Tracy Caruso Prepares to Take On Petrolia in Delray and More

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Tracy Caruso and Shelly Petrolia

Tracy Caruso is running for mayor of Delray Beach because “our community needs to be reunited.”

Though she cites specific issues—water, traffic, potential homelessness from a wave of COVID-19 evictions—Caruso especially cites “so much infighting” that she blames on Mayor Shelly Petrolia.

Caruso is married to State Rep. Mike Caruso, whose district includes Delray Beach. As I will detail in the next item, that link allows Tracy Caruso access to a fundraising network that stretches well beyond Delray Beach. That alone makes the race unique in the city’s history.

But Caruso also would emphasize her own record. She’s chairwoman of the historic preservation board and vice chairwoman of her condo association board. Caruso owns Delray Beach Executive Suites, which leases office space to small and startup companies.

Her business is on West Atlantic Avenue. In our interview, Caruso criticized Petrolia and her allies on the commission and the community redevelopment agency for delaying approval of The Set Transformation Plan. When commission approval finally came this year, the name “The Set” was gone and discussion had focused more on factional politics than redevelopment of the northwest and southwest neighborhoods.

Even amid the pandemic, Caruso plans to campaign door-to-door as often as possible. She qualified by obtaining four times the required 250 signatures. Petrolia also has touted the grass-roots nature of her support.

Like the presidential race, Delray Beach’s mayoral election will be mostly about personalities. Caruso says Petrolia’s actions since she became mayor in March 2018 have made Delray Beach “a difficult place to live.” Those actions include the firings of two city managers and a city attorney, and regular verbal confrontations with other commissioners. Last spring, Petrolia led the effort to defeat former Commissioner Bill Bathurst. She seems similarly committed to defeating Ryan Boylston and Adam Frankel, who also are on the ballot in March.

Since Petrolia joined the commission in March 2013, Caruso said, “She has changed a great deal, and we’ve all seen it. I don’t know why. I think she wants to be a strong mayor. I’m opposed to that.”

Tennille DeCoste, the city’s former human resources director, is the third candidate in the race. I have heard speculation that Caruso’s decision to run would cause DeCoste to drop out.

“I like Tennille,” Caruso said, “but I would prefer that this be a two-way race. We need to have Shelly out.”

Campaign war chests filling up

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One Delray Beach resident predicted that the race between Petrolia and Caruso would be “a slugfest.” In terms of money, it’s starting that way.

Caruso announced her candidacy last month. She quickly loaned herself $51,000. Now her first fundraising report, for November, lists another $28,000 in outside contributions.

Many are $1,000 donations from political action committees that normally focus on the Florida Legislature. Most of their donors are trade groups that have business in Tallahassee. Those contributions demonstrate the benefit that Mike Caruso will bring to his wife’s campaign when it comes to money.

Petrolia, however, is basically matching Caruso. The mayor lent herself $50,000 and raised another $31,000 in October and November.

Petrolia got $1,000 from Price Patton, who has qualified to run against Frankel in Seat 1, and another $1,000 from Patton’s wife, Carolyn. Planning and zoning board member Allen Zeller donated $1,000, as did his wife, JoAnn. Petrolia allies Ken MacNamee and Kelly Barrette gave the mayor $1,000 and $500, respectively.

Based on those early numbers, Petrolia and Caruso each could have $200,000 in direct money. For perspective, that would be about $60,000 more than recent mayoral candidates in Boca Raton raised. Delray Beach has about one-third fewer residents than Boca.

Katz attempts comeback

Former Commissioner Mitch Katz has filed paperwork to challenge Boylston in Seat 3. If Katz qualifies, it will be a rematch of 2018. Boylston won it with 56 percent. Qualifying ends next Friday.

Boca election matchups

Boca Raton will have two contested races in the city’s March election.

Yvette Drucker and Constance Scott already had matched up in Seat C to succeed Jeremy Rodgers. The council appointed Drucker to serve on an interim basis if Rodgers does not return from active duty for the Navy before his second and final term expires. Scott held Seat C for six years until term limits forced her off in 2015.

