Monday, May 29, 2023

Bonds on the Ballot in Delray, and a New Doc’s All American

Two major bond referendums will be on the Delray Beach ballot in March.

One will ask voters to approve $100 million for public safety improvements, including a new police station. The other will be a $20 million plan to upgrade recreation, focusing on Atlantic Dunes and Catherine Strong parks.

The city commission approved the proposals Monday. That alone would have been noteworthy. Just as remarkable, though, was the unanimous approval. For all of the city’s factional politics, the commission was united on what would be the most significant public investment since voters approved the Decade of Excellence bonds in 1990.

That $21 million program—later expanded through refinancing—was key to Delray Beach’s revival. This commission sees these proposals as essential to sustaining the redevelopment of the last three decades.

City officials said the police station, which dates back to 1992, had become outdated after just four years. The money would finance a rebuild of the fire station that handles calls on the east side of the city and in Gulf Stream. Delray Beach needs to adjust its system with the end of the contract to provide service to Highland Beach and the loss of that station. The town is creating its own department.

The timing is right for the new proposals. Delray Beach’s existing general obligation bond programs—financed with property taxes—expire in 2023 and 2024. The city also is issuing a bond to pay for the new water plant and system. Customers’ bills will finance that work.

Commissioners now must decide whether Delray Beach should issue the bonds over 20 years or 30 years. Owners of homes assessed at $250,000 would pay $132 a year for 20 years or $107 for 30 years under the police/fire proposal. They would pay $27 and $22 under the parks proposal. Those numbers would double for homesteads assessed at $500,000

Ryan Boylston had pushed for the referendums more than any other commissioner. He agreed that he and his colleagues “were on the same page.” Boylston noted that he and Mayor Shelly Petrolia, who often are at odds, “put aside” an issue regarding Atlantic Dunes Park that could have jeopardized chances of the parks bond passing.

Oddly, given the amount of money, the public safety bond would not provide Delray Beach with a new emergency operations center. During Hurricane Irma in 2017, the current center leaked and there were computer problems. Boylston said the city has not decided on a location.

But will the proposals pass, given higher inflation and talk of a recession? Said Boylston, “We’ve never voted one down.” The 1990 plan passed as South Florida went into a recession.

No plans for a new Delray city hall

One project not on the list is a new city hall. Delray Beach’s main government building was built in 1961.

Despite a 1997 renovation and storm hardening, the building looks beyond dated. Some commissioners had talked about making a new city hall part of a bond proposal. Not now.

But the idea isn’t dead. Boylston notes that if the bond referendums pass, that will take care of Delray Beach’s public safety and parks needs for the next two or three decades. The community redevelopment agency is paying for the new Pompey Park, meaning that the money isn’t coming out of the city’s operating budget. A public-private partnership could finance a makeover of the municipal golf course, which is another big-ticket item.

Boylston said the commission wants to “get through the election” and the bond votes, then reassess city hall. “We may be able to take care of that from city funds.” Though Delray Beach will examine whether a public-private partnership could work with that facility, “We may not need it.”

A new Doc’s All American

Renderings for the new Doc’s All American

Barring something unexpected, a new Doc’s All American will be coming to Delray Beach.

This week, the city commission approved a project that will combine the iconic downtown fast-food restaurant that faces Swinton Avenue with a 17,000-square-foot office and retail building on the adjoining property that faces West Atlantic Avenue. The vote was unanimous.

Doc’s closed last year when the owner of the two properties was unable to secure approval of a larger project. The new version reduces the height from four stories to three, is less dense and offers porches facing Atlantic, to make what Neil Schiller, the developer’s attorney, called “a very pedestrian-friendly environment.” Opponents had argued that the earlier version would have overwhelmed the site.

Because of the changes, Schiller said, the developer needed to ask for much less from the city. The commission did need to allow outdoor dining as part of the approval. Schiller said the two potential operators “want Doc’s as Doc’s,” not as a typical indoor restaurant.

The site plan must go before the historic preservation board, and Doc’s must get its historic designation. No one I spoke with, though, expects a late snag.

“We overcame a lot of challenges,” Schiller said. He pointed out that the project will be across the street from the new Sundy Village. “Between the two, I think we’ll have created something special for the gateway to Delray Beach.”

Delray to consider DDA reopening Old School Square

old school square
Cornell Art Museum in Old School Square; photo courtesy of the Delray Beach DDA

On Friday, city commissioners will hold a special meeting to discuss placing the Downtown Development Authority in charge of reopening Delray Beach’s Old School Square.

I reported last week that the DDA board had expressed interest in reopening the Cornell Museum, which is part of Old School Square. The meeting presentation goes further. It includes a staff recommendation that the DDA develop a plan for reopening the entire arts complex.

The plan is sweeping, to the point of possibly renaming Old School Square as part of a “rebranding.” The first phase would be to form a task force of “industry experts and DDA stakeholders.” I’ll have more after the meeting.

Speaker at Delray commission meeting charged with perjury

It’s one of the oddest stories in Delray Beach’s history.

On Aug. 9, the city commission was discussing Delray Central, the mixed-use project proposed for South Congress Avenue. A speaker identified himself as the president of a nearby homeowners association—at the Andover single-family home community— and testified that “we” support Delray Central. Nothing new there. HOAs speak for or against development projects all the time.

Neil Carson; image from Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office

Except that Neil Carson is not president of the Andover HOA. He’s not on the board. He just lives in the community.

Which wouldn’t be much of a problem except that the hearing on Delray Central was quasi-judicial. Which means that all speakers must swear to tell the truth.

Carson now finds himself charged with felony perjury. He told investigators that he was “nervous” to address the commission for the first time.

“Nervous?” Carson is managing director of multi-family development for Kaufman Lynn Construction, which is based in Delray Beach. The housing proposed for Delray Central is multi-family.

The law firm that represents Andover’s HOA noted Carson’s lie. According to the probable cause affidavit, Carson plans to write letters of apology to the city and the HOA. The city would have to decide whether to prosecute.

El Rio Canal bridge traffic woes will continue

There will be no immediate relief from one of Boca Raton’s major traffic annoyances.

That would be replacement of the El Rio Canal bridge on Palmetto Park Road several blocks west of downtown. The work has restricted traffic on that main thoroughfare to one lane.

When the county began the project in August 2021, officials said construction would take about a year. Unfortunately, the new date for completion is late July of next year, according to a county construction supervisor.

He cited “numerous delays in procuring construction materials, as well utility delays.” The bridge on the north side of Palmetto Park Road is complete and work on the new road has started. “Once the roadway portion is completed, eastbound and westbound traffic will shift to the north bridge.” Demolition on the south bridge will follow. And the hassles will continue.

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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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