Sunday, April 14, 2024

City Watch: Unfinished issues of 2016 will be 2017’s first agenda items

In Boca Raton and Delray Beach, the big stories of 2017 will be the unfinished stories of 2016.

As in:

—Boca Raton voters approved the ordinance that all but kills the deal for a restaurant on the Wildflower property. So what happens now?

Will a waterfront boardwalk link the Wildflower and Silver Palm Park? Could such a plan work with the motorized boat launch at Silver Palm? Perhaps, as Mayor Susan Haynie told me, with a city-only launch at Silver Palm and a second motorized launch at Rutherford Park that would have to allow non-resident use because money for the project would come from outside sources?

Will that Wildflower/Silver Palm project be a priority for Councilman Scott Singer, who held a “visioning session” on the concept after opposing the restaurant? If the project includes any private venue, will Hillstone sue, claiming that the ordinance prohibits such uses?

—Delray Beach City Manager Don Cooper resigned, effective Dec. 30, for family health reasons. Fire-Rescue Chief Neal de Jesus became the interim manager. Who will the new city commission, which will be in place after the March election, name to succeed Cooper? Will the choice get bogged down like the failed attempt to appoint a temporary replacement for Commissioner Al Jacquet?

—Boca Raton decided to sell the western golf course and acquire the Ocean Breeze course at Boca Teeca. Which offer will the city take? Will any decision come before the March election?

—In Delray Beach, the iPic project survived and Uptown Atlantic died. Will iPic get built before the Community Redevelopment Agency has a replacement for Uptown Atlantic?

In both cities, the new year will race out of the gate. Two Delray Beach commission seats are up in March. For now, there is a contested election for one Boca Raton city council seat. Qualifying in Boca starts next week. The current Boca council could face big votes on the Mizner 200 project and plans to transform the area around Town Center Mall. (See later item in this post.) Delray Beach wants to hurry along new regulations for sober homes. The commission should get them next month.

Through it all, the carping on social media and political websites will continue – too much, too fast, conspiracy, etc. At those moments, break out the noise-cancelling headphones and filter out the fake news.

Cooper leaves Delray in a good spot

When Cooper leaves this week, he will leave Delray Beach in a better place than he found it two years ago.

Not every project came off on time. The first phase of the beach makeover was to have been finished for this high season. The goal now is to be ready for next season. Mayor Cary Glickstein grimaced during a recent meeting when he head that Assistant City Manager Francine Ramaglia spends much of her time dealing with the new special events policy. Cooper told him that workload should drop as event planners get used to the new rules.

But Cooper improved what had been by all accounts shoddy management practices. He set the city on a 12-year Capital Improvement Plan, financed in part by the Community Redevelopment Agency. There are new leases with Arts Garage and Old School Square. The special events policy will give downtown back to the residents, as the commission wanted. Cooper hired de Jesus, who has drawn praise from throughout the city as Delray Beach deals with the sober home problem. The Planning, Zoning and Building Department is working well with businesses seeking to move to the city.

I asked Cooper for his departing thoughts. In an email, he said, “I think we are beginning to meet the goals and objectives of the commission and establishing and meeting the level of services standards this community deserves, but we still have a great deal to do.”

For the record, former Delray Beach Chief Financial Office Jack Warner sent me an unsolicited Cooper testimonial after he retired last September.

“As a consummate city management professional, (Cooper) established an environment of stability in practice and procedure across the city’s essential government functions. As a leader, he immediately identified the city’s needs and built multi-year plans to begin to deal with them. As a person, he set a tone of integrity and civility that permeated management ranks. Overcoming the loss of his departure will require immediate and strong leadership from the city commission.”

Art Koski’s tenure lasts a little longer

The Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District made some key decisions just before two new members join the district board.

At its meeting 10 days ago, the board kept on Interim Executive Director Art Koski for what Chairman Bob Rollins told me Wednesday could be another six to eight months. “I can’t give you a specific date.”

Previously, the plan had been that Koski would leave the supposedly interim job that he has had for more than four years, with Assistant Director Briann Harms succeeding him in January. Rollins said Harms has “some personal things to deal with” – Harms confirmed that to me on Wednesday — and the transition will wait. For that time, Koski won’t have the “interim” title. He has been paid $90,000 a year.

