City vs. Beach and Parks Meeting, Haynie Charges, Is Midtown Dead?— And Other Notes

Beach dunes in Boca Raton. (Photo by Randy Schultz)

Last Monday, it was Helsinki. This Monday, it will be Boca Raton.

OK, so the latest summit meeting between the Boca Raton City Council and the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District isn’t Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. On a local level, however, the relationship between the two agencies recently has been as testy at times as that between the United States and Russia.

When I started this blog more than four years ago, the city and district were trying to craft a master agreement for all parks. Though they struck a deal on beach renourishment, the parks agreement remains unfinished.

Similarly, the city and district did agree on a plan to buy the former Ocean Breeze golf course. The plan for renovating it as a replacement for Boca Raton’s western course, however, is not final.

An Ocean Breeze update is on Monday’s full agenda. Board Chairman Bob Rollins said the district does have an estimate of the cost to remove asbestos from the structures to be demolished—the closed hotel and the old clubhouse.

Rollins had hoped to have by Monday’s meeting an estimate of the full renovation cost. That won’t happen.

“I’ve heard as high as $14 million and as low as $10 million or $12 million,” Rollins said.

The city underwrote bonds for the $24 million land purchase, but board members have said the district might ask the council for direct payments toward the course work. District board member Steve Engel said that topic “might be up for discussion,” but the district is “still in the process of finalizing” the amount and the financing.

Mayor Scott Singer said any such ask “would depend on the request, and the context of how much they’d seek.” Singer recalled correctly that the district “stated that they believed they could purchase and refurbish the course without increasing” the tax rate. The district board just approved the same rate for the 2018-2019 budget year.

Another item will be an assessment of city and district recreation needs. Rollins said the evaluation might cost $200,000, which the agencies could split. The influx of young families that has caused school crowding also has increased demand for park and recreation space.

A big-ticket item up for discussion Monday is the master plan for Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. The district board recently approved money for a new boardwalk and tower. The plan itself could cost $200,000. A full renovation could cost $20 million or more.

Based on my conversations with the city and the district, however, the potentially most contentious item will be a discussion of non-resident park fees. Everyone agrees that the system is a confusing snarl.

Example: Boca Raton residents make up roughly 80 percent of beach and park district residents. The district includes the city and areas west to Florida’s Turnpike. City residents can buy permits for access to all three beachfront parks, but district residents can get a permit only for Red Reef Park because the district pays some of the expenses. The city requires proof of residency for a permit.

District board Steve Engel said, “We have a jumble of fees for different facilities that need to be given a logical foundation, so that parks with similar facilities charge similar fees.” There can be different fees for the same services. He would prefer that “residents absorb a lighter load, since they are already paying taxes to the district, the city and the county for these facilities.”

Before numbers, though, the council and district ideally would agree on the definition of “resident.” Rollins said the district “would like to redefine it.”

That could mean granting resident status to students who attend school within the city or district but whose parents live outside both boundaries. Many West Boca and Deerfield Beach residents play in Boca Raton’s youth baseball program. What about someone who owns a business in the city but lives elsewhere?

It does not appear that fee schedules matter much to the city’s or district’s budget. Rollins said he would like to lower the fees for kids in competitive sports program. Parents first paid $25 per child, but that has risen to $65 per child and per sport. Dropping the price, Rollins said, would increase access and thus diversity. “It’s good to get as many cultures and religions together as possible.”

Meeting goals

Given that stuffed agenda, what would the participants consider a successful meeting?

In an email, district board member Craig Ehrnst said, “It’s time for elected officials to collectively prioritize commitments and decide how to best implement them. Different elected groups have different priorities. We all need to get on the same. A stronger resident focus on actual deliverables (done timely) will be helpful.”

City Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke wants “details and costs of pertinent issues. Mayor Singer said, “I hope the meeting will set the stage for more productive meetings in the next few months. Success would be a firm plan to address these issues in timely joint meetings and a framework for decisions in the next few months.”

Councilwoman Monica Mayotte said she holed up for part of last week trying to understand this mysterious relationship. She wants the master agreement finalized and to hear what projects have priority.

