Wednesday, July 6, 2022

A Complicated Proposal to Buy Ocean Strand, and Delray’s City Manager Search Continues

A developer is back with an offer for the Ocean Strand property in Boca Raton. This version has a twist.

An entity of Boca-based Compson Associates proposes what it calls a $67.5 million deal with the Greater Boca Beach and Park District. The district owns the 15.5-acre property. Most of it lies on the Intracoastal Waterway side of North Ocean Boulevard. The rest is beachfront.

The deal would bring the beach and park district $51.5 million in cash, which would solve the agency’s money problems with the proposed Boca National golf course and Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. Compson would build the golf course—presumably using the design that the district prefers—and the district would get about $25 million for the makeover/expansion of Gumbo Limbo. The district also would get $2.5 million for Spanish River Park.

On the western portion of Ocean Strand, Compson would build a luxury hotel, condos and villas with hotel privileges and a marina. The contract states that if the city approved fewer than 171 hotel rooms, 110 condos, 30 villas and 35 boat slips, Compson would pay less. The price would drop by $125,000 per hotel room, $580,000 per condo, $118,000 per villa and $120,000 per boat slip.

When Compson made a pitch for Ocean Strand six months ago, the proposal was similar. Now, however, Compson also claims that it “holds or will soon hold” contracts to buy the properties at 2500 and 2600 N. Ocean Blvd., just north of Ocean Strand. The owners have applied to build, respectively, a duplex and a large home. City council members have resisted.

They rejected the duplex on the grounds that it would be too close to the ocean and would damage the environment. There has been no action on the proposed home. Each would need a variance from the city.

Under the deal, Compson would convey those properties to the district, bring what the company calls the total benefit to that $67.5 million figures. Those lots would remain undeveloped, serving only as beach access for hotel guests and condo owners. That’s the arrangement at other condos on the west side of Ocean Boulevard that own property across the road on the oceanfront.

From one standpoint, this would deal solves many problems. The district and the city can’t agree on a design for Boca National. The district may not have the money to finance the design its board members like, but the city council won’t agree to pay part of the cost unless the design changes. The deal would pay for the course.

delray parking
Gumbo Limbo Nature Center (Courtesy City of Boca Raton)

Neither the city nor the district has money budgeted for the Gumbo Limbo makeover. The deal would pay for it. The city faces a lawsuit over its denial of the project at 2600 N. Ocean Blvd. The deal makes that lawsuit —which the city believes it will win—go away and removes any threat of a lawsuit over what could be a denial for the project at 2500 N. Ocean Blvd.

The district bought Ocean Strand in 1994 for about $12 million. It has gone unused for a quarter-century, and the district obviously has no money for Ocean Strand.

But. . .

The city would have to rezone the property and approve Compson’s plan. Neighbors would howl, even if they live in condos similar to what Compson would build.

Even before that, the district board would have to agree to sell Ocean Strand. Commissioner Steven Engel remains “unalterably opposed” to any sale. Engel also notes that the district would have to advertise for bids for any sale. Simply taking Compson’s offer would be illegal.

Board chairman Susan Vogelgesang called the offer “very generous,” but added that she and her colleagues have not been able to discuss it in public. The offer came just last week. Vogelgesang said, “We have to know that the community agrees with it as well as the city.” Craig Ehrnst also noted the need for “community input.” Ehrnst sees “no need to rush into anything.”

Erin Wright said, “I don’t think the board would sell” Ocean Strand. She noted that the district’s mission includes “preserving green space.” But she added, “It’s an awful lot of money. I don’t think it’s something we can just dismiss.”

Based on the timing of the offer, Compson seeks to exploit the dispute between the city and the district over Boca National by offering something very tempting to each side. It becomes one more element in the dispute that at last week’s joint meeting showed no sign of subsiding.

Last week, the council refused the district’s request to approve the Boca National site plan. The district’s meeting Monday, at which commissioners will discuss their response, began after deadline for this post. I’ll have an update on Boca National—and relations between the city and district—on Thursday.

City Manager search                           

Delray Beach City Hall (Photo by Christiana Lilly)

I’m told that two potential city manager candidates from out of state have told Delray Beach that they aren’t interested. With city commissioners set to meet this afternoon, they must choose from one of the remaining finalists or start over.

Those finalists are Homestead City Manager George Gretsas and Miami Deputy City Manager Joseph Napoli. The commission’s first choice was Tamarac City Manager Michael Cernech, but Mayor Shelly Petrolia—apparently acting on her own authority—ended negotiations with Cernech 11 days ago.

Adam Frankel said last week that he wanted to hold a new search. There might not be three votes for that. Petrolia ranked Gretsas first, and he likely would have more support than Napoli, whom Shirley Johnson ranked first. I could not learn whether Gretsas or Napoli still wants the job.

Gardner-Young resignation

Caryn Gardner-Young

Former Delray Beach Assistant City Manager Caryn Gardner-Young said she resigned this month because of an issue related to Hurricane Dorian.

Gardner-Young’s husband is confined to a wheelchair. As the storm approached, Gardner-Young said in a letter to Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus, “a colleague” offered “help with any last-minute storm preparations that I could not handle on my own given the physical limitations of my husband.” Knowing that her home west of Boynton Beach would be secure “was an important element in ensuring I was fully available to fulfill my duties. . .before, during and after the hurricane.”

She accepted the offer. Two men “wearing city shirts” put up her shutters and secured her garage door. Gardner-Young said the work took 45 minutes. She assumed that the men had come on their lunch break.

“With hindsight being 20/20, I should have confirmed this fact.” Because of the “chaos of the moment,” she didn’t —“a decision I now regret.” Gardner-Young said, “While I never and would never abuse my position. . .I still feel that it is in the best interest of the city for me to step down to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.”

Behind the scenes

Commissioner Adam Frankel

When Delray Beach held a public meet-and-greet on Aug. 19 for what then were three city manager candidates, each commissioner got to invite several people.

On Commissioner Adam Frankel’s list: Mary McCarty.

One wonders how many of the candidates knew that the invitees included a former county commissioner who pleaded guilty in 2009 to misusing her office. Frankel also invited Andre Fladell, a longtime McCarty political ally.

For McCarty, Frankel’s invitation was one more victory in her attempt to restore credibility after serving two years in federal prison. That campaign probably started in December 2012, when McCarty—who served on the city commission before winning the county spot in 1990—accepted an invitation to speak before the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Not long after McCarty’s release, candidates for city office began seeking her advice. Now McCarty is a registered lobbyist in Palm Beach County. Her listed clients are iPic and Delray Place LLC, both of which have major business before the city commission.

Delray advisory board?

Factional politics caused the Delray Beach City Commission to create the Northwest/Southwest Advisory Board. Some commissioners had criticized actions of the West Atlantic Redevelopment Coalition and urged formation of the board as a counterweight.

That plan doesn’t seem to be working. According to a staff memo, the city has not received enough applications from people who would be eligible to serve on the board, which only has five members. At today’s meeting, the commission will “determine how to move forward.”

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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