The Boca Raton City Council’s annual goal-setting meeting will have a different feel this year—and not just because Councilman Jeremy Rodgers will raise the idea of Boca annexing Highland Beach.
Rodgers acknowledges that adding a city of nearly 4,000 is a “stretch goal.” He hasn’t discussed the idea with anyone in Highland Beach, “but I think it could make a lot of sense . . . Still a lot of research and questions to be asked.”
Most of the discussion Thursday and Friday, however, will focus on current projects that have significant council and community consensus. Indeed, they’ve been goals for several years. The problem is that they keep circling, like airliners in a holding pattern.
So this year, the approach will be different. Rather than hear from administrators and department heads and then react, council members will ask staff to lay out plans for achieving the goals. Mayor Susan Haynie calls these progress points “deliverables.”
Example: Boca Raton wants to create a district east of Florida Atlantic University aimed at college students, not just those at FAU but also at Lynn University and Palm Beach State College. On May 22, the council will get an update from the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, which has been helping the city.
But what about progress? Haynie said her deliverables for the next year are to hold a community workshop—known as a charrette—in October, to develop a “consensus plan” and to draft development rules for the area.
All council members share Haynie’s impatience on this issue. Jeremy Rodgers said he wants “the town and gown issue nailed down.” The council now wants to give a deadline and expect a result.
Similarly, the council will discuss the comprehensive waterfront plan. In the next year, Haynie would like to see an analysis of all properties, a plan developed with community input, a financing strategy and a list of projects in order of importance. Robert Weinroth also would like the city and the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Parks District to develop “a vision” for the Ocean Strand, the district’s 14-acre parcel north of Gumbo Limbo Nature Center.
Another goal that will need to move past concept is a new downtown “campus”—the roughly 30 acres around City Hall. Talk about a blank canvas.
One potential element of what Weinroth correctly calls “a long-term plan” is a garage that could relieve the seasonal parking crunch at Mizner Park. Weinroth will ask if the city could agree on the location for the garage sooner, and then start design and possibly construction. Another element could be a performing arts center. But what would such a facility mean for the Mizner Park Amphitheater?
For the campus, Haynie wants an inventory of the properties—they also include the police station and the new and old libraries, among others—“a needs plan, public outreach, consensus plan, funding scenario” and the selection of an architect. Expect the big-ticket campus plan to be a factor in discussions about selling the western golf course. The $70 million-plus from a sale could be a big down payment on the campus.
Based on my conservations, the council also will want to discuss transportation improvements, from reducing downtown traffic to adding that elusive downtown connector. Again, the council will need to agree on a list of priorities and how to make them happen.
Weinroth wants an update of the building code because “too many routine matters” get to the council. He wants the city to adopt a sign ordinance that the community appearance board can administer. “Finally,” he said, “it’s time to approve, revise or scrap the Pattern Book” for downtown architecture.
Rodgers wants to talk more about business recruitment, which he has stressed since being elected two years ago. And he’s serious about trying to recruit Highland Beach. “It would be great to grow” Boca Raton’s coastline and “take advantage of economies of scale.”
The goal-setting sessions will take place in Boca Raton’s municipal complex at 6500 North Congress Avenue. The Thursday session starts at 9 a.m. and runs until 4:30 p.m., with public comment from 11 a.m. until noon and from 4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Friday session runs from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., with public comment from 11 p.m. until noon.
As I reported Tuesday, Boca Raton City Manager Leif Ahnell has entered the five-year program toward retirement. So the council will discuss succession planning “as our workforce continues to mature,” in Weinroth’s words.
With Ahnell, Deputy City Manager George Brown and Assistant City Manager Mike Woika have been the city’s top administrative team for more than a decade. Woika recently applied for the manager’s job in Coral Springs, where he lives, but was not chosen. In 2014, he applied for the manager’s job in Delray Beach.
If the council actually does push staff on these priorities, it could be an opportunity for some administrators to show their potential.
Golf course debate
The next event in the Great Boca Raton Golf Course debate takes place Monday.
