Friday, May 17, 2024

Boca Talks Trash, a Wildflower Update, and Delray’s Arts Garage is on the Rise

Boca Raton homeowners will pay a lot more for garbage pickup in the coming years.

That was the headline out of Monday’s city council discussion about whether Boca Raton should continue to pick up trash from homes or let a private company do it. Either way, the cost will increase. It was clear, though, that city administrators want to outsource the service.

As Boca Raton has grown, the city has reached a sanitation tipping point. According to the presentation Monday, it would get very expensive to maintain an in-house department for residential pickup. It would require more trucks and more space for trucks. It would require more employees, when the city already has trouble finding garbage workers. Ninety-five percent of cities in Florida contract for residential pickup.

So last year, the city issued a Request for Proposal, to see if any private companies wanted the work. Only Waste Pro of Pompano Beach responded. On Monday, Assistant City Manager Mike Woika explained the proposed deal.

It would be for seven years, with the option of extending it for another six years. Practically speaking, however, once Boca Raton went to a private contractor, the city almost certainly couldn’t go back. Boca Raton would need to hire new employees and buy new equipment.

Waste Pro, Woika said, would bring a better, real-time tracking system to monitor service. The company would have newer trucks, reducing leaks of hydraulic fluid that leave dark lines on neighborhood streets. Waste Pro would commit to hiring current city employees, and the low end of the company’s wage scale is roughly equal to the city’s high end. Waste Pro would buy 35 vehicles the city no longer would need, for $2 million.

Once-a-week recycling would continue. So would twice-a-week pickup. Holiday schedules apparently befuddle some residents, so Waste Pro would alter normal pickup only for two holidays. Separate contracts with several haulers would continue to cover pickup at businesses. The city would retain yard debris pickup.

Residents, of course, care about how much they pay. It’s the “GB” line on the every-other-month water bill. City administrators project that overall costs would drop during the first three years of the contract compared to the city retaining control. After that, costs would be higher by about $2 million citywide.

Broken down by household, though, the increase probably would be small. And even though the staff didn’t make a recommendation Monday, City Manager Leif Ahnell stressed that costs would rise either way.

The issue is time-sensitive. Boca Raton has a separate contract for residential pickup in neighborhoods near Town Center Mall that the city annexed in 2003. That contract is about to expire. The budget year begins Oct. 1. If Waste Pro is going to take over, the company must start to plan. If not, the city must plan for filling job vacancies and looking for space to house vehicles.

So the council will hold a first vote at its May 29 meeting. If the council approves the outsourcing, a second vote would come next month. The council meets only once in June. A decision in July would be too late.

No council member made trash pickup a campaign priority. But few topics generate more calls to City Hall than trash problems. As former Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein said, sanitation is a “municipal miracle. You put out the trash, and it’s gone.” My guess is that Boca Raton will move to outsourcing after the council ensures that the municipal miracle continues.

Wildflower update

Wildflower Park (Photo by Randy Schultz)

Reality seems to have prevailed in Boca Raton over the Wildflower property.

Some city council members had agitated for speed on turning the vacant, city-owned site into a waterfront park. On Monday, they heard practicalities from the consultant that is designing the park.

Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke had expressed hope that groundbreaking might happen this year with an opening in 2020. O’Rourke, who championed the idea of a park over a revenue-producing restaurant on the Wildflower, is up for re-election next March.

As Kona Gray of Fort Lauderdale-based EDSA said, however, plans for the park are only about 30 percent complete. Final drawings could be ready by September. Perhaps EDSA will have a contractor by next spring. It’s hard to find contractors, Gray said, “because there’s so much work and they’re all so busy.”

Then there’s the matter of permits. So it appears more likely that work won’t start until late next year the plan for Wildflower and Silver Palm Park to the south along the Intracoastal Waterway at Palmetto Park Road. Gray said the project would cost between $6 million and $7 million, not including the roughly $4 million worth of infrastructure work that is underway.

As always, someone asked about buying the lot next to the Wildflower. It once was home to the Maxwell’s Chop House restaurant. O’Rourke and others have pushed for the sale, despite City Manager Leif Ahnell saying that the New York-based owner wants an exorbitant price.

The latest, Ahnell said, is that the owner told the city to make a “market offer.” The problem is that the owner “may have a different perception of the market than we do.” Translation: Get over it.

