Mizner Park. Responding to a question, Virgin said the consortium had spoken often with officials of the Boca Raton Museum of Art, which is on the west side of the amphitheater. With the museum and amphitheater, the arts center would form that cultural element. She added that Brookfield Properties, which manages Mizner Park, supports the concept of the arts center.

With the unanimous vote, the consortium got the conceptual support it wanted. Virgin said the group hopes to be back “in six to 12 months” with an update.

Golf course design alternatives

At a 3 p.m. meeting today, the Boca Raton City Council will discuss design alternatives for the proposed Boca National golf course. A related item is on the regular meeting agenda.

That’s a resolution to extend the closing date for the sale of Boca Raton’s current municipal course. The council almost certainly will approve the extension, in large part because of the delay in finalizing Boca National.

The resolution would extend the closing from October 2019 to October 2020. GL Homes would pay $500,000 more for the roughly 200 acres at Glades Road and the Florida Turnpike, bringing the sale price to $65.5 million. The city could extend the closing another six months—with GL paying $250,000 more—and the city and GL could agree to an additional six months, pushing the closing to April 2021 and raising the sale price to $66 million.

Communications tower

Still another aspect of the Boca Municipal sale is the communications tower that was to go on the southeast corner of the property. The Palm Beach County Commission last month approved the 400-foot tower—which Boca Raton and the county would share—but neighboring property owners objected and sued the county.

The resolution I just mentioned also would extend GL Homes’ inspection period for the Boca Municipal land to Nov. 29. The tower has complicated the inspection from the start. 

Boca Raton was to have built the tower. Last week, however, a spokeswoman said the city is “rescinding the prior resolution” in support of the tower and seeking “to find a solution that works.”

So is the 400-foot tower dead?

“We’re not moving in that direction now,” the spokeswoman said. “It might mean two towers; we’re still trying to work out the details, timing, etc.”

Vacancies in Delray

Michael Cernech

I wrote last week that Michael Cernech, who it set to be Delray Beach’s next city manager, said one of his priorities would be to “start filling vacancies.” Indeed, Cernech practically will name a whole new leadership team.

Of the 11 city departments aside from police and fire, five lack a permanent director—Development Services, Finance, Neighborhood and Community Services, Public Works and Utilities. Assistant City Manager Caryn Gardner-Young is acting director of Public Works and Utilities.

Combined, those departments are responsible for most day-to-day basic services. Fortunately for Cernech, Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus has started searches for all the positions. If Cernech and the commission agree on a contract next week, finalists might be ready for interviews when he starts.

Boca ranks again

The financial website WalletHub just released another of its seemingly endless community surveys. This one ranked 100 cities in Florida as best for retirees. Boca Raton came in fifth.

WalletHub graded the cities across 28 categories. Boca Raton ranked first in health care facilities per capita and in weather. It also ranked high in activities. Boca Raton followed Sarasota, Tampa and Miami. Delray Beach was 15th. WalletHub considers North Miami the worst city among its 100 surveyed in which to retire.

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