Greater Boca Raton Beach & Parks District Director Art Koski will present the district’s contract to buy the Ocean Breeze course from Lennar for $24 million. Koski told me that he would release no materials in advance, so the public will hear as the city council hears.
Koski must persuade the council that the price is fair. The district can’t issue bonds, so the city would have to issue them for the district. The district would own the property and make the payments. Obviously, though, the city would be on the hook if the district came up short.
Expect many questions about that price. A Wells Fargo subsidiary bought the roughly 200 acres in January 2016 for $4 million. In 2004, however, a company that got approval to build on a portion of the site paid $7.2 million. That project never got built. A majority of units at Boca Teeca, the community that surrounds Ocean Breeze, would have to approve any use other than a golf course.
A majority of council members probably would like to sell the western course and work with the district to reopen and operate Ocean Breeze. But in addition to the sale price, it would cost millions more to repair Ocean Breeze, which has been closed since last summer. Neither the city nor the district has done research on whether Ocean Breeze would stay at 27 holes and how successful it might be.
Lennar also is one of three bidders for the western course, but the Ocean Breeze deal no longer is directly tied to that decision. Lennar first offered a deal under which the city would sell the company the western course and Lennar would convey Ocean Breeze.
Monday’s session is informational only. The council will not take a vote. Rodgers has a conflict and can’t attend. Comments, however, should show what council members are thinking. In an email Wednesday, Koski said he wants “direction from council to prepare an interlocal agreement for funding. We will discuss restoring the course.”
iPic still pending
The Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency and iPic missed last Friday’s closing date.
CRA Director Jeff Costello did not return three messages, but Mayor Cary Glickstein said the company lacks a construction management plan and a performance bond. Glickstein said the city won’t issue permits without them, and iPic needs the permits to complete closing on the $3.6 million purchase of land for Fourth and Fifth Delray.
Saving the sunshine
A very bad bill died this week in the Florida House.
HB 843 would have gutted the Sunshine Law ban on local elected officials discussing business outside of a public meeting. The bill would have allowed two or more members to confer—as long as they didn’t decide what they would do. Sure. That would work.
Admittedly, it might be helpful in some cases for colleagues to sound each other out before a meeting. But the risk would be greater than any reward. Though the Florida League of Cities favored the bill, the league’s president—Mayor Haynie—did not. “It’s just too much of a slippery slope.”
The House passed the bill, 68-48. Fortunately, voters in 2002 amended the Florida Constitution to require a two-thirds majority for changes to the Sunshine Law. HB 843 thus fell 12 votes short.
On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott finally declared a statewide health emergency because of opioid overdoses.
Despite declaring such an emergency quickly after the Zika outbreak in Miami-Dade County threatened tourism, Scott had resisted many calls from Palm Beach County—including from the chief judge—for a stronger response to the overdoses. He offered up a four-city “listening tour.”
On Monday, that tour came to West Palm Beach. Participants ripped Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi for not showing. Scott likely will run for the U.S. Senate next year. He must have listened.
Depot for sale
The Boca Raton Historical Society & Museum has received four offers for the train depot on Dixie Highway north of Camino Real.
Director Mary Csar said the organization must sell the station because of new events coming to the old Town Hall. “It’s hard to manage two buildings.” The society made the decision two years ago, and the deadline for proposals was last week. Csar declined to identify the bidders, beyond saying that all were for purchase, not lease.
Because the property has a preservation easement, the look would remain the same under a new owner. Csar hopes the new owner would continue the children’s “Ticket to Ride” programs in the old rail cars. The society has owned the station for nearly four decades.
One good tern
Boca Raton has released a cool piece of environmental news. Last week, the city discovered a least tern nest on the beach south of Spanish River Park. According to the city, it’s the first such nest in more than 25 years.
Staff members from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Gumbo Limbo Nature Center created a safety barrier around the nest. Florida lists the least tern as a threatened species. State officials say Boca’s is just one of three nesting colonies on the Florida east coast. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, least terns suffered an 88 percent population loss between 1966-2015. Root for those eggs to hatch, and the babies to thrive.
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