Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Brightline Boca Advances, Delray Offers Match Point a Settlement, and More

The Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board recommended last week that the city move ahead with the lease for a Brightline station.

To use a legal comparison, it was a narrow ruling. Board members weren’t deciding on a site plan—that would come later—or analyzing the potential economic benefit to the city. They merely were deciding on the merits of leasing nearly two acres near the Downtown Library for a station and parking garage.

Still, board members sounded as enthusiastic as the city council. “I’m very excited,” said Larry Cellon. The benefits of the station would be “incalculable.” Chairman Arnold Sevell also gushed.

Their vote and their comments didn’t please residents of Library Commons, who came Thursday night to once more vent about the 45-foot garage that could be just 25 feet from the south end of the community. They came again Monday, when Virgin Trains representatives presented at a city council workshop meeting.

As the council had asked, the company’s new design moves the garage 25 feet farther from Library Commons. The council also had asked about the city sharing revenue from the garage. A company representative said Virgin Trains is “working that in.”

boca brightline
Boca Brightline station and garage concept view, courtesy of the City of Boca Raton

Another issue has been what would happen to the garage if the company stopped running trains? A Virgin Trains vice president said the building—which would revert to city ownership—will be designed to allow conversion to residential or office use, though the north wall would be solid. That’s to make the building less intrusive on Library Commons.

Several council members thanked the company for “listening” to them and to residents. There remains, however, that right of first refusal for Virgin Trains if a future council wanted to sell the rest of the library site.

It’s a sticking point with Library Commons residents and has implications for the entire site. The library site is 6.8 acres. The station and garage would take up 1.8 acres. So four acres—much more than half the property—could go to Virgin Trains.

Removing the right of refusal would not protect that land forever. Any council could propose a sale. But removing it would take that issue out of the debate about Virgin Trains’ intention beyond the station and garage.

Events remain on schedule for the lease to go before the council for final approval at the Dec. 10 regular meeting. Given what remains, however, there also might be discussion at the workshop meeting a day earlier.

I still think approval is assured. It’s just a question of what the council will approve.

Match Point settlement?

Delray Beach has voted to settle the city’s lawsuit against Match Point.

The city commission approved the proposal 4-1 last week, immediately after a closed meeting to discuss the deal with Match Point. The company, which still must agree to the settlement, promotes the annual pro tennis tournament at the city’s downtown complex.

In 2016, the commission sued the company, seeking to invalidate the 25-year contract that a previous commission awarded in 2005. That contract gave Match Point annual increases in what the city paid the company to stage the tournament. Mayor Shelly Petrolia is the only holdover from the commission that initiated the lawsuit, and she voted against the settlement.

The proposal would freeze Match Point’s annual fee for the duration of the contract. It costs Delray Beach about $1.6 million annually in direct costs and an undetermined additional amount for providing services, mostly police and fire. The city also will not pay Match Point’s legal fees.

Several months ago, Commissioner Bill Bathurst tried to mediate a settlement. Then the city’s outside counsel withdrew, citing “irreconcilable differences.” Commissioner Ryan Boylston then asked City Attorney Lynn Gelin for a chance to speak with Match Point President Mark Baron. He contributed to Boylston’s 2018 campaign, and Match Point was a client of Boylston’s marketing company.

In an interview, Bathurst said the settlement could save Delray Beach $5 million over the next 11 years, between lower costs and ending the payment of legal fees. He also said “most of our constituency” wants to keep the tournament and expand on it. Boylston said the settlement would allow the city to do that.

I’ll have an update after Match Point decides whether to accept the settlement offer.

Boca interim police chief

Michele Miuccio

Boca Raton’s deputy police chief will take over the department next week on an interim basis.

Michele Miuccio has been with the department for three decades, starting as a road patrol officer and working her way up. In 2005, she became the department’s first assistant chief. Miuccio has been Dan Alexander’s second in command since 2014. Alexander is retiring from the city, effective Dec. 1, to take a job with the Palm Beach County School District Police Department.

Fourteen years ago, Miuccio and another assistant were involved in a controversy. At the order of then-Chief Andrew Scott, they “reluctantly”—according to the Sun Sentinel story—asked a sergeant to stop a Boca Raton resident whom a television reporter wanted to interview. Four months later, Scott announced his resignation. The city then hired Alexander.

City Manager Leif Ahnell will choose Alexander’s successor. In a statement, Ahnell said, “We have an outstanding police department, and we are confident that Chief Miuccio will provide a smooth executive transition.” According to a city spokeswoman, Miuccio won’t be just a caretaker. She will be among the contenders for the job.

Fisher Island most expensive

Boca Raton has a vigorous high-end real estate market, as Realtors and city boosters like to say. But it’s not among the most vigorous.

The real estate website PropertyShark calculated the most expensive ZIP codes in the country based on home sales. Only one Florida area made the top 100—the 33109 area code, which is part of Miami Beach. The average sale for 2019 was $2.4 million.

That distinction, though, deserves an asterisk. Area code 33109 has only about 600 residents. It includes just the Fisher Island community. Not coincidentally, Fisher Island has the highest per-capita income in the country.

Trinity clarification

trinity church

Michael Catino wants to clarify something.

Catino is the Realtor who is listing the site of Trinity Church of God in the Boca Square neighborhood. The church is closing next year, and neighbors have asked the city council to buy the land for a park.

I have referred to the market value of the roughly five-acre site, which is $3.4 million. Catino wanted to note that the sale would include not just the land but also the church and preschool buildings. The city could repurpose the structures for use as a community center if the site became a park. Fair point.

Restaurant Row approval

I reported last week on the restaurant project planned for the parking lot of the office building near Town Center Mall. The Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board recommended last week that the city council approve the project. Though city planners would like the restaurants to face the street, not the building, board members liked the design and the fact that the applicant—Crocker Partners— would build an eight-foot sidewalk facing Butts Road.

The project likely will go before the city council at the Dec. 10 meeting or the first meeting in January.

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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