More on the Boca National Boondoggle and Other Updates

Boca Raton has no confidence in the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District when it comes to numbers for the proposed Boca Ration National Golf Course.

That’s my reading of the most recent correspondence between the district and the city. The two sides are scheduled to hold a joint meeting on May 28 to discuss the course and perhaps other issues, but we may get a preview on Monday.

At its workshop meeting, the city council is scheduled to talk about the sale of the current municipal course to GL Homes. A city spokeswoman said Boca National also “may be discussed.” Councilman Andy Thomson said, “I will make sure that it happens.” Doing so would make sense. Otherwise, council members would go into the May 28 meeting with no consensus positions.

Most notably, the city believes that the district is overestimating how much revenue Boca National would bring in and underestimating how much it would cost to operate. After saying that rounds would cost roughly the same as at Boca Municipal, the district now projects that residents would pay almost 40 percent more per round and non-residents would pay almost 50 percent more.

The district responds that golfers will pay more because of a “superior product” to Boca Municipal. In an April 28 letter to Deputy City Manager George Brown— responding to the city’s many questions—Interim District Executive Director Briann Harms said a better quality comparison is with the county-owned Osprey Point course west of Boca Raton.

Harms said the proposed fees for Boca National are lower than at Osprey Point and other nearby popular courses such as Deer Creek. The higher fees, Harms said, are “necessary to sustain operations.”

There’s much more back and forth about money. The city wonders if the district is overestimating revenue from the restaurant. The district responds that the facility will generate lots of business because it will be so much better than the one at Boca Municipal.

The city believes that the clubhouse, which the district has estimated at $3.4 million, is too expensive. Harms said an “alternate option” could make it “more affordable.” The city believes that the annual estimate for chemicals and fertilizer is $100,000 too low. Harms’ response: “Acknowledged.”

Another major topic is Jeffrey Street. It dead-ends at the eastern edge of what would be Boca National and resumes west of Dixie Highway, across the Florida East Coast Railway tracks.

The district wants the city to abandon that portion of Jeffrey Street, to help with design of the course. Doing so, however, would mean that the city never could extend Jeffrey Street across the tracks to the west, fill in the gap and thus create a connection from northeast Boca Raton to the northwest part of the city via Clint Moore Road.

That abandonment will be a hard sell. Council Jeremy Rodgers told me Wednesday that he has “an interest” in seeking to extend Jeffrey Street. “I hear all the time,” Rodgers said, “from residents in the northeast who feel like they are cut off from the rest of the city.”

Mayor Scott Singer agrees. He brought up Jeffrey Street at the city’s goal-setting meeting. “It’s not something for the next five years,” Singer said, “but it’s on the horizon. It’s one of the few remaining options we have to improve our traffic grid.”

Question 35 in Brown’s letter and the district’s response underscore the uncertainty about Boca National. Brown asked, “Has the district determined how it will be able to meet all its financial and operational obligations considering the additional expense that will be associated with developing and operating the proposed Boca National Golf Course?” Harms’ response: “No.”

Many within the city already believe that, at $24 million, the district overpaid for the former Boca Teeca golf course. Clearly, the city now worries that the district will overpay for construction of Boca National and then be unable to operate it at a surplus. The city thus would be left to take over the operation.

So council members may start speaking openly about the city taking over the project now. Rodgers said he might suggest it on Monday. Thomson said he would.

“I want to help (the district),” Singer said, “but we need some clarity from them that we just haven’t received.”

Closing postponement

Regarding the sale of Boca Raton’s current golf course, the topic for Monday probably will be GL Homes’ request to delay the closing from October—perhaps for as long as a year.

GL representatives have said the extra time would allow them to better plan development of the roughly 200 acres. In return, the company would increase the amount of guaranteed money. City Manager Leif Ahnell has said that the delay would cost the city a year of interest on the purchase price of $65 million.

Council members Jeremy Rodgers and Andy Thomson said they would consider an extension, noting that the city has not earmarked the money. And with so much about Boca Raton National in flux, the added time could remove pressure to make decisions just for the sake of having an alternative when Boca Municipal closes.

