Thursday, May 16, 2024

Boca Resists Limits on Council Power & Glades Interchange Opens

In one of her last actions, Andrea O’Rourke tried to persuade colleagues on the Boca Raton City Council to weaken their power. She got no takers.

On their own, council members can propose amendments to the city’s code. Sometimes, those amendments are on behalf of a certain developer. Though council members can’t sponsor an individual project, they can sponsor amendments without which a project could not be built.

Two recent examples come to mind. Monica Mayotte sponsored both.

One amendment set out rules for approval of automated parking garages, which the city did not allow. That proposal was tied to the controversial, mixed-use Aletto Square project east of Sanborn Square. Without an automated garage, which can hold more vehicles, the developer could not have provided the required parking space. The council approved the amendment, though the developer now may envision a standard garage.

The other amendment would have changed land-use rules to allow an adult living facility (ALF) near Addison Mizner School. That project also is controversial. Neighbors in Boca Square strongly oppose it.

With the ALF proposal, the city got way ahead of itself. After Mayotte sponsored the amendment, staff members determined that allowing the ALF in Boca Square would mean allowing similar facilities in other single-family neighborhoods. When the city stopped processing the application, saying that the ALF needed a change to the city’s comprehensive plan, the property owner sued.

With the garage amendment, the council eventually approved it. But council members and City Manager Leif Ahnell grumbled about spending so much time on a change tailored to a single project that might never get approved.

Citing these examples, O’Rourke—who must leave office in March because of term limits—asked the city attorney’s office to draft a policy covering text amendments. Before staff wasted time on something that the council might not support, the proposal said, the sponsor would have to raise it at a workshop meeting to determine interest in proceeding. Unless at least three council members went along, the amendment would die.

During discussion at the Jan. 9 workshop meeting, O’Rourke seemed to have support from the staff. City Attorney Diana Frieser noted that when a council member proposes an amendment, it goes “to the top of the pile.” That’s power.

Frieser also noted that though amendments seek to change the code, the process for amendments is not in the code. O’Rourke pointed out that the staff had not “weighed in” when the ALF amendment arose. The amendment now surely would not pass, given the resident pushback.

Mayotte said, “I have a completely different take.” She did not want to “give up authority.” Requiring three votes, Mayotte said, could “stifle innovation.”

O’Rourke responded by noting what has happened with the Boca Raton Innovation Campus (BRIC.) CP Group, which owns BRIC, asked O’Rourke to sponsor an amendment for makeover plans that include housing. O’Rourke declined, instead asking CP Group to outline its ideas before talking with staff.

Only after council members showed interest did the staff get involved. Fifteen months later, the changes are in the final stages of review before council approval. The city and CP Group seem pleased.

In an interview, O’Rourke correctly recalled “confusion” about the garage amendment. “We had staff running backwards” on that and the ALF amendment. Current rules leave the system open for exploitation by a developer through a council member.

O’Rourke proposal was scheduled for introduction at the regular meeting the next night. Based on her colleagues’ comments, however, O’Rourke withdrew it.

Diverging Diamond interchange opens

State officials pushed back Monday’s opening of the Diverging Diamond interchange at Glades Road and Interstate 95 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Then they pushed it back to 1 p.m and finally to 3:30 p.m., when it opened to traffic after the interchange was closed all weekend.

The problems, according to city officials, ranged from weather to difficulties coordinating the 18 traffic signals that make up the interchange. Drivers may be confused at first because, in both directions, they will shift from the right lane to the left lane while going across the interstate.

Though the state predicts that the project will cut accidents at the intersection by 33 percent and along Glades Road by nine percent, the state’s priority was making it easier and safer for drivers to get onto I-95. The interchange is part of the wider project to create toll lanes north to Linton Boulevard.

Connecting Boca and Delray

Speaking of transportation, a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 2 p.m. today will mark completion of the rebuilt bridge on Federal Highway between Delray Beach and Boca Raton. The $2.53 million project will include pedestrian-bike lanes, new sidewalks and better lighting.

Florida infringes on local governments to address housing

florida state capitol
Florida State Capitol

The legislative session doesn’t start until March 7, but Tallahassee already has signaled its latest attempt to strip power from local governments.

Senate Bill 102, called the Live Local Act, is Tallahassee’s plan to increase affordable housing. Among other things, it would require cities and counties to approve apartments in business areas if the projects are designed to attract people with middle-class incomes.

Most notably, however, it would prevent local governments from enacting any form of rent control, even though rents for some South Florida tenants have gone up 50 percent in the last year. Orange County voters established such a cap last year. The Florida Realtors and the Florida Apartment Association persuaded a judge to issue a temporary injunction against the cap.

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, defended the bill. Builders, she said, need more incentives to create affordable units. In November, Palm Beach County voters approved a $200 million affordable housing bond program. The development industry financed the $1 million campaign in support of the program.

Controversy over school boundary changes

Blue Lake Elementary School in Palm Beach County; photo by Aaron Bristol

For all the venom directed at Palm Beach County School Board members over mask mandates, no issue regularly creates more controversy than school boundary changes.

Last fall’s opening of Blue Lake Elementary in Boca Raton required changes for five other schools. The district’s new issue shows how far the effects can ripple.

This August, the district will open Joaquin Garcia High School west of Lake Worth. Drawing its boundary will mean shifts at nine other high schools—including Olympic Heights—which is 16 miles south of Garcia High on Lyons Road west of Boca Raton. Olympic Heights draws from that far away because high schools in Delray Beach and Boynton Beach are so far east.

Already, rising seniors get to remain at their campuses. School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri, whose district includes West Boca, said he will try to also let Olympic Heights students at lower grades remain. The irony is that families from those neighborhoods opposed the move to Olympic Heights. Of course, some parents who didn’t want their children attending Blue Lake now love the school.

Delray resident honored with National Leadership Award

Last week, Delray Beach resident Julie Peyton received the National Leadership Award from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The presentation took place at Boca West Country Club during the museum’s 30th annual “What You Do Matters” dinner.

According to a news release, Peyton was honored “for her indelible mark in educating and building national and global understanding of the atrocities of the Holocaust and other genocides.” In 2019, Peyton—who is listed on the museum’s Donor Wall in Washington—traveled to Rwanda with a delegation from the museum seeking to advance reconciliation for that country’s 1994 genocide.

Remembering Peter Blum

Peter Blum; photo by Aaron Bristol

Longtime Boca Raton philanthropist and civic activist Peter Blum died Jan. 23 at 93.

Mr. Blum moved to the city in 1962 from Peoria, Ill., and started an eponymous furniture/design business while also investing in real estate. He chaired the board of Boca Raton Community Hospital—as it was known earlier—served as president of the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce and started the Boca Raton High School Booster Club. He also served on the planning and zoning board.

In addition, Mr. Blum and others started the local YMCA that today carries the name Peter Blum Family YMCA. In an interview last year with Boca magazine, Mr. Blum recalled how much he had enjoyed the YMCA in Peoria. “I was a fundraiser,” he said, “who went out and picked people’s pockets to raise money for the Y.”

Mr. Blum noted proudly that the Y now serves women, not just men. He worked to start it because “it makes me feel good. It’s a lot more fun to give than to get. My father was a giving person. It’s just something that’s born in you.”

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Randy Schultz
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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