Delray’s Continued Sober Home Work, Boca Moves On Parking & Other News of Note

When Max Lohman was Delray Beach’s city attorney, he persuaded the commission to approve the city’s intervention in a lawsuit that Lohman feared could undercut regulation of sober homes.

Now that the commission has forced Lohman to resign, does that work continue?

“That’s a good question,” City Commissioner Ryan Boylston said Monday.

At Lohman’s recommendation, the commission hired Terrill Pyburn. She’s the city attorney for Coconut Creek, in Broward County, but she spent nearly 13 years in Delray Beach’s legal department.

During that time, Pyburn told me, she “learned a lot” about federal housing laws that allowed recovery residences—the formal term—to become a mostly unregulated industry. Pyburn helped with the drafting of the state’s first attempt to regulate sober homes, in 2015. She assisted U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel’s successful effort for a new joint statement about group homes from the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Any judge would certify Pyburn as an expert witness on sober homes.

The lawsuit is against the Florida Association of Recovery Residences, the industry trade group. The plaintiffs are Sunrise Sober Living and The Edge Recovery. Both operate in Delray Beach.

That state law requires drug treatment centers to refer patients only to sober homes that FARR has certified. The plaintiffs applied for certification last April. FARR rejected them the next month.

Pyburn said Delray Beach is “uniquely situated” regarding the lawsuit. It was the first city in Florida to require “state licensure or certification” of group homes with more than three unrelated residents. Another new rule seeks to prevent the clustering of sober homes.

I reported recently in Delray magazine that the city’s regulations have led to a dramatic drop in the number of sober homes. Officials have stressed that their targets are bad operators who prey on addicts, not homes that provide needed help for people trying to get clean.

The lawsuit essentially argues that FARR can’t take the place of an actual state agency when it comes to regulation. Pyburn shares Lohman’s concern that if the plaintiffs win, bad operators could return.

That risk seems justified. Given that risk, the intervention makes sense. Lohman said, “I’m sure it will continue in my absence.” Commissioners meet tonight. They might want to reaffirm that commitment.

Boca and downtown parking

Glory be. The Boca Raton City Council finally made a decision on downtown parking.

After years of discussion, the council on Monday— acting as the community redevelopment agency—agreed with almost every staff recommendation. This latest presentation struck me as the staff’s attempt to force the issue by providing options, not just numbers.

There’s been general agreement about the problem. The crunch comes at nights and especially on weekends. The city’s consultant estimates that downtown needs between 350 and 425 more spaces in the next five years and between 575 and 750 more spaces by 2040. Boca Raton can address that shortage by, among other things, adding spaces and cutting demand.

So the city will expand the parking meter program, though not as extensively as the staff had proposed. There will be more timed parking. The council basically agreed to subsidize an on-demand ride service—likely including the beach as well as downtown—and to stop waiting for the unicorn of a service that can survive only on advertising revenue. The city will post more parking information on its website and in advance of big events. New signs will direct people to available spaces.

In addition, the popular GreenMarket will move from Royal Palm Place, likely to City Hall. There’s plenty of parking. Market patrons won’t compete for spaces with customers of Royal Palm Place merchants. And the move fits with the city’s long-range plan of creating a downtown “campus”—with much public space—around City Hall.

Some downtown businesses have spaces that are vacant after normal business hours. Using those spaces would cut the need to build spaces. The council agreed that City Manager Leif Ahnell should craft a plan under which property owners could get permits for public use of that private space.

As always, Scott Singer raised the idea of a new garage on city land between the Downtown Library and the Florida East Coast Railway tracks that Brightline uses. Though the council didn’t agree, sentiment is shifting in favor of a garage at some point. Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke said she believes that the garage will happen “organically” as the city plans the downtown campus.

In all, these changes will take several months to implement. But it’s a start. At last.

Sprucing up the golf course

At its Nov. 13 workshop meeting, the Delray Beach City Commission asked City Manager Mark Lauzier to move ahead on a $7.2 million plan to renovate the municipal golf course.

In an email, Lauzier said staff would “develop a financing plan and bring back a (list of projects) for a mid-year budget amendment in April.” The staff report said the city could finance the renovation through higher fees and increased rounds. Obviously, though, the work would require money up front that would be repaid.

Lauzier said the work would involve employees from the parks and recreation and finance departments. At meetings over the last few months, residents have acknowledged needs elsewhere but urged the commission to fix up the course. The plan assumes a total makeover.

Hillsboro El Rio Park

On the consent agenda for tonight’s Boca Raton City Council meeting is award of the bid for Phase 2 of Hillsboro El Rio Park.

The second phase, across Southwest 18th Street from a soccer and baseball field, is about 30 years late. It will include pickleball, tennis and basketball courts and a non-motorized boat launch on the east side of the El Rio Canal. Raising and repaving of 18th Street just ended.

The contract with Lake Worth-based Rossi Site Development is for $6.88 million. It was the low bid among seven. The contract would include $1.3 million in contingency costs due to “unforeseen circumstances.” A city spokeswoman said the schedule is for construction to start at the end of January and be done by next fall.

Boca Golf tournament

A year ago, the Boca Raton City Council reluctantly agreed to spend an added $500,000 on the annual pro golf tournament at Broken Sound. Allianz had ended its sponsorship, and tournament organizers said they needed the money to maintain TV coverage.

Council members made clear, though, that they expected this to be one-time generosity. It was. On tonight’s council agenda is approval of $375,000 for the tournament. That’s in line with what the city spent in previous years. Boca Raton also will provide services such as law enforcement. The tournament, to be held Feb. 4-10, remains without a title sponsor.

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