Koski also has been serving as the district’s lawyer and construction manager. He will give up the latter job, to be replaced by Mike Fichera, who just retired from his job as a building official with the Boca Raton Development Services Department and started a consulting business.

Rollins said the switch was not related to the fact that the reopening of the playground at Sugar Sand Park has been delayed yet again – at least until February and probably later. The original date had been November. So the reopening will miss most or all of high season.

Rather than blame Koski, Rollins cited other factors for the delay. The project got more complex when the district decided to make the playground accessible to the disabled. Twenty-five-year-old support poles had begun to rot and had to be replaced, for safety’s sake. The contractor discovered some underground piping.

During their successful campaigns against incumbent board members Dennis Frisch and Earl Starkoff, Craig Ehrnst and Erin Wright emphasized the need for change. They complained that the board wasn’t providing adequate oversight. In an email, Ehrnst said these latest developments validate his complaints.

“Regarding the playground, that is the problem. No one seems accountable, and delays are continuing without meaningful discussion.” Ehrnst promised “discussion at the next meeting,” on Jan. 9 — the first for him and Wright. They may ask why the district didn’t advertise the construction manager job. There was no legal requirement to do so, and the hiring makes sense in that the district and the city work so closely and the change can happen quickly. Rollins said the idea grew out of a conversation between Koski and Fichera. Still, would an outsider have been better?

If Koski lost one of his three district jobs, however, another got more lucrative. The board voted to pay Koski $12,500 per month for his legal work – a raise of $1,500 monthly. Rollins said the expected work involved with reviewing the Ocean Breeze golf purchase justified the added cost.

Ehrnst and Wright likely were hoping to be part of all pending big decisions. The lame-duck board members just beat the newcomers to some of them.

Boca’s Midtown getting residential?

Changes that would allow roughly 2,500 residential units in Boca Raton’s Midtown – Town Center Mall and the areas to the east — will come back to the planning and zoning board on Jan. 19.

Last week, board members seemed generally favorable to the proposals but had questions. Example: Chairman William Fairman wanted to know who would pay for a shuttle to take commuters from the planned Tri-Rail station and the new housing units to their jobs.

The GrayRobinson law firm is proposing the changes. The firm’s Charlie Siemon is the lead attorney. Normally, he would have met in advance with the board members to explain the proposals and answer questions. That didn’t happen, I am told, because Siemon has been ill.

Speakers, several of whom live near the area, generally supported the proposals. Fairman called the discussion “very enlightening.” While he believes that the area “is ready for the concept,” Fairman wasn’t ready to “support it tonight.” If the applicant fills in the blanks next month, Fairman said the board could “easily approve it.”

More complications with Atlantic Crossing and Delray Beach

The holiday season has not meant any letup in the litigation between Atlantic Crossing and Delray Beach.

On Dec. 9, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Gillen allowed Edwards Companies to amend its lawsuit alleging that the city is illegally blocking final approval of the mixed-use project west of Veterans Park. Atlantic Crossing filed that new complaint on Dec. 14.

The developer makes 21 claims for relief and adds monetary damages. In a separate motion, Edwards seeks summary judgment – winning on the facts, without a trial – on some of the claims. The company wants Gillen to declare Edwards the owner of alleyways the city conveyed as part of the project, to require Delray Beach to certify the site plan and plat and to find that the city breached its contract with Edwards by trying to take back the alleyways and a portion of Northeast Seventh Avenue. The city has 30 days to respond.

In addition, an Atlantic Crossing representative said Atlantic Crossing has appealed the dismissal in July by U.S. District Court Judge Donald Middlebrooks of two claims that the city violated the company’s rights under the Fifth and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. That ruling was significant because the claims seek damages of up to $40 million.

Referring to Gillen’s ruling, Edwards Companies Chief Operating Officer Dean Kissos said in a statement: “We are pleased with the court’s decision. While we remain hopeful to resolve issues amicably with the city, these two downtown city blocks are crucial to Delray Beach’s future. Whether through resolution or litigation, we remain fully committed to protecting our property rights and delivering on the site’s potential.”

Coincidentally, Gillen is the judge who on Friday will hear the lawsuit seeking to force Delray Beach to hold a special election to fill Seat 2 on the city commission.

Happy New Year to all our Boca Raton Magazine readers. Expect a lively 2017 when it comes to politics in Boca Raton and Delray Beach.

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.

Related Articles

Latest Articles