Sunday, April 14, 2024

Chabad comes up before the city, and news on dog beach, tax rate and Bedner’s



Tonight’s Boca Raton City Council meeting may feature the warm-up to a lawsuit.

At the end of a long, post-summer-hiatus agenda is the appeal of May’s 5-1 approval by the Planning and Zoning Board of added height for Chabad East Boca, on the old La Vielle Maison property just east of the Palmetto Park Road bridge. The project would include a synagogue, exhibit center and social hall. Zoning allows a house of worship, and conditional use for the extra 10 feet of height for one building also is allowed under conditions to which the congregation has agreed.

The neighbors aren’t happy. They turned out in May, and on Tuesday they will come with two lawyers. As in court, those on the losing side can’t appeal just because they lost. They have to show that the Planning and Zoning Board’s approval violated city rules. In documents submitted to the city, the lawyers make their case.

Arthur Koski, who represents about a dozen plaintiffs, claims that the board based its recommendation on “improper and erroneous interpretations of the Code of the City of Boca Raton,” made its decision “arbitrarily and without reasonable analysis of requests and representation of the applicant” and failed “to consider the prima facie injuries” to nearby residents.

If Chabad East Boca builds on the site, Koski argues, his clients will suffer “loss of use and enjoyment of property,” traffic will overwhelm their neighborhoods, their property values will decline, they will find themselves blocked from their homes, they will lose privacy and suffer from “unreasonable noise invading the property.” There also will be “environmental damages, including lack of sunlight” and “disturbance of wind currents.”

John R. Eubanks represents Royal Palm Real Estate Holdings, which is on the north side of Palmetto Park Road and faces the site. He argues that his clients will be “injured by the additional height, density, massing and intensity of use which is out of character in . . . the local business district.” He claims that the chabad would be an “impermissible use” of the property.

As stated previously, I think the neighbors have a case— just not a persuasive case. And not always a factual case. Eubanks claims that the project would exceed limits on floor-to-area ratio, but it wouldn’t. As for the other gripes, the chabad would be less intense than some other allowed uses on the site.

I don’t see the council reversing the board. The staff recommendation is to uphold the decision. If that happens, I’d put the chance of the neighbors suing at 50-50. If the council caves, however, I’d put the chance of the chabad suing at 100 percent and the chance of the chabad prevailing at nearly 100 percent.

Rejection would be the second time the city has thwarted the chabad. Traffic is a legitimate concern, but traffic would be a concern with any use. As a city planner pointed out at one point, if the chabad violates the conditions, the city can intervene—as it would with any house of worship. The city would be in trouble if it seems to be establishing a higher standard for one particular house of worship.

Delray dog beach

While the Delray Beach Planning and Zoning Board was hearing and rejecting the application for a downtown iPic theater/mixed complex, another issue that may generate similar emotions was getting its first hearing.

The city’s parks and recreation department is deciding whether to set aside a portion of the public beach for dogs. In predictably careful language announcing last Monday night’s hearing, the city said it is “looking to develop possible options which include input and feedback from neighbors, dog owners, veterinarians, environmentalists, ocean rescue, police and other concerned/involved citizens.” Talk about casting a wide net.

Dog parks are not controversial. Only dogs and their owners go there. Beaches are different. And Delray’s beach might be the city’s most popular public space. Depending on one’s perspective, adding an area for dogs would enhance the beach or ruin it.

Parks & Recreation Director Suzanne Davis said 61 people attend the hearing. The attendees, Davis said, had “positive and negative feelings toward the possibility of a designated area on the beach.” If the issue advances, she might present “multiple options” to City Manager Don Cooper. The next meeting is Aug. 13.

Delray tax rate

Delray Beach has mostly set its tax rate for next year, and most residents will pay more.

The rate actually will drop by a tiny amount. The main portion of the tax bill—the rate for operating expenses— will stay at $7.16 for every $1,000 of assessed value. (If your home is assesses at $300,000, for example, you pay $2,148.) The rate for the city’s debt will go down a bit.

In most cases, however, rising property values will more than make up for the millage drop. Property owners with homesteads will be the least affected. Owners of business and rental property and non-homesteaders will be affected the most.

Of course, rising values are better than what we remember from just a few years ago. And many full-service cities have backlogged needs from the recession. If Delray shows that the city is spending the people’s money well, the people will be satisfied. Most of them, anyway.

Bedners farm on

Those who love Bedner’s Fresh Farm Market west of Boynton Beach—and there are legions—will be happy to know that the family plans to continue farming until 2043 in Palm Beach County’s Agricultural Reserve Area.

In 2001, with money from the voter-approved bond program of 1999, the county bought 262 acres from Bedner’s, and then leased back the land for farming. The county had extended the lease until 2033, but as the staff memo to county commissioners stated, the Bedners want to “ensure that the younger members of the family will have the ability to continue farming.” They asked that the lease be extended to 2043, and on Tuesday the commission agreed unanimously.

The timing is especially good, with Bedner’s scheduled opening of a store this fall in downtown Delray Beach. Commissioners, though, should recall this vote when they discuss proposals that would allow more development in the Ag Reserve.

In the memo, staff warned that “the Bedners are concerned about incremental changes to the land use and zoning regulations for the Ag Reserve, and the potential impact of such changes on (their) ability to continue farming. . .” The lease extension “will provide the Bedners the legal right to farm as long it remains economically viable to do so.” The county commission should try to make viable for the Bedners and all the others by keeping as many homes as possible out of the Ag Reserve.

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.

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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