Thursday, November 30, 2023

Boca Downtown Still in Growth Mode With Via Mizner and Alina

Boca Raton has waved the start flag on the downtown Mandarin Hotel and accompanying condo.

On Monday, the city council acting as the community redevelopment agency approved the updated plan for Phases 2 and 3 of Via Mizner. Penn-Florida completed Phase 1—the 366-unit rental apartment building—about two years ago. Work on the hotel and the 92 condos will start soon with the two floors of underground parking. Crews have been mixing the soil in preparation.

Remarkably, the discussion took only about 45 minutes. Last summer, the council spent much longer before deadlocking on the seemingly simple question of temporary parking during construction of the Tower 155 condo. The planning and zoning board had recommended that the council reject Penn-Florida’s new plan because of parking issues.

Yet the staff memo said Penn-Florida had “satisfactorily addressed” the board members’ concerns. Those focused on how Penn-Florida’s contractor would manage the shared parking among three garages, the use of tandem parking—two cars in one space—with the valet service and potentially tight turning spots.

Discussion Monday included the question of a bus shelter in front of Via Mizner, which will stretch north on Federal Highway from Camino Real. If county-operated Palm Tran wants a shelter, Penn-Florida will build it. But Palm Tran may decide that its nearby hub on Camino Real —which links to Broward County’s bus system—may be adequate for employees who would rather use public transit than pay for valet parking.

Another key change is that loading docks won’t be underground, as the plan called for when the council gave preliminary approval in December 2015. Boca Raton Fire Department administrators had safety questions, so Penn-Florida moved the docks to the east end of each building.

In addition to the hotel amenities on site, Penn-Florida is converting the northern golf course at Boca Del Mar for use by Via Mizner guests and owners. That explains all the dirt piled west of Military Trail and south of Palmetto Park Road. Now work downtown will pick up.

A company executive noted that Mandarin Oriental/condo project “has been attracting attention from all over the world.” The $200 million project could open in early-to-mid 2020.

Alina heads to CRA

Alina rendering

Changes to another big downtown project could get to the Boca Raton CRA soon.

Last week, the planning and zoning board unanimously recommended approval of Elad Properties’ plan to build the Alina condo project in two phases. Alina would replace Mizner on the Green. Elad would 140 of the luxury units and then the remaining 244 units. There also are changes to the streetscape plan for Mizner Boulevard.

Some residents of Townsend Place, the condo south of the site, objected to the phasing. Those same residents opposed approval of the project last year, even though it met all requirements of the downtown ordinance.

Elad’s attorney, Bonnie Miskel, noted that Elad “is not changing the deal.” The developer cut 50,000 square feet after negotiations with the city. “That’s not coming back,” Miskel said. To the concern that Elad might not build Phase 2, Miskel pointed out that Townsend Place itself is one building short from the original plan.

Board member Kerry Koen asked about disruption during construction. Deputy City Manager George Brown responded that Elad, like all developers, would have to file plans regarding delivery of materials and temporary parking. Any potential violations would go to the city’s code enforcement officers.

Normally, projects go to the city council/CRA about a month after their planning and zoning board hearing. Elad proposed the phasing early in the year and likely wants to get to the council as soon as possible.

The conversion therapy issue

Boca Raton’s ban on conversion therapy for minors went to court last week.

Lawyers for two therapists argued before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart that he should overturn the city ordinance and a similar county ban, both of which took effect last year. Doing so, the lawyers claim, would permit the therapists’ clients to “prioritize their religious and moral values above unwanted same-sex sexual attractions, behaviors, or identities” and allow those clients to “align their values with a licensed counselor who can address these values.”

The plaintiffs are licensed family marriage therapists Robert Otto and Julie Hamilton. He has a practice in Boca Raton. Her website lists a practice in Palm Beach Gardens. What the city calls conversion therapy the therapists call “sexual orientation change efforts,” or SOCE.

Liberty Counsel represents Otto and Hamilton. The group, which is based near Orlando, describes itself as a “Christian ministry that proclaims, advocates, supports, advances, and defends the good news that God in the person of Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins and offers forgiveness and eternal life to all who accept him as Lord and Savior.”

