Boca Downtown and Midtown Updates and Delray News of Note


Downtown observations

Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie says of Al Zucaro, “I see a very different city than he does.”

Zucaro, the former publisher of BocaWatch who is running against the mayor, believes that “we’re in peril,” Haynie told me. “I see a city that is moving in the right direction” along with the city’s most important institutions, such as Boca Raton Regional Hospital, Florida Atlantic University and Lynn University.

Responding to Zucaro’s accusation that Haynie and others have allowed too much downtown development, Haynie said voters approved the blueprint and rules for downtown 24 years ago. “We are executing that plan.” To the idea that developers get whatever they want, Haynie notes the status of Mizner 200, the luxury condo proposed for Mizner Boulevard across from Royal Palm Place (above). “It is still not coming forward,” because of concerns that the project is out of scale for the area. Mizner 200 is on its third design, and has not had a formal hearing before the community appearance board.

Haynie said her role is to “mitigate the negative impact” from development. To most residents, that means traffic, even though downtown traffic counts are well under projections from when the city approved the plan.

Still, Haynie said she has asked the city’s consultant, Kimley-Horn, to study the idea of making Federal Highway one-way northbound and Dixie Highway one-way southbound, similar to Federal Highway through downtown Delray Beach. Haynie believes that the change could allow Boca Raton to narrow Federal Highway and make it more pedestrian-friendly.

Another criticism is that Boca’s downtown is short on public space beyond Sanborn Square. If re-elected, Haynie wants to address that issue through redevelopment of the city’s roughly 28-acre campus along Northwest Second Avenue. She envisions “significant green space,” perhaps including a performing arts center, and additional downtown parking.

Though the FEC railroad tracks and Dixie Highway separate the campus from Mizner Park and downtown, Haynie believes that creative design and planning could achieve her goal. She correctly points out that the campus area is within the downtown boundaries.

Overall, Haynie said she is running “on my record of service to this community for more than four decades. People want to be here.”

New campus

The city council just took the first step on that campus plan by hiring Song & Associates, a West Palm Beach architectural firm, to conduct what a city spokeswoman called a “needs assessment.”

The boundaries of the area are the downtown library, Crawford Boulevard, Palmetto Park Road and the FEC tracks. The city’s holdings include not just the city hall, the police station, the tennis center and the new and old libraries, but undeveloped properties. In addition to what the council might decide to add, another feature might be a commuter rail station on the FEC near the library.

Though Song & Associates had hoped to design a new campus, the council — and especially Mayor Haynie — didn’t like the responses to the original request for proposal and now wants something more ambitious. Haynie especially doesn’t like the firm’s design of other municipal complexes. The assessment shouldn’t take long to complete, and then it will be time to hear what the community hopes to see. One hopes there is agreement that Boca should do something special.

Midtown update

Changes that would transform Boca Raton’s Midtown neighborhood are back before the planning and zoning board at tonight’s meeting.

Though board members expressed support for the concept last month, they also had questions, most of them about parking. The proposals, which are contained in three items, have been altered to address those questions.

Basically, the changes would allow up to 2,500 residential units in an area where residential is not allowed. That area is the roughly 300 acres between Glades Road, Town Center Mall, Boca Center and the CSX railroad track. Most of the area was outside the city until Boca Raton annexed it in 2003.

In 2010, Boca Raton added the Planned Mobility Development element to the city’s comprehensive plan. The purpose is to cluster housing near job centers, and thus reduce the impact of traffic. The city has implemented the PMD designation in the northwest, but not in Midtown.

The changes don’t include specific projects, but the changes would allow landowners to submit projects. Cypress Realty has applied for one on the property that is now Strikes of Boca, but it hasn’t been able to proceed. In addition to Cypress Realty, the other landowners are Crocker Partners, Glades Plaza and Simon Property Group, which owns the mall.

Wendy Larsen is an attorney with GrayRobinson, which represents all the landowners except Simon. Larsen said the landowners could have sought 3,600 units if they had followed densities in other PMD areas. Instead, Larsen said, the landowners submitted their desired numbers and agreed on the lower figure.

According to Larsen, roughly 8,000 people commute each day to jobs within Midtown. For the area, she said, the PMD designation could be “a godsend, if it’s done properly.” Nothing could happen, Larsen said, before agreement on a shuttle system that would move people from these new homes to their workplaces. The shuttle also could serve the Tri-Rail station that is planned for just north of Boca Center.

The four surrounding neighborhoods support the changes. City staff recommends approval. There is time sensitivity. Crocker Partners owns the land for the station, and must notify Tri-Rail by March if the developer will convey the land. If that doesn’t happen, the station will drop behind schedule and could lose money to other area transportation projects. If the city doesn’t approve the changes, conveying the land won’t make sense for Crocker.

The ordinances are set for introduction at Tuesday’s regular city council meeting. A public hearing would follow two weeks later.

