Monday, October 25, 2021

Boca to Decide on Housing Project; Delray Continues City Manager Search

Not since the pandemic began has the Boca Raton City Council considered a major development project. That break will end at the May 26 meeting, the last one to be held virtually before in-person gatherings return.

Before the council is Liv on 5th, the 182-unit rental project proposed for the 2500 and 2600 blocks of Northwest Fifth Avenue. It would include roughly nine vacant acres and about three acres that are home to Connected Life Christian Church. All the buildings would be 50 feet tall and have four stories.

Developer Cav Core bought the vacant site in January 2015 for $6 million and from then has sought approvals for what would be a student housing project. The site is east of the El Rio Canal from Florida Atlantic University. Cav Core would provide a free shuttle from the project to FAU, Palm Beach State College’s Boca Raton campus at the north end of FAU and nearby stores. In addition, Cav Core would build a pedestrian bridge so students could walk to campus.

For several years, city officials have tried to address the problem of college students renting homes in single-family neighborhoods where the college lifestyle doesn’t fit. Though FAU requires first-year students to live on campus and may do the same for sophomores, that still leaves juniors and seniors. Though FAU still has a large commuter population, Cav Core’s presentation notes that FAU also has been seeking to attract more out-of-state and foreign students.

Yet the staff report recommends that the council deny approvals because the project would not be compatible with the traditional surrounding neighborhoods. Council members have received many critical emails from residents of the Windwood community on what would be the project’s north side, even though Cav Core claims that traffic from a student project would be less than from a normal multi-family complex. A six-foot wall would separate the project from neighbors.

Cav Core faces another issue. Because approval would require a land-use change, the developer needs a supermajority of four votes, not a simple majority of three. In December, the council voted to send the plan to the state for its review. Not surprisingly, the state found no issues. Yvette Drucker, Monica Mayotte and Andy Thomson voted in favor. Mayor Scott Singer and Councilman Andrea O’Rourke voted no. Cav Core must persuade at least one to switch.

The campaign for public support began many months ago. Cav Core paid for a poll that asked residents whether they liked the idea of clustering students near campus. Predictably, the developer got the results it paid for and included those in its presentation. Cav Core also calculates that the project would bring $1.34 million in property taxes.

Would the project solve the problem of students living where they aren’t always wanted? Probably not by itself. But each unit would be home to three students, so as many as 600 would be out of traditional neighborhoods.

Under the existing land use, a developer could build only 31 units. This would be roughly six times as many. Cav Core justifies its request by calling this an innovative solution. I’ll report the vote in my Thursday post.

City Manager search continues in Delray

Delray Beach city commissioners remain divided as they decide how to choose a city manager.

The city’s human resources department stopped taking applications after 5 p.m. Friday. Director Duane D’Andrea, according to a city spokeswoman, “will make final recommendations” this week “as well as establish the final steps of the process.” There were no details.

Though choosing a manager is a commission’s biggest decision, communication seems to be lacking. When I asked Commissioner Ryan Boylston last Thursday if D’Andrea would have three names by the next day or later or whether the number might be higher, he responded, “Good question.” Last week’s discussion seemed similarly disjointed.

For different reasons, Adam Frankel and Shirley Johnson still are unimpressed by any of the applicants whom the human resources department has prioritized. Frankel continues to tout Jennifer Alvarez, the interim manager, who Frankel said has been “auditioning” successfully for nearly 11 months. But Alvarez did not apply.

As for Johnson, she wondered if the commission could contact applicants from the search that produced George Gretsas. At that time, Johnson was the only commissioner who wanted Joseph Napoli, then deputy city manager in Miami and now manager in the Broward County town of Cooper City. Any wish of hers to reconsider Napoli is fanciful. Her colleagues made clear that it wouldn’t happen.

Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Commissioner Juli Casale expressed enthusiasm for the number—more than 100—and quality of applicants. They especiallly are invested in doing the recruitment in-house, rather than hire an outside firm as the city did for the Gretsas search and the previous one that resulted in the hiring of Mark Lauzier. The commission fired both.