Otto and Hamilton argue that Boca Raton’s ban is selective. It “exempts counseling affirming a minor transitioning from one gender to another, but prohibits such counseling for a client seeking to eliminate the confusion or identity that does not match his or her biological makeup.” Hamilton argues, “Clients who identify as Christians, holding to a Biblical worldview, believe that their faith and their relationships with God supersede romantic attractions, and that God determines their identity, according to what He has revealed in the Bible, rather than their attractions or perceptions determining their identity.”

Liberty Counsel’s lawyers argue that the city and county exceeded their authority because the state regulates mental health. They claim that the bans violate federal and state constitutional provisions regarding free speech, freedom of religion and privacy.

In its brief, the city argues that the ban doesn’t violate the First Amendment. The ordinance “does not intend to prevent mental health providers from speaking to the public about SOCE; expressing their views to patients; recommending SOCE to patients; administering SOCE to any person who is 18 years of age or older; or referring minors to unlicensed counselors, such as religious leaders.

“Clergy and other religious leaders, moreover, are exempt from the ordinance and may provide guidance and counseling to minors, so long as it is not performed under the guise of licensed mental health therapy.”

A key issue is the rational basis test. Does the law serve a public need or is it arbitrary? Boca Raton argues that the ban is “justified by overwhelming research from leading health organizations that demonstrate that conversion therapy on minors is both harmful and lacking in psychological or other medical foundation…there is overwhelming evidence that SOCE is, in fact, medically inappropriate, and a dangerous medical procedure.”

Otto and Hamilton claim that the ban is vague. The city responds that the ordinance makes clear that the practice in question is “the goal of changing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Finally, the city argues that Otto and Hamilton lack standing. Otto “makes it crystal clear in his deposition testimony that he does not, and has no desire to, practice ‘conversion therapy.’ ” As for Hamilton, the lawyers say, she practices outside the city.

There is no timetable for a ruling.

Delray trolley returns

The Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency has brought back the downtown trolley service for a three-month evaluation.

The CRA board, most of which is the city commission, took the action Monday. The service, which was discontinued on Oct. 1, will restart on Nov. 1. Exercising the option could allow the evaluation to continue through high season. I’ll have more on this in my Thursday post.

Addison Mizner update

(Photo by Randy Schultz)

The Palm Beach County School Board last week approved the purchase of the last home fronting Southwest 12th Avenue near the entrance to Addison Mizner Elementary School. The site will give the school district more flexibility in designing the new campus.

Addison Mizner also has a new principal. Joshua Davidow had been principal at Waters Edge Elementary in West Boca. He also was an assistant principal at Boca Raton Middle School. The job at Addison Mizner came open in September, when Superintendent Donald Fennoy transferred Kelly Burke to Olympic Heights High School.

CRA to-do list

I wrote last week about the evaluation of Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency Director Jeff Costello. The CRA board—the city commission and two commission-appointed members—told Costello that his priority is to ensure completion of projects.

Costello will be busy. The list of projects in the current CRA budget totals roughly $16 million. Nearly half of that amount is for alleys in the southwest neighborhoods. There’s $2 million for similar work on Northeast Third Avenue and $740,000 on Northwest Fifth Avenue.

Another $1 million is for construction in the Osceola Park neighborhood. The same amount will finance the design for work in the northwest neighborhood. Among other things, there’s $700,00 toward design for Old School Square improvements and $600,000 for restrooms and a concession building at Hilltopper Stadium on the former site of Atlantic High School.

Camino bridge update

Boca Raton issued a news release last week that the new Camino Real Bridge won’t be finished until at least next summer.

The county, which owns the bridge, had said the new span would open in the spring. According to the city, “additional work” will delay it for three months. The bridge is the oldest in Boca Raton.



Two outstanding community leaders died recently.

Edward Rodgers was both Palm Beach County’s first African-American prosecutor and first judge. He spent a lifetime fighting discrimination with a dignity that commanded respect. Any civic board that wanted immediate standing and credibility made Rodgers a member. Though he asked to be called “Eddie,” I never could call him anything but “Judge.”

The other notable passing was of Robert Miller. Four-plus-decades ago, the former teacher and coach at what then was Seacrest High School in Delray Beach lobbied the city for a Little League field. Delray was the only city in South Florida without one.

From that first effort came the youth baseball complex on Southwest Fourth Avenue that now bears the name Robert P. Miller Park. Among many other things, Miller also was a board chairman of the city’s chamber of commerce.

“He was a class act,” says former Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein. “Humble as they come.”

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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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