Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Boca National Deal Details, Latson Goes, and a Delray Lawsuit Proceeds

The terms of a deal for Boca National Golf Course are coming together.

Last week, the city sent the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District a letter summarizing the city’s offer. The district board will discuss the offer at its meeting on Monday. Both sides are to meet on Nov. 12.

The city would pay for and oversee construction of an 18-hole layout on the west side of the former Ocean Breeze course at Boca Teeca and a short course—geared to children and casual players—on the east side of the 200-acre site. The city “agrees with the general concepts” of the district’s course designer, Price Fazio. But the city would “retain the ability to hire its own” architects and contractors and to play with “the overall design.”

In addition, the city would “manage the course and its programming, with input from the district.” The city and the district would “share operating expenses and profits/losses.” The current full-length municipal course and the short course at Red Reed Park both operate at a deficit, as do many city-owned courses.

At its last meeting, the district board voted 3-2 to have the city pay for construction, which could cost anywhere from $15 million to $28 million. The district doesn’t have the money. As board member Craig Ehrnst said, “It’s hard to turn down a free offer to build and pay for things.”

Despite the narrow vote, Commissioner Steve Engel—who was in the majority with Ehrnst and Erin Wright— said he believes that the full board would go along with shifting construction to the city, “though I haven’t heard it in so many words.”

The sticking point will be what appears to be the city’s wish for control of the design. The letter says the city “agrees with the general concepts” of the latest Price Fazio plan. It also says the city will “endeavor to use” the Price Fazio approach “where appropriate.”

But the board likely will ask for more commitment to the district’s design. Susan Vogelgesang said, “I have concerns about the future of the course if the Price Fazio design is not incorporated into the build.” She added, “The future of golf is in the youth and their interest in the sport. Making the east side elements fun for all generations will ensure the success of the entire project.”

Ehrnst said, “I think the city or the district can build a great golf course, but we all need to live with the final design which has both long-term programming and financial implications.” Vogelgesang said, “Before agreeing to any offer, I still need some answers.”

Executive Director Briann Harms said the district will “discuss the letter from the city and each of the bullet points and any others the board wants to consider in the movement towards having the city build the golf course.” Terms of a deal would go into the existing city-district agreement under which the city underwrote bonds to buy the land. The district would continue to reimburse the city for the annual payments.

I’ll have an update before that Nov. 12 meeting.

Ocean Strand update

During the drawn-put discussion of Boca National, a side issue has been the future of Ocean Strand. The beach and park district owns the 15-acre property south of Gumbo Limbo Nature Center.

Proposed changes to Ocean Strand presented at the EDSA community meeting. (Photo by Randy Schultz)

Boca Raton-based Compson Associates began talking last spring with city council members about the company buying Ocean Strand and building a hotel, condos and a marina on the Intracoastal Waterway. Money from the sale would pay for the golf course and completion of the Gumbo Limbo master plan.

More recently, Compson sweetened the offer. The company claimed that it could acquire title to a pair of oceanfront properties whose owners want to develop them. Compson said it would use them only for beach access.

There has been no discussion among city council members about whether they would rezone Ocean Strand to allow development. Beach and park board members have been noncommittal about whether they would sell.

A new angle arose this month, however, when Compson presented its offer to the district. The agency’s lawyer, Sam Goren, wrote in a memo that the district is not “legally authorized” to sell property, based on the legislation that created the district. Goren said the district only can buy property.

Goren, noted, however, that other special taxing districts have the power to sell land. So if the board wanted to keep that Ocean Strand option, the district could seek a local bill in the Legislature to make the change. Ocean Strand has been vacant since the district bought it 25 years ago. The district has no plans for the site.

Latson out

The Palm Beach County School Board on Wednesday fired former Spanish River High School Principal William Latson. The vote was 5-2.

Former Spanish River High school Principal William Latson, photo courtesy of SDPBC

Board member Barbara McQuinn made a motion that Latson be suspended and demoted. She did not get a second. It was over in about 15 minutes.

Several speakers argued that Superintendent Donald Fennoy was sacrificing Latson because of his controversial emails about the Holocaust with a parent. One referred to “fabricated headlines” and “oversensationalized” media coverage. A Spanish River teacher praised Latson for his kindness toward her during family crises.

Aside from McQuinn’s motion, there was no discussion among the board members.

Loomer looms

Laura Loomer, the Republican provocateur, outraised incumbent U.S. House representative for Florida’s 21st district Lois Frankel between July and September. The district includes Delray Beach and most of West Delray and West Boynton and runs north along the coast to Palm Beach.

In her third-quarter fundraising report, Loomer showed contributions of about $154,000 compared to $107,000 for Frankel. Overall, though, Frankel has $1.15 million cash on hand. She also raised $234,000 in the period from April through June.

Among Loomer’s donors was Steven Alembik, who gave $5,600. He is co-founder of SMA Communications, a Boca Raton data services company.

Last year, Alembik said of former President Barack Obama in a tweet: “F*** THE MUSLIM N*****!” Alembik told Politico that he did not consider the tweet to be racist.

Loomer has been banned from many social media platforms, in many cases because her comments have been inflammatory and anti-Muslim. She has far outraised any of the other District 21 Republican candidates.

Frankel has been in Congress since 2013. Palm Beach County’s congressional districts were redrawn in 2016 after a lawsuit challenged the maps that the Republican-led Legislature drew after the last census.

Democrat Ted Deutch represents District 22, which includes Boca Raton and Highland Beach. It also covers a large portion of Broward County, including Parkland.

That’s where the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting happened in February 2018. Among Deutch’s contributions is $2,500 from Everytown USA, the gun control advocacy group that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg founded.  

Trinity closing

Trinity Church of God, which has been at its Boca Square location since 1972, is closing.

The church recently notified parents that this would be the last year of the Rainbow of Love preschool. A woman who answered the phone on Wednesday said the church itself would close after the school year ends on May 31.

I didn’t hear back from the board chairman by deadline for this post, but presumably the church will sell the roughly five-acre site on Southwest 15th Avenue. It’s a single-family neighborhood, so a builder would be able to put up about 20 homes.

With the new K-8 Addison Mizner School set to open in 2021, new homes could draw more young families. Residents also might ask the city to consider buying it for use as a park.

I’ll have more as the story develops.

Delray lawsuit persists

William Himmelrich and David Hosokawa aren’t giving up on their lawsuit against Delray Beach.

They own the buildings on East Atlantic Avenue across the street from Old School Square. They challenged the city’s three-story height limit in the downtown business district. A judge granted the city’s motion to dismiss the case, finding that because Himmelrich and Hosokawa hadn’t filed any plans for their property, they hadn’t suffered from the height limit.

Some city commissioners had hoped that Delray Beach and the plaintiffs could resolve the issue. Instead, the owners have appealed. The Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach has set no date for oral arguments.

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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