Saturday, July 2, 2022

Boca’s New Deputy City Manager and Delray’s Golf Course Proposal

Boca Raton has hired a new deputy city manager.

It’s Andy Lukasik, who since 2017 had been village manager in North Palm Beach, which has about 13,000 residents. Before that, he had been Jupiter’s town manager for 13 years.

According to a city spokeswoman, Lukasik will start on July 25. He will succeed Deputy City Manager Mike Woika, who will retire “this summer,” the spokeswoman said. Lukasik will assume Woika’s duties, which include oversight of Boca Raton’s day-to-day mechanics, such as utilities.

andy lukasik
Andy Lukasik, photo from North Palm Beach Village

Upper management now will include City Manager Leif Ahnell, Deputy City Manager George Brown, Assistant City Manager Chrissy Gibson and Lukasik. Ahnell is in the mandatory retirement program and must leave no later than 2024. Brown, whose responsibilities include departments related to planning and building, also is near retirement age.

So Lukasik, at 52, becomes a potential successor to Ahnell. Ahnell was an in-house promotion when he began in 1999, having been the city’s budget director.

One of Lukasik’s biggest challenges in Jupiter was a neighborhood center that helped undocumented day laborers find work and taught them English and other skills. Opposition was strong from some residents. Over time, however, the center—known as El Sol—has become a community resource.

Lukasik’s departure from North Palm Beach has been awkward. As the Palm Beach Post reported, the news came not from the village but from a resident during public comment at the May 26 village council meeting. “Andy Lukasik,” the man said, “has been the best manager we’ve had in a long, long time, and I’m sad to hear he’s going to be leaving us.” Though council members knew that Lukasik was going, many members of his staff did not.

Delray bullish on golf course renovation

delray beach golf club
Photo courtesy of Delray Beach Golf Club

The Delray Beach City Commission could not be more bullish on the proposal to finance a renovation of the municipal golf course by turning over part of the course to a developer.

During last week’s workshop meeting, commissioners got an update from CBRE, the consultant they hired to market the site and broker a deal. There was consensus that the target area is six acres on West Atlantic Avenue. CBRE said the most likely development would be office and/or residential, though a “limited-service” hotel also might work. Think chain suite hotel. Even workforce housing could go there, the consultant said.

The commission’s goal is a deal that brings at least $15 million to upgrade everything from the course itself to the underground water systems that maintain it. Commissioners want to create a new entrance off Atlantic Avenue and possibly move the clubhouse.

That feature of the course drew a lot of attention. Mayor Shelly Petrolia wants a facility that could stage even more events like weddings and bar mitzvahs. In addition, commissioners want the property to draw non-golfers, perhaps with walking trails.

According to CBRE, the city could get back bids by October and choose one by the end of the year. Success could depend a lot on the national economy, with markets sliding badly over the last week and predictions coming about a recession hitting this year or next.

For now, though, optimism reigns. “I’m very excited,” Petrolia said. “I’m even happier now” about the proposed public-private partnership, said Commissioner Ryan Boylston. He called it “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Florida Supreme Court hears gun law arguments

florida supreme court
Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock

The Florida Supreme Court heard arguments last week on the challenge by counties and cities—including Boca Raton—to the 2011 law that allows the governor to impose severe penalties on local officials whom residents suspect of trying to pass gun restrictions.

Though the Legislature in 1987 preempted firearm regulation to the state, some local governments had examined whether small actions might be possible within the law. That prompted the National Rifle Association to craft the legislation that then-Gov. Rick Scott signed.

Under it, Boca Raton City Council members face fines and even removal from office if residents accuse them of moving in any way to restrict gun use. As state Rep. Don Daley of Broward County said, “Local elected officials—for even having a conversation in their official capacity from the dais about even the most reasonable gun reform— can be removed from office by the governor, can be sued in their individual civilian capacity, and can face civil fines in that individual civilian capacity.”

The plaintiffs won at trial, but the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned that ruling. Supreme Court Justice Carlos Muniz told the plaintiffs’ attorney, Edward Guedes, that he had made “a very plausible kind of policy argument. But it just doesn’t seem like there’s any sort of constitutional foundation for what you’re talking about.”

Guedes responded, “There is no question, underlying all of this is the notion of the preeminence of the state Legislature to preempt substantive areas of law. We don’t disagree with that. But this is a legislative firehose to put out a birthday candle.”

There is no timetable for a ruling.

Brightline announces program to avoid crashes

Brightline, which plans to open its Boca Raton station next year, is trying another idea to prevent deaths at crossings.

The company announced a partnership with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and the cities of Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood, among others. Under “Operation Crossing Guard,” those agencies will monitor crossings and ticket drivers trying to go around gates that are down.

Unfortunately, right after the announcement came another fatal crash, this one in Pompano Beach. It was the 65th since Brightline began operating. No officer was at the crossing. Investigators have not said whether the driver was trying to avoid the gates. None of the previous fatalities were blamed on improper operation of a train or faulty equipment.

Meanwhile, Brightline continues to pursue its expansive vision for the private rail line. A federal grant will help the company’s efforts to link the Orlando station, set to open next year, with area theme parks and eventually to Tampa.

City Council to discuss Boca Square

On the agenda for tonight’s Boca Raton City Council meeting is one of those budget items that again reflects the ongoing focus on things that residents can’t see.

The item is for a $10.2 million infrastructure program in the Boca Square neighborhood that includes Addison Mizner School. It will include 30,000 linear feet of water and sewer upgrades and road and sidewalk improvements. Delaying such work risks residents seeing the resulting damage, as happened in Fort Lauderdale when sewage ran in the streets.

This work follows improvements in Boca Square that the city coordinated with construction of the school and have enhanced the neighborhood. The completion date for the new program is March 2024.

Correction

I wrote last week about a judge’s ruling against the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency’s motion to dismiss its lawsuit against BH3. The company challenged the CRA’s decision last year to terminate the contract under which BH3 would develop CRA-owned land east of the Fairfield Inn on West Atlantic Avenue.

In that item, I said that BH3 had received a legal judgment of $21.6 million in a case stemming from its attempt to build a condo project in Aventura. I mistakenly said that BH3 then had not built the project. In fact, BH3 did build the condo.

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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