Coastal Link still a great idea, Delray waits and sees and other news

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Train wreck of an idea

This week, a Palm Beach County commissioner voiced a very bad idea.

Hal Valeche, who represents the north end of the county, suggested at Monday’s Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting that community resentment might be running so high against All Aboard Florida that the county should abandon the idea of trying to establish a second commuter rail service.

Valeche doesn’t underestimate the anger in his district toward the company that plans to run passenger trains from Miami to Orlando starting in 2016. Residents and business owners fear that the 16 new trains per day—each way—will disrupt car and especially boat traffic.

Those trains will run on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, which goes through the downtowns of the county’s largest cities. The current commuter service, Tri-Rail, runs on the CSX tracks farther west.

Tri-Rail is popular in Boca, which has the busiest station— thanks in part to support from nearby businesses—and soon will be the only city to have a second station. But transportation planners for years have hoped for service on the FEC, and as Boca Raton, Delray Beach and West Palm Beach market their downtowns as places to live, the potential of that second line grows.

Fortunately, Valeche is an outlier. Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie chairs the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which she says remains committed to theCoastal Link—the plan for commuter trains on the FEC. So does Tri-Rail.

Indeed, if Boca Raton and Delray Beach are to get any benefit from All Aboard Florida, it will be through a downtown commuter line. If safety upgrades remove the need for train whistles at crossings, Boca and Delray residents at least won’t be harmed. With no bridges in the area, this area doesn’t have the controversy there is farther north or especially in Fort Lauderdale, where the yacht industry worries about disruptions on the New River.

Not that anything about the Coastal Link is certain. The source of money is uncertain. Nothing can happen until the FEC is double-tracked, as happened with the CSX to accommodate Tri-Rail.

But once the 10-laning to Linton Boulevard is done, I-95 can’t get any wider. Downtown apartments are marketing themselves to millenials and empty-nesters who want public transit. That second commuter service is a long-term dream, but still a dream worth pursuing.

More time on Delray building rules

As I had speculated, the Delray Beach City Commission did not give final approval at Tuesday night’s meeting to new downtown building rules.

Which isn’t a bad thing. Though one goal is to clarify what the city calls Land Development Regulations for the Central Business District, getting to such clarity takes time and discussion. To many residents, especially those who have spoken so passionately at hearings, Delray must get the regulations right to preserve the sort of the city they want— vibrant but not overcrowded.

Tuesday was the second of what had been advertised as votes on the regulations. No vote took place, because the commissioners still haven’t resolved all the issues. Mayor Cary Glickstein, for example, said in an email that he wants to examine “further limiting height on Atlantic Avenue to three stories.”

Still, the sense I get from Glickstein and commissioners Shelly Petrolia and Jordana Jarjura—the working majority —is that delay is beneficial.  Glickstein says the “end product is more important” than a deadline. Petrolia said she got satisfactory answers to some questions, but that the commission is still “working it.”

Jarjura said that in talking with city staff members before the meeting she found “significant confusion” about the bonus program, under which developers could get such things as extra density to encourage certain types of projects in certain areas. She called the draft proposal for the program “nebulous,” but added, “I believe the extra time will afford us the opportunity to address the priorities and concerns articulated last night.”

In the audience was Don Cooper, who will become city manager on Jan. 5. Good move. Not only will approval of the new regulations now come after he starts, Cooper will be in charge of carrying out whatever the commission agrees on.

Mailer on Mizner

On Tuesday, I wrote about the mailer to Boca Raton residents touting New Mizner on the Green, the four-tower condo project. The campaign is more than the mailer.

Tami Brehse works for the West Palm Beach-based O’Donnell Agency, which represents Elad National Properties, New Mizner’s developer. Brehse said the mailer went to 12,000 Boca residents. They then got follow-up phone calls asking them to support the project, which still hasn’t even been scheduled for a Community Redevelopment Agency workshop.

According to Brehse, Elad is “incorporating the feedback into the design” of New Mizner on the Green. After the holidays, Brehse said, Elad hopes that things will come “more info focus.”

To Mayor Susan Haynie, the campaign seems clear. “It’s a very progressive public relations move by a developer who is unable to produce an acceptable proposal,” she said Wednesday. The mailers and phone calls are “confusing our citizens. I’ve had lots of emails and phone calls.” While Haynie acknowledges the campaign as “the developer’s right,” she believes that the photo on the mailer is misleading. The photo looks down on the project’s model, an angle that Haynie says does not show the true perspective of how the towers—which would average more than 300 feet in height—would look in comparison to the neighborhood.

Haynie noted again that because the project seeks such a variance from the 100-foot height limit in that area “the staff cannot accept the plans.” For the council to consider the project in its current form, a council member would have to propose a planning amendment. Elad must believe that it can generate enough support to persuade at least one council member.

Boca Bowl almost a sell-out

As of Wednesday, only end-zone seats remain for the first Boca Raton Bowl, matching Marshall and Northern Illinois at FAU Stadium on Dec. 23. How great it would be if viewers of the ESPN owned-and-operated game saw a full house on a pleasant night.

And if you wonder why people get into politics, consider that Mayor Haynie gets to toss the coin. She can take a lesson from Joe Namath. At last January’s Super Bowl, Namath tossed the coin before the referee had indicated who would call it. Namath always had a quick release. Too quick that time.

Palm Beach County not Palm Beach

New think-tank numbers again show that for all the affluence of Boca Raton, Palm Beach and other areas, Palm Beach County is economically diverse.

Researchers for the Brookings Institute and the Urban Institute have released a county-by-county study of how many Americans apply for the Earned Income Tax Credit, and how much they receive. Congress created the tax break in 1975 as a way to encourage lower-income Americans to choose work over welfare. In 2012, according to the study, the credit moved 6.5 American adults and children in working poor families out of poverty.

Nationwide, based on 2012 figures, Americans in the Northeast and Upper Midwest used the credit least. Use was highest in Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama.

In Palm Beach County, 20.3 percent of residents sought the tax credit. That ranked 1,451st among the country’s 3,124 counties—near the middle. But the average credit received was $2,358. That ranked the county 948th, or well into the top third.

Only four federal tax deductions are bigger than the Earned Income Tax Credit, which mostly benefits those making between $10,000 and $20,000. Right above it in terms of overall donors is the mortgage deduction, which mostly benefits those making between $100,000 and $200,000. According to the researchers, the average claim in Palm Beach County for that tax break was $10,723—ranking the county 134th. That’s the Palm Beach County people usually think of.

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You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

For more City Watch blogs, click here.About the Author

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.

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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.