Thursday, December 7, 2023

Boca’s ALF Issue Gets Personal & Old School Square’s Rebranding

During last week’s Boca Raton City Council meeting, the senior living issue got personal.

Jay Whelchel, son of former Mayor Susan Whelchel, wants to build a three-story, 128-bed assisted living facility (ALF) on property near Addison Mizner School. He submitted an application for the project, known as Park Square.

Eight months ago, the city determined that the application was “incomplete” and did not comply with the city’s code. The developer needed a comprehensive plan change for approval. As such, all applications were “deemed abandoned” and had “automatically expired and are null and void.”

A closed church stands on the property. The owner, whose sale to Whelchel’s company is conditioned on city approval of the ALF, sued. Jay Whelchel told the council last week, “If we read (the code) right, we have a right to have our application processed.” He said Boca Raton has such demand for senior housing that the city is short 2,300 units.

Joanne Whelchel Jackson, Susan Whelchel’s daughter, then related how the family could not find a suitable place in Boca Raton for the former mayor when she could not live at home. Susan Whelchel died in August.

As a result, Jackson said, the family had to privately contract for ambulance service that would take Susan Whelchel to Boca Raton Regional Hospital. Having to do so, Jackson said, meant unneeded expense and stress for the family.

Boca Square residents oppose Park Square because of its size and traffic that they say would overwhelm their single-family neighborhood next to the site. Brian Stenberg, who ran unsuccessfully for the council, said Park Square’s kitchen would be larger than some of those homes.

Contrary to what Jay Whelchel implied, the city has approved several senior living facilities in recent years. None, though, were near single-family neighborhoods. This single project has ensnared Boca Raton in a legal tangle.

The lawsuit apparently concerned City Attorney Diana Frieser enough that she wrote an ordinance to determine where ALFs could go. That proposal was before the council.

Development Services Director Brandan Schaad presented a map showing several potential sites. All are in western portions of the city. Boca Square residents still argued that approving Park Square would threaten all neighborhoods.

The central figure in this issue, however, is not Frieser or Jay Whelchel. It’s Councilwoman Monica Mayotte.

Because current rules don’t allow Park Square at that location, Whelchel needed an amendment to the code to start city review. The staff can sponsor such an amendment. So can the council collectively. So can an individual member.

That was Mayotte. Her decision to sponsor the amendment put Park Square in the pipeline. Without that decision, there would be no controversy. Mayotte did so after winning a second and final term in 2021. She won that race over Stenberg.

Her sponsorship still angers Boca Square residents. One wondered at the meeting why Mayotte was devoting “Kanye West energy” toward the project.

When council members unanimously voted against the ordinance, Mayotte said she wanted to address “all the misinformation.” Calling herself “the queen of process,” Mayotte said Park Square was “process gone awry.”

From my observation, there’s tension between Mayotte and Frieser. Frieser said she prepared the ordinance at Mayotte’s request after the council met privately to discuss the lawsuit. Mayotte said the ordinance language surprised her. Frieser’s job is to protect the city.

There aren’t many awkward moments at council meetings. Park Square has caused a few. Singer acknowledged, “We’re here because of litigation.” Presumably, if the city prevails in court the council will have a new discussion about ALFs. “I don’t want to be pushed,” said Andrea O’Rourke.

If the city loses, however, the ramifications could be widespread. Because of Mayotte’s action, the lawsuit could start to set the rules before Boca Raton does.

A new name for Old School Square?

old school square
The Crest Theater at Old School Square, photo by Carl Dawson Photography courtesy of the Delray Beach DDA

The next issue in Delray Beach with Old School Square is the name itself.

With the Downtown Development Authority set to begin operating the cultural complex, the DDA will begin a “rebranding” program. Sentiment among DDA board members favors a name change.

Old School Square for the Arts, which operated the complex from its inception in 1989 until last February, licensed the name. Board member Scott Porten said the group did so more to protect the name from outside competitors than from the city. Old School Square for the Arts has sued Delray Beach, claiming wrongful termination.

Last week, the city commission approved a legal challenge to the trademark. Ryan Boylston agreed, even though he has opposed changing the name.

Boylston did so, he told me Monday, to help his cause. For the city to retain the name, the city must own it. Old School Square for the Arts would be free to retain its name for any related fundraising efforts, though DDA members seem to have no interest in working with the group.

Board Chairwoman Mavis Benson seemed to sum up the agency’s mindset during the meeting with the commission and the community redevelopment agency. It was time, Benson said, “to close the door on the past.” 

Streater convicted in Delray Beach deaths

Paul Streater; photo via Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office

A Palm Beach County jury last week convicted Paul Streater in the deaths of four people in Delray Beach more than four years ago.

Streater’s Chevy Silverado plowed into the back of a minivan containing four family members from Mexico. They were in town for a family reunion. Two were children.

Prosecutors alleged that Streater—then 21—had inhaled fumes from a dust cleaner, producing a euphoric high that caused him to lose control of the vehicle. The truck was going 107 miles per hour on South Federal Highway near the Boca Raton city line and hit the minivan so hard that both vehicles traveled another 250 feet, or nearly the length of a football field.

Streater offered two defenses: his car accelerated because of a malfunction, and he inhaled the fumes because the car had been cleaned. Investigators had receipts showing that Streater, who had been in drug rehabilitation, bought two cans of dust cleaner just before the crash.

The judge refused to allow evidence in the malfunction defense, noting that Streater had made no previous complaints about unintended acceleration. General Motors also had issued no related recalls.

Those four counts were just 11 that Streater faced, but they were the most serious—vehicular homicide. Based on state guidelines, he should serve a minimum of 37 years and possibly life in prison. Sentencing is set for Dec. 20. There is no word yet on whether Streater will appeal.

Mismatched funding for Boca House and Senate seats

The race for the Florida Senate district that includes part of Boca Raton and West Boca is a fundraising mismatch.

Tina Polsky, who represents the city now, is running in the new District 30 that also includes northwest Broward County. She has raised nearly $200,000. Her Republican challenger, Bill Reicherter, has raised about $17,000.

Tellingly, Reicherter has just $3,500 from the Republican Party, statewide and local. Contrast that with Peggy Gossett-Seidman, who has $150,000 from the GOP for her race against Andy Thomson in House District 91. The party considers Polsky’s a safe seat for a Democrat. The party feels much differently about the House seat. 

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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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