“They failed us,” Petrolia said of Lauzier and Gretsas. “They” disagree. Lauzier has sued. Gretsas has not sued yet. Like Lauzier, however, Gretsas said he was fired out of retaliation. Lauzier said he challenged Petrolia’s attempt to have the city pay for her son’s trip to Tallahassee. Gretsas said he uncovered widespread mismanagement at City Hall.

Previously, D’Andrea had recommended five finalists. One of them, Kenny Haskin, resigned in April as manager in Texarkana, Ark. Haskin gave no reason for his departure and announced it during an executive session, with the public not present. Two weeks later, he became the manager in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Boylston called Alvarez part of “a succession plan,” meaning that she might become an assistant under the new manager. Alvarez had been purchasing director when the commission made her the interim manager. But that would depend on the preference of the permanent manager.

If there are developments, I’ll have them on Thursday,

Frankel-Alvarez alliance?

Aside from supporting her promotion, Frankel did another favor recently for Alvarez.

During commission comments at the end of a meeting, Frankel referenced the annoying habit of some residents to demand actions from staff members. Not even commissioners can give such orders, but that doesn’t deter some of the city’s most caustic gadflies.

Frankel said that commissioners should support the staff’s refusal of such requests and demand that residents not insult city employees when they follow the law. I’m told that those gadflies tend to be allies of Petrolia.

Alvarez thanked Frankel for raising the issue. “This is the start of a good conversation.”

Delray tree removal update

delray

I have reported on the May 14 hearing that apparently resolved the code violations against Pebb Capital—developer of Sundy Village in Delray Beach—for removal of trees. I say “apparently” because the two sides still seem to have different perspectives on the outcome.

In a statement, Pebb said the city “acknowledged that it had administratively removed the violations for failing to obtain vegetation removal permits because it had learned that the staff had authorized, via written approval, Pebb Capital to proceed with the aforementioned tree removal and mitigation plan.

“Pebb Capital acted only on what was instructed after substantial planning and coordination with the city’s landscape staff over many months. At the hearing the city further acknowledged that no fines would be appropriate, in light of Pebb’s reliance on staff’s authorization and confirmation that Pebb would submit the remedial landscape plan for the Sundy Village project.”

The company added, “Pebb Capital continues to be enthusiastic and excited to finalize a site plan and commence construction on its Sundy Village development.”

Here’s the view from Delray Beach:

“The city is pleased with the fact that Pebb accepted full responsibility for their code violations during the special magistrate hearing. Their next steps should include making every effort to come into compliance expeditiously. As evidenced by the large turnout at the hearing, this project is clearly important to members of the public and city staff alike.”

Brightline construction continues

Brightline announced last week that construction of the link between West Palm Beach and Orlando is halfway done. The company hopes for completion by the end of next year.

Work toward Brightline’s Boca Raton station continues. The company has begun moving the Junior League’s community garden from east of the downtown library—site of the station and parking garage —to Meadows Park. Brightline now must build a temporary parking lot across the street from the library.

According to a company spokesman, Brightline is working with the Federal Railway Administration “to finalize” the grant for the station and garage. The company “anticipates” work on the station and garage to start between July and September.

Sustainability ordinance in Boca

At tonight’s meeting, the Boca Raton City Council will introduce an ordinance that would prevent the use of polystyrene foam food containers, confetti and balloons on all city properties and in all city facilities. Council members will discuss the ordinance at their next meeting.

The proposal comes from Councilwoman Monica Mayotte, who has made sustainability issues her priority. The change would affect people who, say, rent park pavilions and vendors whom people hire for events at city parks. Fines would range from $25 to $50. It would take effect on Jan. 2.

Boca Municipal Golf Course to be sold

Also at tonight’s meeting, the council will approve the 14th amendment to the sale of Boca Raton Municipal Golf Course to GL Homes. The company has asked for these amendments so it can work out issues about its development plan with the county and the Lake Worth Drainage District. This amendment would extend the inspection period to July 30. According to the staff memo, closing on the $65 million sale is still set for Oct. 31.

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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