Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Boca Golf and Tennis Still At Odds With City Over New Public Facilities

Boca Raton appears to be losing patience with residents of Boca Golf and Tennis Club.

Several angry residents spoke during Tuesday night’s city council meeting. On Friday, the city assumes operational control of the golf course and clubhouse that the Boca Raton Resort & Club donated last year.

The property might benefit the city, one woman said, “but it does stink for us.” She complained, “We’re not a resort anymore.” Allowing the public, another woman said, would mean that the community is “overrun.” Two speakers called the city’s actions toward the residents “appalling.” One said, “You owe us something.” The general sentiment was that the city had been unresponsive and, as one speaker said, provided “no answers” to questions about what happens next.

In a letter to the editor that ran in Tuesday’s Sun Sentinel, a handful of residents argued that the city could take no action on the property without annexing it. They cited a state law designed “to prevent governments from running roughshod over people.” Boca Raton officials, who have consulted the city’s legal department, do not agree.

Mayor Scott Singer waited for all residents to list their grievances. Then he noted that there has been “a lot of misinformation” and turned things over to City Manager Leif Ahnell for a response.

Contrary to the accusations, Ahnell said, the city has been working with the community on “dozens and dozens of issues” in public and “hundreds of issues behind the scenes.” Contrary to the claim that “someone from the city” said in March that the clubhouse pool would remain open, Ahnell said, he finds no record of any Boca Raton official making such a promise.

To the complaint about poor communication, Ahnell cited the many meetings with the Boca Golf and Tennis Club master association. It’s the umbrella organization for the 13 communities that make up the 960 homes. It would be unworkable, Ahnell said, to deal with individual homeowner assocations. (I’ve heard that there is disagreement among some HOAs and the master association. If so, that seems to be the community’s problem, not the city’s.)

The city held a community meeting in August and posted the video on its website. Ahnell said a second meeting is planned for “November or December,” when snowbirds should be here. He reiterated that the city plans to invest nearly $8 million to “make this a premier facility,” with golf, a renovated clubhouse, tennis and pickleball courts and a restaurant.

Roughly 10 percent of the homes in Boca Golf and Tennis Club had memberships through the resort—now The Boca Raton—that allowed them to use the club’s facilities. All residents will be able to use all the facilities at city rates even though they don’t live in the city.

For some, there remains the issue of the club pool. The city doesn’t plan to keep it, given all of Boca Raton’s other municipal pools and the estimated $300,000 annual cost to operate the pool.

Assistant City Manager Chrissy Gibson said Boca Raton suggested that the master board “poll the community” to determine how many residents cared about having a pool. Gibson made clear that if the renovated facility had a pool, all city residents would be eligible to use it—not just residents of Boca Golf and Tennis.

The master association, Gibson said, responded that there was “no appetite” for a pool. No poll was taken. “We are not inflicting serious harm,” Gibson said. The city believes that those insisting on a pool make up “a vocal minority.” Boca Raton will close the existing pool on Friday.

An email from March is circulating among club residents. In it, the master association president said, “Last night, I received a phone call from our attorney with good news, saying the city heard our community and has decided to keep the pool open, we are still in discussions with the gym and fitness center, as many other issues.”

Gibson echoed Ahnell in saying that the city had taken no position on the pool several months ago. No council member pushed back when Ahnell said the new facility would not include a pool.

On traffic, Ahnell restated that the city likely will build—at the city’s expense—a new entrance to the community. In addition, Boca Raton is working with the school district to move a bus stop, which could relieve congestion.

These issues likely will continue for at least a year and perhaps more. For now, some Boca Golf and Tennis residents believe that the city could do much more, while Boca Raton believes that the city is doing much more than necessary.

Highland Beach-Delray fire contract update

(Photo courtesy Delray Beach Fire Rescue)

Even though Highland Beach has told Delray Beach that the town intends to end its fire-rescue contract, Fire Chief Keith Tomey isn’t presuming that it will happen.

On Nov 2, Highland Beach voters will decide whether to spend $10 million on equipment for what would be the town’s fire department. In June, the town commission approved creation of the department. Commissioners unanimously voted to end the contract with Delray Beach, saying that it had become too expensive.

But first, Tomey said of the referendum, “It has to pass.” He noted that in 2010 Highland Beach voters rejected a referendum to spend $810,000 on a new ladder truck. Town rules require a referendum on purchases of more than $350,000.

Delray Beach has 22 firefighters assigned to Highland Beach. Those positions would go away if the contract ends. If it does, Tomey hopes to avoid layoffs by eliminating positions through attrition. There are 10 unfilled positions in next year’s budget. Tomey said the department is using overtime to cover for the vacant positions.

Tomey said, “I find it hard” to think that Highland Beach voters would approve an amount more than 10 times what they rejected 11 years ago. If that happens, the Highland Beach manager said, the city will try again.

Assisted Living Facility and Addison Mizner School

addison mizner
Addison Mizner Elementary rendering

Boca Raton could be months or even years from any hearings on the proposed adult living facility (ALF) near Addison Mizner School. That didn’t stop several potential neighbors of the project from attending Tuesday night’s city council meeting to express their opposition.

The ALF, proposed by Whelchel Partners, would go on the site of a closed church. It’s just south of Palmetto Park Road on 12th Avenue. The school is three blocks south.

Boca Square residents organized quickly against the project, submitting a petition to the city. The project would require a rezoning and other changes from the city to be built in a single-family neighborhood. Some neighbors have expressed their fear that the clout of the developer—the principals are the son and daughter of former Mayor Susan Whelchel—and its attorney—from the city’s leading land-use firm—would overwhelm the residents’ opposition.

One woman said many nearby houses have “plumbing issues” and that increased demand from a multi-family project could cause the neighborhood to “end up like Fort Lauderdale,” which has suffered for years from aging pipes. Two speakers suggested that a better location for the ALF would be the former Kmart store in the shopping center across Palmetto Park Road. But that property is zoned for retail, and an ALF would be even less compatible at that location.

The application just had its preliminary review by city department heads. Development Services Director Brandon Schaad said the timetable would depend on how Whelchel Partners responds to those early comments. The developer plans to hold a community meeting via Zoom on Oct. 18.

New City of Boca website

Boca Raton has revised its website. According to a news release, the pandemic is one reason. “Following the uncertainty of the past year and a half, we are excited to invite the community to Rediscover Boca Raton—and further engage, connect, and enjoy the city they know and love.”

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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