Sunday, November 28, 2021

Will Boca Get Its Own Ice Rink? Plus, a Closer Look at the Delray Race and IRC’s Brightline Battle Heats Up

Can ballet and ice hockey coexist under one roof in Boca Raton? An investor thinks so, and the project soon may come to the city council.

At tonight’s meeting, the planning and zoning board will consider the application by Peninsula Ice, LLC for a two-story facility on a vacant, 3.76-acre site near the Congress Avenue interchange of Interstate 95. It would be called the Boca Ice and Fine Arts Center.

You read that right. The sport of broken teeth and flying pucks would share space with dance studios. Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke first spoke of the project during a workshop meeting last April. I don’t know whether O’Rourke is a hockey fan, but she is the council’s most vocal supporter of art in public places and the arts in general.

Before building, the developer would need a rezoning. The city designated the area to attract industrial uses. Obviously, there have been no takers for that site. The city allows — of all things — gymnastics and jai-alai on that property but not skating rinks. So the city would add that as a conditional use.

When I spoke with the developer last year, he envisioned attracting ice hockey tournaments. Those could draw more traffic than ballet lessons and youth practices at the two rinks, so Boca Ice would use the lot at the nearby Hilton Garden Inn for overflow parking. The developer also wants permission for a 50-foot-high parking garage.

Staff recommends approval, finding that the project would be “reasonable and consistent” with other uses in that area. The developer felt confident enough to buy the land last September for $3.75 million. It had sold in 2010 for $1.35 million.

The developer previously tried to build an ice skating facility in Delray Beach, but the Great Recession killed that. It’s an unusual project, but there would seem to be little apparent opposition. There’s a residential neighborhood nearby to the northeast. Otherwise, offices and a gas station/foodmart surround the property.

I’ll have an update after tonight’s meeting.

Delray Commission Race

delray beach city hall
Delray Beach City Hall (Photo by Christiana Lilly)

Most attention in Delray Beach’s Seat 2 city commission race has gone to incumbent Bill Bathurst and challenger Juli Casale, who has support from Mayor Shelly Petrolia. Here’s something about the other two candidates.

Debra Tendrich — She founded the Delray Beach-based non-profit Eat Better, Live Better, whose mission is to improve child nutrition. She also is involved with Healthier Delray Beach and has served on the city’s homeless task force. Outside the city, Tendrich has worked with United Way and the School of Social Work at Florida Atlantic University.

Before deciding to run, Tendrich said, she “prayed on it a lot” but “had no doubt” when she finally committed. Tendrich sees herself as a compromise choice between Bathurst and Casale. “I’m my own candidate,” she said of Bathurst’s business contributions.” Referring to Petrolia recruiting Casale, Tendrich said, “Nobody put  me up to run.”

Of Bathurst, Tendrich said, “I haven’t aligned with all of his votes.” She cited Bathurst’s refusal to allow an appeal of the Site Plan Review and Appearance Board’s approval of a new southern entrance to Delray Place.

The commission did require that the developer spend his own money to address traffic problems if they arise for residents of Tropic Isle, the large, adjoining neighborhood. Tendrich said she would agree with that outcome if the commission had allowed the residents to be heard.

Tendrich also disagreed with Bathurst’s vote in April 2018 to abolish the independent community redevelopment agency board and replace it with the commission plus two new appointed members. That happened at the first meeting of the new commission with Petrolia as mayor.

“I’m not afraid of hard work,” Tendrich said, “and I’ve been active in the community for years.” She wants to address “mistrust” between the commission and the community.

Jennifer Jones — She runs a tax preparation firm. Like Tendrich, she is a renter, not a property owner.

Jones acknowledged that she is running as a slate with Angela Burns in Seat 4. Historically, that has been the seat occupied by a minority. Jones is Haitian-American, but she notes that Burns — like incumbent Shirley Johnson — is African-American.

“We are running together,” Jones said of herself and Burns. Door hangers carry their photographs. Jones also said she opposed the commission takeover of the CRA. That issue likely is in play especially with Jones’ candidacy.

I’m told that some members of the Northwest/Southwest Alliance are backing Jones and Burns as payback to Bathurst and Johnson for that CRA vote. (Ryan Boylston was the only dissenter.) But opinion within the alliance is divided.

Jones said she would not have voted to hire BH3, which the CRA chose last year to develop the three blocks east of the Fairfield Inn that are key to redevelopment of West Atlantic Avenue. That issue could become a bigger factor in the election if the CRA votes next week to terminate the contract.

Though Jones has served on no city or civic board, she is “active in my community,” especially with improving education for Haitian-American residents. “The community reached out to me” to run, Jones said, because residents didn’t see that Bathurst had done enough for them.

Aside from the CRA, Jones said she didn’t have specific criticisms of Bathurst beyond his “developer support.”

Brightline vs. Indian River County

Indian River County has decided that it will continue its legal fight against Brightline.

This week, the county commission unanimously reversed its decision in January to end litigation against Virgin Trains USA, which operates the Brightline service and struck a deal last year to build a station in Boca Raton. Indian River has contested the award of $2.7 billion in public financing for the service that Virgin wants to run from Miami to Orlando.

Though Indian River has spent $3.5 million fighting Brightline, the county got $200,000 in private financing if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to hear the case. The county has lost at trial and at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

According to news reports, Indian River heard from Michael Luttig, a former federal appeals court judge, that the county deserved to win its appeal. The Luttig connection may be what caused the commission to reconsider. Luttig spent part of last year as senior adviser to Boeing, as the company was dealing with the 737 Max controversy.

The Indian River county attorney spoke against the station deal before the Boca Raton City Council. Critics have said that the service is a safety threat. There was another Brightline fatality this week, which investigators determined was because the driver went around closed gates.

Wildflower Update

wildflower park
Wildflower park rendering (Courtesy of City of Boca Raton)

Boca Raton’s Wildflower/Silver Palm Park plods along through the city review process.

The site plan for the roughly seven-acre park will go to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board on March 3. After that, it will go to the city council.

Meanwhile, the city will open El Rio Hillsboro Park South on Saturday with a ceremony beginning at 9:30 a.m.

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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