Sunday, October 17, 2021

Gas Station Blues in Camino Square, Delray Requires Proof of Vaccination and More

Another developer believes that Boca Raton is trying to kill a project by being unreasonable.

In June, I wrote about the staff’s attempt to demand many conditions from Chick-fil-A for approval of its restaurant on Palmetto Park Road near Interstate 95. The planning and zoning board rejected those conditions, which included allowing the city manager to close the restaurant if he or she believed that it was causing traffic problems.

The new battleground is the property at Camino Real and Southwest Third Avenue, surrounded mostly by what will be the 350-unit Camino Square rental project. Miami-based Petroleum Realty owns the 0.8-acre property.

Petroleum Realty wants to redevelop the Valero gas station and add a car wash. The company made the same upgrade to its Valero station across the street from where the new Chick-fil-A would be.

The city council, acting as the community redevelopment agency, approved Camino Square in January 2018. In that approval, the city required the developer—Florida Crystals Realty—to build a median in Southwest Third Avenue. The company’s attorney said the median was not required but that the city’s traffic engineers had “demanded” it.

But according to Petroleum Realty, that median would block access to the gas station for tankers. Scott Fitzgerald is the company’s senior vice president. As designed, he said, the median would put the station out of business.

Fitzgerald has proposed a break—known as a “cut”—in the median that would allow tankers to go in and out. The city has rejected that idea, most recently in a July 9 letter from Municipal Services Director Zachary Bihr.

The city, Birh wrote, disagrees that the median will prevent tankers from servicing the station. The current plans “do not depict a conflict.” One option, Bihr said, would be for the company to use smaller tankers.

Michael Marshal, Petroleum Realty’s attorney, responded on July 21. Though the company, Marshall wrote, wants an “amicable solution,” the city has “hardened its position.” He added that Petroleum Realty doesn’t control the types of tankers that bring fuel. Failure to redesign the median would “destroy the owner’s business.”

For the developer, this is something out of “Groundhog Day.” Fitzgerald said the company keeps submitting diagrams, but the city keeps coming back to the median, which is not part of his application but is affecting his application. City officials “keep saying that they don’t believe us.” It’s been going on for a year and a half.

The issue may get to the city’s elected officials. City administrators can rule on Petroleum Realty’s development application. If the company loses, however, it can appeal to the CRA. Fitzgerald already has taken his case to some council members.

Fitzgerald points out that the issue is time-sensitive. According to the city, Camino Square likely will receive its permits this month, with a permit for the median “in the near future.” Work will start first on the widening of Camino Real at Dixie Highway. Avoiding bottlenecks on Camino Real took up much more time during the CRA meeting three years ago than the Third Avenue median.

If the median prevents Petroleum Realty from redeveloping the station and especially continuing to operate it, Fitzgerald said, that would mean “a great diminution of value” of the property. The company bought it in 2000 for $13 million.

“If the city,” Marshall wrote, “is no longer willing to explore other alternatives that would accommodate both the city’s concern and the owner’s need for fuel delivery,” the development application “absolutely relies on the assumption that the median will not be continuous.”

Petroleum Realty thus wants a decision “as soon as possible in accordance with the owner’s right to due process.” Without a change in the median, that answer would be no. If the CRA upheld that decision, the response from Petroleum Realty could be a lawsuit.

Camino Square will redevelop a former shopping center that was the last blighted portion of downtown. In trying to ease residents’ worries about traffic from that project, city staffers may have prevented an adjoining project that also would bring investment to the neighborhood, where the coming of Camino Square already is raising property values.

I asked a city spokeswoman if there was a chance to resolve the impasse. I did not hear back by deadline.

Chick-fil-A appeal

Speaking of that Chick-fil-A, Boca Raton administrators have appealed the planning and zoning board’s ruling. Despite near-unanimous criticism by board members of what they considered the city’s overreach, the issue will go to the city council at its Aug. 24 meeting. The city has not yet submitted reasons for its appeal. I’ll have more before the meeting.

Delray requires proof of vax

delray

Delray Beach will start requiring employees to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test.

The action came on City Manager Terrence Moore’s first day of work. Fire-rescue employees will administer vaccines and perform tests.

In a statement, Moore said, “I understand that decisions regarding health care are extremely personal. However, given that much of the work that staff performs involves highly essential services, we are obligated to offer protection to both staff and our residents.”

For now, the order will apply to salaried and non-union hourly employees. They must provide proof of vaccination by Aug. 30. “unless otherwise exempt due to health, religious, or other legally covered reasons.” Those exempted must take a test every week.

Moore said that the city will accept only “a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test that detects the presence of the virus.”  For union members—most first responders—“direction is being offered to engage in impact bargaining accordingly.” That likely means talks to make the requirements part of the union contracts.

Delray Beach will institute the rules, Moore said, “to ensure a healthy and safe environment for both employees and visitors at all Delray Beach municipal facilities.”

Boca still talking about masking up again

Despite other cities and government agencies ordering the wearing of masks inside their buildings, Boca Raton as of Monday still hadn’t issued such a requirement.

A spokeswoman said Monday, “We realize several cities have reimplemented their policies for facemasks. At this time, we are still monitoring and discussing the situation. In the meantime, we continue to encourage all safety precautions for our staff and residents.”

With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations at record levels in Florida, Delray Beach last week ordered masks in public buildings. The county clerk’s office did the same. Disney is requiring masks indoors at all of its parks. Publix has told employees to wear masks.

Arts Garage in Delray Beach is asking all patrons to wear masks. The Wick Theater in Boca Raton opens its season in October. Vice President Kimberly Wick said, unlike theaters on Broadway, the Wick doesn’t plan to require patrons to be vaccinated. A decision on masks will depend on metrics, though Wick said most of the Wick’s patrons wear masks voluntarily.

Masks are a proven way to reduce virus spread. Cities and counties, however, have no way to enforce their mandates. Gov. DeSantis prevented them from doing so.

CRA cans BH3

At its July 15 meeting, the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency fired its developer for the land east of the Fairfield Inn.

The CRA board terminated the purchase agreement with BH3 and its mixed-use project called Fabrik with a Publix in the food desert of West Atlantic Avenue. BH3 already sued the CRA, claiming that the board wrongly denied the company more time—given the COVID-19 pandemic—to submit a plan. A trial judge ruled against BH3’s request to keep the city from seeking other bidders, but the company has appealed.

CRA Director Renee Jadusingh, noting the appeal, said the agency wouldn’t be moving quickly on the property. It will be nine years in December since the CRA first picked a developer for those roughly nine acres.

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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