Now neighborhood activist Brian Stenberg has qualified to run against incumbent Monica Mayotte in Seat D. Twice-failed mayoral candidate Bernard Korn has filed paperwork to be the third candidate in Seat C, but he has not qualified. The qualifying deadline is 5 p.m. today.

New student housing near FAU

Liv on 5th got through the Boca Raton City Council on Tuesday, but that does not ensure approval.

The developer proposes a four-story student housing complex on Northwest Fifth Avenue across the El Rio Canal from Florida Atlantic University. Because the project would require changing the city’s comprehensive plan, the vote Tuesday was whether the city should transmit the proposal to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for review or reject it. The state planning agency is part of DEO.

Drucker, Mayotte and Andy Thomson voted to transmit. Mayor Scott Singer and Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke voted against. The state has 60 days to comment.

Even if the DEO finds no objection, comprehensive plan changes require four votes on the council. Unless Singer or O’Rourke switched, the project would fail.

The developer touted the complex as a safe, “turnkey” option for college students. Bonnie Miskel, the developer’s attorney, said the pedestrian bridge across the canal—which the developer would pay for—would decrease traffic on Fifth Avenue. Miskel said FAU can’t accommodate all of its non-commuter students on campus, and the project would give students a better option than renting homes.

The site is next to the Windwood community. Several residents expressed opposition, citing increased traffic. Singer and O’Rourke said the project would be incompatible with the neighborhood.

Brightline station on track

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Though city review of Brightline’s Boca Raton station is not complete, a representative said the company “expects to begin construction” in the first three months of 2021.

The site plan for the station and parking garage, which will be near the downtown library, must go before the community appearance and planning and zoning boards and then the city council. There is no date yet. Brightline is building the station and garage. The city is paying most of the cost of the garage. Brightline is financing the station.

A city spokeswoman said Brightline is working on “additional changes.” As part of the project, the Junior League’s garden would move to Meadows Park.

The spokeswoman said the start of construction early next year is “possible.” Brightline, which suspended service in March because of the pandemic, had hoped to start service in Boca Raton by the end of 2021.

Boca Helping Hands looks to expand

Boca Helping Hands is completing a project that will expand the group’s food distribution.

According to a news release, the project will transform what once was the Warehouse Pub near Boca Helping Hands’ main location near Northwest Second Avenue and Glades Road. The $500,000 project will create freezer units and a walk-in refrigerator. Boca Helping Hands said the project could double the number of people whom the organization serves over the next five to 10 years.

Because of the pandemic, Boca Helping Hands is at what the group calls “maximum capacity” and “limited storage has become a bottleneck in our ability to continue expanding food distribution.” Boca Helping Hands says that the number of “food-insecure” residents in the county has increased from a pre-pandemic 180,000 to 300,000. Boca Helping Hands’ demand has doubled.

The work is roughly two-thirds done. Anyone wanting to donate can call Karen Swedenborg at 561-417-0913, ext. 202 or visit bocahelpinghands.org.

Camino Square update

I wrote last week about the demolition of the former Winn Dixie shopping center in downtown Boca Raton. The city approved a 350-unit apartment building on the land, conditioned on the developer making road improvements nearby on Camino Real to accommodate added traffic.

Because Camino Real is a county road, the developer must obtain permits for that work from the county. The developer has not applied for the permit. County Commissioner Robert Weinroth, who represents Boca Raton, thought that the item “made it appear the county’s lack of timely review and approval was the reason things have not progressed any faster” on the project, known as Camino Square.

Boca CRA honored

The Boca Raton Community Redevelopment Agency has received an award for its placemaking project at downtown’s Sanborn Square.

According to a news release, the Florida Redevelopment Association recognizes local governments for “innovation and positive impact on their communities.” City staff added new lighting, tables and chairs, umbrellas and a cornhole game area, making the park what the city calls “a more interactive and social destination for downtown Boca residents and visitors.”