“Most of all,” Mayotte added, “whatever past animosities existed between the two bodies must be worked out. I believe we all want what’s best for the city and district residents. So, let’s move forward, talk through all of our issues so we can work collaboratively to make progress on projects, ensure a smooth budgeting process and provide the best parks and recreational services for everyone.”

Haynie update

Susan Haynie

With a status hearing in the case set for next Thursday, the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office has amended five of the seven charges against former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie.

The filing came in response to Haynie’s motion to dismiss the charges. Prosecutors updated the wording in two felony charges to “corrupt intent,” in line with current public corruption laws.

Regarding the three misdemeanors, Haynie had argued that they arose from county ethics rules and thus would be civil violations, not criminal. Prosecutors reply that Haynie’s violations were “willful” and thus chargeable.

The notable portion of the document concerns the two other felony charges, one for official misconduct and one for perjury. Haynie had argued that prosecutors had failed to detail the misconduct offense and failed to specify what untruthful statement Haynie made.

On these points, prosecutors essentially blew off the former mayor. “Such notice,” they wrote of the misconduct charge, “is no necessary since (Haynie) is the one who committed these crimes and actually possesses the most knowledge of her multiple criminal acts.”

Regarding the perjury charge, prosecutors referred back to the probable cause affidavit that noted Haynie’s interview with an investigator for the Commission on Ethics. “Admittedly, (Haynie’s) lies to the investigator while under oath were many; however, she is well informed of the ones in which (sic) she is being prosecuted.” There’s some prosecutorial snark.

Bruce Zimet, Haynie’s attorney, said he would file a new motion to dismiss before the hearing next Thursday. Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley might set a trial date next week. Zimet said no discussions of a plea deal are taking place, “and I do not anticipate any.”

Zimet also said, “We intend to raise the question” of whether the charges against Haynie “were an attempt at a political takedown” on behalf of former City Councilman Robert Weinroth. He left his reelection bid in January to challenge Haynie for county commission. Before the controversy over her relationship with James and Marta Batmasian, Haynie had seemed on track to succeed Steven Abrams on the commission in a district that Republicans have represented since it was drawn.

Weinroth, a Democrat, now is in a strong position to win. He is well-funded, and the only Republican in the race has very little name recognition

Of Zimet’s comment, Weinroth said, “I don’t think it’s worthy of a response.

Another adult-living project?

On Monday’s Boca Raton Community Redevelopment Agency meeting is another adult living project. Even as single-family neighborhoods in the city get younger, bringing more students, the city gets more applications for these high-end, adult-only projects.

This one would be on Dixie Highway just south of Mizner Boulevard. The 10-story facility would replace a one-story medical arts building on roughly half an acre of land. It would have 129 beds, divided between independent living, assisted living and memory care.

The applicant states that the project “will be redefining retirement living, and redefining how health care is experienced, delivered and organized. . .This brings an unparalleled experience and a redefined quality of lifestyle.” Similar pitches have accompanied other adult living projects.

City planners recommend approval, as did the community appearance board and the planning and zoning board. The latter had concerns about adequate staffing, so the developers raised the level and thus adjusted the number of parking spaces. The design meets downtown standards under Ordinance 4035.

City Manager Leif Ahnell, however, notes again that such projects generate 15 times more fire-rescue calls than standard multi-family complexes. Fire-rescue costs are a major concern in projected city budgets. You wonder if city council members will raise the same concern that they have about students. Staff recommended denial of a similar project in the northwest part of the city, but the council approved it anyway.

Midtown on the agenda

This is a reminder that the two Midtown items on tonight’s Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board agenda don’t involve specific rules for potential residential development. They are changes the city must make to allow any redevelopment at all.

Crocker Partners, Midtown’s primary landowner, is suing the city over what the company says is its refusal to approve development rules. The city designated Midtown for Planned Mobility Development nearly a decade ago.

At Monday’s workshop meeting, the city council will hear about what the public would like to see at Midtown. The input, however, probably is useless. After the council in January indefinitely delayed a decision, two landowners began moving ahead with their own plans. The vision of redevelopment across the roughly 300 acres—with the owners paying for infrastructure—likely is dead.

Missed the last City Watch?

Visit our City Watch page and also sign up for our City Watch e-newsletter, where you’ll get the latest column delivered directly to your inbox.