And what BocaWatch says

Because the planning and zoning board held that first Midtown hearing three days before Christmas, the conspiracy theorists at BocaWatch complained that the city was trying to rush through a big issue without public input. Similar suspicion attended the informal community appearance board hearing for Mizner 200 on Dec. 20, the night of the Boca Raton Bowl.

Councilman Scott Singer raised the issue at last week’s meeting—the first after the holidays. Not coincidentally, the conspiracy theorists oppose Mizner 200 and are skeptical of the Midtown proposal.

As it turned out, however, there was more quirk than conspiracy. Meeting schedules for both boards already exclude holidays—civic and religious—and events like the city election. After just three years, the Boca Raton Bowl date is not burned into the public mind. In a nod to the conspiracy theorists, however, the community appearance board will not meet if the game is on a Tuesday, which is the board’s regular meeting day.

For the record, though, residents of neighborhoods around Midtown knew that the issue was on that Dec. 22 planning and zoning board agenda. Some showed up to comment. Boca Raton also can’t schedule its business around everyone’s holiday vacations. Those who want to speak up need to keep up and show up.

Golf course update

On Monday, the Boca Raton City Council will get an update on the three offers for the western golf course and the options for acquiring the Ocean Breeze course at Boca Teeca. Because it’s a workshop meeting, the council can’t make a final decision. That’s good, since council members won’t have enough information to decide.

Most notably, the council won’t have responses from the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District to questions from the city about the district’s possible participation. Art Koski, the district’s executive director, sent a letter expressing the district board’s support. The city, however, wants such specifics as whether the district could buy and operate Ocean Breeze within its current budget and tax rate.

Two other key issues are whether the city or the district could take Ocean Breeze using eminent domain. Under the offer from Lennar Homes of $51 million for the western course, the company would convey Ocean Breeze to the city for $10 million, for a net price of $41 million. Lennar has a contract to buy Ocean Breeze from a subsidiary of Wells Fargo.

The offers from Compson Associates and GL Homes, however, are for $73,180,180 and $73 million. The GL offer isn’t even contingent on county approval of its residential project. Accepting one of those offers would require eminent domain to acquire Ocean Breeze. The council would have to determine if such a strategy would survive a court fight and how much Ocean Breeze is worth, since the city/district would have to pay fair market value.

Not surprisingly, GL Homes sent a letter to the city supporting the case for eminent domain. Also not surprisingly, Lennar rejects the idea that $10 million is too high a value for Ocean Breeze, even though the course has been closed since last summer and development couldn’t happen unless residents voted to lift a deed covenant. Indeed, Lennar calls the $10 million figure a “substantial discount,” though Deputy City Manager George Brown said the company would not disclose its contract price.

In another twist, Lennar offers to renovate Ocean Breeze. The price would be $11 million. That would lower still the net profit from the Lennar deal, although the city and/or district would face renovation costs if the council wants to keep an 18-hole course within the city.

Almost everyone continues to like the idea of selling one course and reopening another. But at this point, no one knows enough of those devilish details.

Side note

Here’s why that Compson offer isn’t just a round $73 million, like the GL Homes offer:

In Hebrew, 18 is the numeric alternative to the word chai, which means life. Gifts in multiples of 18 signify a wish that the recipient have a long life. Compson would donate about 25 acres of the western course to Torah Academy for a new campus. Inclusion of that land allowed Compson to make the final cut of bidders.

Great shape

Despite the talk of selling the western course, city employees who run it would like the public to know that the course is in top shape.

According to a city spokeswoman, the staff expected more rounds to have been played by now, given the mild winter. In addition, part of the Boca Dunes course on Southwest 18th Street was sold for development, which the golf staff believed should have driven more players to Boca’s municipal course. Whatever may happen, the staff wants golfers to know that they are welcome.

 Sober homes

The Delray Beach City Commission may have gone 0-for-2 in trying to fill Al Jacquet’s seat, but they took almost no time in voting unanimously Tuesday night to hire a lawyer to guide the city as it writes rules for sober homes.

And railway landscape barrier

Discussion of another public safety item took longer, but the commission settled on the railing-with-landscaping option for a barrier along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks north and south of Atlantic Avenue.

Adding a wall, said Acting City Manager Neal de Jesus, could create a canvas for graffiti. Adding benches could a) attract the homeless or b) make people wonder what Delray Beach is thinking. Commissioner Jordana Jarjura asked rhetorically why someone would plop down on a bench by a railroad track.

Mayor Cary Glickstein believes that the barriers along Atlantic will be more expensive than the staff predicted. The numbers in the backup material for the meeting are so low, he said, that they are “not close to being accurate.”

Nevertheless, Glickstein urged action, regardless of cost, to prevent another tragedy like the death last August of a Boca Raton who stumbled trying to cross north of the Atlantic Avenue crossing. A train struck her, causing fatal injuries. “We can cheap out,” he said, but “someone else is going to get killed.”

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