Richman joins legal team

Crocker Partners portrait of Midtown

Crocker Partners has added a familiar name to the legal team representing the company in its litigation against Boca Raton over Midtown.

The new lawyer is Gerald Richman. He’s been on both sides of big land-use cases in the city. He represented Boca Raton when the city imposed a growth cap in the early 1970s. The city lost, but most observers believe that the cap led to quality development.

Richman also represented the developers of Archstone —now Palmetto Promenade—the large apartment project on the eastern edge of downtown. Opponents of the project wanted the city council to schedule a referendum on Archstone, but Richman prevailed in court five years ago.

Crocker has filed three lawsuits related to the council’s refusal in January 2018 to write redevelopment rules for Midtown, where Crocker owns several large properties. One lawsuit asks that a court order the city to write the rules. Another seeks $137 million in what Crocker claims are lost profits. The third alleges that city officials violated the Sunshine Law by working in secret to block residential development in Midtown.

Boca Raton wants to argue for summary judgment— winning without a trial, based on the available facts. Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Howard Coates said the city must wait until Crocker’s lawyers complete depositions. Director of Development Services Brandon Schaad will be deposed today. Deputy City Manager George Brown— Schaad’s supervisor—will be deposed on June 3.

The deposition of City Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke is scheduled for May 31. Crocker wants to depose O’Rourke before other council members because she proposed the “small area plan” that the council asked Schaad to craft rather than approve rules for Midtown.

Office Depot earnings

Boca Raton-based Office Depot had mixed results Wednesday as the company reported first-quarter earnings.

On the bright side, Office Depot beat analysts’ estimates for earnings, making 7 cents per share compared to the forecast of 6 cents. The company has beat earnings estimates for the last four quarters, and has done so on revenue for three of the last four quarters.

But Office Depot stock is down 13.2 percent for the year, while the Standard & Poor’s Index is up about 15 percent. Zacks Equity Research predicted that Office Depot, which has roughly 2,000 employees in Boca Raton, will continue to underperform the market.

Office Depot also announced that it will close three stores in Florida—one is in West Boca and carries the Office Max brand. Office Depot bought Office Max in 2013. A federal judge then blocked the acquisition of Office Depot by Staples.

Deerfield bans new dispensaries

With the Boca Raton City Council preparing to discuss an ordinance that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries, the Deerfield Beach City Commission on Tuesday voted to ban new dispensaries.

Supporters basically argued that, with five dispensaries in place and two more seeking approval to open, Deerfield Beach has enough for a city of 80,000 residents. One commissioner said he worried about “clustering.” Opponents countered that the police department has received no complaints about any of the dispensaries and noted that more than 70 percent of the city’s electorate voted to approve the 2016 constitutional amendment that allowed medical marijuana in Florida.

Mayor Bill Ganz, who voted against the ban, blamed the misplaced “stigma” about the dispensaries and the fact that one is about to open on the city’s popular beachfront.

Under the amendment’s implementing legislation, cities and counties must allow dispensaries in the same areas where they allow pharmacies—or ban them. If local governments want to set special rules for dispensaries, they also must apply those rules to pharmacies.

The city attorney advised that the ban would be legal because Deerfield Beach wouldn’t try to run off existing dispensaries and would process applications that companies have filed. Ganz said Boca Raton is “on the verge” of permitting dispensaries. His prediction may be premature, but council sentiment has shifted away from a ban.

A commissioner who opposed the ban tried to table the issue, but the vote failed. Deerfield Beach will hold a second, final vote on the ban in two weeks. Boca Raton City Manager Leif Ahnell said recently that the draft ordinance on dispensaries could be ready by fall.

Update on Wildflower coming

Wildflower park rendering (Courtesy of City of Boca Raton)

Also on Monday’s Boca Raton City Council workshop meeting agenda is an update from the consultant preparing a plan for the Wildflower property. Some council members had said the consultant is moving too slowly and wanted to hear about the proposal in time to make changes.

The council will also hear from city staff about whether the city should outsource residential garbage collection. Administrators had warned that looming costs for keeping it in-house would mean major expenses. Even if the council agrees to contract with a private company, the city would retain debris pickup, to ensure prompt service after a hurricane.

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