Sunday, April 14, 2024

Boca-Delray Year in Review

Year in Review     

The best thing about choosing the big stories of 2015 for Boca Raton and Delray Beach is that there are a lot of stories to choose from. Not everyone would agree on whether the stories were accomplishments or mistakes, but cities need a certain dynamic to prosper. This year, Boca and Delray had that dynamic.

       Much of that dynamic, of course, concerns development. When comparing Boca and Delray, we tend to think first of population; Boca has about 25,000 more people. But Boca also is almost twice as large. In 2015, we saw how almost all Delray Beach development issues relate to downtown while in Boca they are citywide.

       The Boca Raton City Council approved, to varying degrees, several downtown projects: the Hyatt Place hotel; Via Mizner; Tower 155 and 327 Royal Palm. Whatever their relative size, they are part of Boca’s effort to create a downtown like Delray Beach’s, where more people live, not just visit. It will be years before we know if the city can realize this vision, but those approvals are less about individual projects than as part of a wider effort.

       In addition, however, the council approved University Village for the largest remaining open site in Boca. It’s just north of Florida Atlantic University, and is designed to take advantage of the new Interstate 95 interchange at Spanish River Boulevard. If that interchange were set to open next year, it would be one of the 2016 stories to watch. But the opening won’t come until 2017.

        Finally, the council also approved three projects in the northwest neighborhood anchored by the Park at Broken Sound. One, Fairway Commons, is to be a Planned Mobility Development.

       Consider that four of the five Boca council members—Mayor Susan Haynie is the exception—live west of I-95. It’s the reverse in Delray Beach. Only City Commissioner Mitch Katz is from west of the interstate. The city’s list of development projects east of I-95 includes the usual suspects—Atlantic Crossing, Fourth and Fifth Delray, Uptown Atlantic and others. There is just one project listed for west of I-95—a Dunkin Donuts. For now, Delray’s development debate is all about the east side.

And opinions

I asked elected officials for their thoughts on the cities’ accomplishments of 2015 and the challenges of 2016. Here is a sampling of the majority—not always universal—opinion.

       Boca Raton accomplishments:

       — Fire and police pension reform that started the city toward achieving a financially sustainable program;

       — Creation of a comprehensive waterfront plan designed to offer more public access;

       — Cutting the amount of time to issue building permits.

       — Adding 40 employees, with a focus on public safety and community appearance. The budget includes five new police officers, two code enforcement workers and three employees to remove exotic plants. The additions bring the staff near the level it was at before the recession.

       — The aforementioned developments.

       Delray Beach accomplishments:

       — Approval of new Central Business District Land Development Regulations. Mayor Cary Glickstein summed up the city’s attitude: “We have codified prescribed conditions that, if you want to build here, you will honor the pedestrian scale we value, and your building will be authentic, with the hope that it will be both relevant and memorable. And if that doesn’t work for you, please look elsewhere.”

       — Fire and police pension reform on a scale similar to that achieved in Boca Raton. Delray also gained more control over the fire and police pension funds.

       — Bidding out the trash-hauling contract, which hadn’t happened since 2001 and saved residents millions.

       — Continuing overhaul of the management structure, as City Manager Don Cooper completed his first year.

       — The pending sale of the Auburn Trace housing project for $11.3 million. Commissioner Jordana Jarjura said the sale would recoup all of the city’s expenses, “remove a neglectful operator” to be replaced by one that will make renovations and repay about $4 million in grant money “that can be used for another affordable housing project in the city.”

       Boca Raton’s challenges:

       — Making progress on that waterfront plan. That would include finalizing a deal for a Houston’s restaurant on the Wildflower property. Councilman Scott Singer cited the need to upgrade existing facilities, such as Lake Wyman Park. Another idea is a water taxi.

       — Finalizing, after many years, the Interim Design Guidelines (IDG) for downtown. The city’s longtime consultant, Urban Design Associates, is leaving. The city might hire an architect. Much will depend on how the city likes the Hyatt and Via Mizner, which are being built under the guidelines. Councilman Robert Weinroth says, “It’s time to remove the ‘I’ from IDG.”

       — Creation of a student district anchored by 20th Street east of Florida Atlantic University. Boca is getting help from the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council. This will require more cooperation from the FAU trustees.

       — Forming a better relationship with the Greater Boca Raton Beach Taxing District. The city and the district have similar needs, but haven’t been getting along. Mayor Susan Haynie especially wants to engage more with other agencies and institutions. That started this year when the council put Deputy City Manager George Brown and Weinroth on the Boca Raton Airport board. Weinroth said he expects to come off this month.

       — Taking inventory of Boca’s “campus”—all city-owned buildings—to see if it still meets the city’s needs. Councilman Mike Mullaugh said that even if the review doesn’t conclude that Boca needs a new city hall, there at least could be “major renovations.”

       Delray Beach’s challenges:

       — Working out a new relationship between the city commission and the Community Redevelopment Agency. “That issue will be big,” Glickstein told me. The commission might seek to change the CRA’s boundaries, to focus more on Congress Avenue, not downtown. Commission scrutiny of the agency has grown, and will continue to grow.

       — Protecting residential neighborhoods. The ongoing problem will be sober houses, but Jarjura went beyond that to say that the commission should make it a priority to keep single-family neighborhoods “commercial-free.” 

       — Continuing to improve the level of service. Glickstein said Delray has “affected a meaningful shift among all new department heads and staff from a ‘That’s how we always did it’ approach to a ‘best practices’ way of conducting the business of running our city.” Measures of that progress will come with Delray’s upgrading of fire-rescue services and facilities, now that the city has decided to keep its department and not contract with the county.

       — The iPic project and Atlantic Crossing. Ipic comes back to the Site Plan Review Advisory Board next month. Atlantic Crossing is being simultaneously reviewed and litigated.

       — Congress Avenue. The city has formed a task force to recommend ways to redevelop the corridor. It has suffered since Office Depot moved to Boca in 2008.

       Other issues will carry over. All those big Boca projects, for example, will be in various stages of approvals. Singer mentioned General Growth Properties’ “planned exercise of its option to purchase Mizner Park.” In Delray, the three-year window for Arts Garage to buy its city-owned space closes in March. Both cities will keep trying to recruit jobs. Boca Raton anxiously will follow developments related to mergers involving Office Depot and Jarden, the city’s other Fortune 500 company. In each case, an outside company is the buyer. Both cities will keep working on better downtown parking programs.

       And both cities will take on these issues with the same political cast. No council member or commissioner is up for election in 2016. Haynie will be on the ballot in 2017. Any potential challengers will make their intentions known this year.

       My next post will be for Tuesday. Happy New Year to everyone in Boca Raton, Delray Beach and beyond.

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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