Via Mizner golf course delay

Readers had called the magazine to ask about the delay in construction of Via Mizner Golf & Country Club. Here’s the story:

Penn-Florida bought the former north course at Boca Del Mar, between Palmetto Park Road and Camino Real west of Military Trail, and is remaking it for members and guests who stay at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Penn-Florida is building the hotel as part of its downtown Via Mizner project. Next to the Mandarin will be a luxury condo whose owners will have golf privileges.

Frank Weed is Penn-Florida’s vice president for development and construction. He told me Friday that work stopped because the company needed extra permits from the South Florida Water Management District.

Jack Nicklaus is designing the Via Mizner course, and Weed said the golf legend wanted to add lakes. The changes required new permits. Weed said Via Mizner will be one of the last “signature courses” that Nicklaus designs, as he nears 80 and focuses more on charity work.

Weed said Penn-Florida still plans to open Via Mizner Golf & Country Club in October.

Mizner Trail course                             

Meanwhile, the former Mizner Trail course—the south links at Boca Del Mar—remains closed, undeveloped and unkempt.

Nearly five years ago, Boca Raton-based Compson Associates got approval from the Palm Beach County Commission to build 252 townhomes and apartments on the roughly 125 acres. Compson bought the property for $8 million in 1998 and closed the course several years later.

Homeowners whose property borders the site claimed that Compson never intended to keep the course open. They hired an attorney to challenge the development approval. Some homeowners then filed a Bert Harris claim, arguing that the county had illegally taking their right to look out on open space, not homes.

One of the plaintiffs, William Vale, ran for the county commission last November. He lost to Robert Weinroth.

Two weeks after the election, a three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled against Vale and the others. Vale said they are “considering their options.” For now, they still look out at open space. Compson put the site up for sale just after getting approval to build.

According to a news report in March, Compson obtained refinancing for the property. The loan from New Gables Capital, the report said, gives Compson 12 more months “to complete predevelopment activities.”

Delray Arts Garage on the uptick

How are things at Delray Beach’s Arts Garage? “Fantastic,” said executive director Marjorie Waldo.

Wednesday afternoon, Arts Garage holds an invitation-only ribbon cutting for renovations to the group’s space in Pineapple Grove. Stuart & Shelby Development President Chuck Halberg, a longtime Arts Garage patron, donated the roughly $40,000 worth of improvements that will add a classroom, an enclosed box office, a bar—now that Arts Garage has a liquor license—and administrative offices.

Last month, Arts Garage had its quarterly review before the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency. The CRA gave Arts garage a $275,000 grant for this budget year. The money amounts to roughly 20 percent of the budget for Arts Garage.

From last October to December, according to the CRA staff report, Arts Garage exceeded goals that the agency tied to the grant. One is to attract customers who spend money at restaurants and bars when they attend a performance. Another is diversity of programming.

In addition, Waldo said, between fundraising and grants Arts Garage has enough money to sponsor any child who wants to attend the group’s summer theater camp. Participants—depending on age—learn about everything from lighting, to scriptwriting to acting.

There still are no plans for a return to theatrical productions. Waldo ended those when she took over in late 2016. She said the budgets are too high and productions take up too many dates.

But the numbers show that Arts Garage has more than stabilized. Waldo said nearly 50 percent of the music performances in those last three months on 2018 sold out or nearly sold out.

“We are in a much better place than we were two-and-a-half years ago.”

Azure projects

While Delray Beach-based Azure Development pursues its lawsuit against Boca Raton, the company continues other projects.

Azure just announced that the company will team with a health care real estate company to develop Addison Medical Pavilion. The 24,000-square foot building will be at Jog Road and Linton Boulevard, roughly a mile west of Delray Medical Center. The Tenet-owned facility just opened a new, four-story patient tower that was part of an $80 million expansion.

According to a news release, the new pavilion primarily will serve high-end communities west of Boca Raton and Delray Beach. Those include Addison Reserve, Boca West, St. Andrews, The Polo Club, Woodfield Country Club and Woodfield Hunt Club.

Plastic straws

(Photo by Meghan Rodgers)

If Boca Raton officials decide that the good-cop approach doesn’t work, they have at least a year to ban single-use plastic straws.

Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed legislation that would have imposed a five-year moratorium on such bans. Delray Beach approved a ban this year that will take effect over 18 months, with buy-in from restaurants.

Boca Raton has preferred to encourage. Not everyone has gotten the word. When I had dinner Sunday night at a restaurant in Royal Palm Place, everyone got plastic straws in their drinks without asking for them.

DeSantis has separated himself from many state Republicans on the environment. Groups that oppose local bans likely will try again next year.

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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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