Monday, May 29, 2023

Tower Troubles, Boca Regional Merges, and Other Boca Updates

Boca Raton finds itself in an unusual position today.

Normally, the city reviews development applications. This time, the city is the applicant, and the request has created some controversy.

Boca Raton wants to build a 400-foot communications tower on the southeast corner of what is now the city’s 18-hole golf course—at Glades Road and the Florida Turnpike. The structure would replace a 200-foot tower in a different spot on the roughly 200-acre property.

The tower would serve Boca Raton’s police and fire department radio networks. The county would share the tower and use it for the same purpose. A covenant would restrict the tower to public use.

Simple enough? Not hardly.

Some critics question the cost, which will be at least $2.2 million and could be $3 million, according to Deputy City Manager George Brown. Neighbors of the proposed location intend to oppose the tower when the Palm Beach County Commission decides whether to approve it. The hearing starts at 9:30 a.m.

Dan Cohen owns a self-storage business and a wireless company on Boca Rio Road next to the tower site. He also owns a vacant, adjoining property to the north that would be east of the tower. Cohen said that land “would lose significant value” if the tower goes up. He also worries that if the tower fell, it would fall onto his property.

According to Cohen, county regulations require a “fall zone” around such towers of 150 percent. That would be 600 feet. The proposed location is much closer. The county staff’s memo counters that the tower would have “breakpoint design” above 140 feet. If the tower went down, it supposedly would collapse onto itself, not topple onto Cohen’s property.

Cohen acknowledged that there’s a 499-foot communications tower on his land. The difference, Cohen said, is that ground wires secure his structure. The city’s tower would be freestanding. The city is seeking five setback waivers.

There likely will be a debate about options. The staff report said the county conducted an “exhaustive” review of other sites and found them all inferior. Cohen said “nearly all of his objections” would vanish if the city wanted to build only another 200-foot tower. Brown said the city and county prefer the taller structure.

Two weeks ago, when the city council voted to transmit the application to the county, Brown called the tower vital to Boca Raton’s communications network. There isn’t a backup plan if the county commission rejects the project.

Opponents might claim that the city is moving the tower to please GL Homes, which has a contract to buy the golf course land for $65 million and has received approval from the county to build 564 homes on it. The tower will be far from where the homes would be, and GL has expressed no opposition.

County commissioners represent single-member districts. Whatever opposition they hear today, only Mary Lou Berger—the site is in her district—would have to worry about voter anger. West Boca residents only can vote in District 5. And Berger is term-limited.

Robert Weinroth’s district includes the city, where the objection is financial. You could see the vote going 5-2 in favor of the tower, with Berger and Weinroth opposed and the majority citing the need for upgraded public safety communications.

Cohen said, “We would just like a 30-day delay to see if there are alternatives.”

Hospital merger and the Foundation

Boca Raton Regional Hospital

On Monday, Boca Raton Regional Hospital joins Baptist Health South Florida. Boca Regional’s fundraising organization, however, will remain independent.

I spoke Wednesday with Mark Larkin, who has been president of the Boca Raton Regional Hospital Foundation since 2015. The foundation’s status, Larkin said, was settled early in discussions between Boca Regional and Baptist. To paraphrase the famous Las Vegas slogan, what gets raised in Boca will stay in Boca.

Baptist Health correctly didn’t want to mess with success. Boca Regional will be the company’s 11th hospital. On its own, Larkin said, Boca Regional raises more than all of Baptist’s 10 other hospitals.

The foundation board will remain. Larkin will report to incoming Boca Regional CEO Lincoln Mendez, as he now reports to Jerry Fedele. Like Fedele, Larkin praises the new partnership.

Lincoln Mendez, incoming CEO of Boca Raton Regional Hospital

Baptist Health, Larkin said, “provides us with great stability.” As I reported, Baptist will contribute money toward Boca Regional’s main campus makeover that began at $500 million and now is closer to $650 million. The Boca Regional board votes on the capital plan today.

Larkin said the foundation has raised about $125 million toward its goal of $250 million for the program. Impressive as that number is, Larkin said, “We couldn’t guarantee” before the Baptist partnership that the hospital would have had all the financing for the program before the partnership with Baptist. Now Boca Regional can tell prospective donors that there is certainty. He expects the fundraising campaign to end in late 2022 or early 2023.

Fedele and the Boca Regional board pushed “all along” to keep the foundation independent, Larkin said. “We weren’t looking for a savior.” So the hospital got a smart and generous partner.

Haynie update

Former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie

Palm Beach County prosecutors this week filed notice of additional discovery in the case against former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie.

Assistant State Attorney Brian Fernandes wants to examine the city council’s vote on Oct. 27, 2015 to abandon a public utility easement at 101 Pine Circle. The property is just west of City Hall in Boca Raton Hills.

At the time, the owner of the property was James Batmasian of Investments Limited. The seven public corruption charges against Haynie allege that she failed to disclose income she received from Batmasian and cast votes that helped him.

The charging documents cite four votes. They don’t include that vote in October 2015. The council approved a rezoning when Batmasian sought to build eight townhomes on the property. As with the utility abandonment, the vote was unanimous and drew little controversy. Approval came with conditions to ensure traffic safety.

Batmasian has since flipped the property. He sold it in August 2016 for $1.55 million, having bought it four years earlier for $737,000. Obviously, the rezoning and abandonment increased the value of the property.

A status conference on Haynie’s case is scheduled for July 15. Haynie’s attorney has said that he expects the trial to take place in October.

Wrongful death lawsuit

(Photo by Rawpixel)

A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed from the April 2018 crash in Delray Beach that killed a family of four visiting from Mexico.

Paul Wilson Streater faces 11 criminal charges. Investigators say that he was driving at more than 100 miles an hour on Federal Highway south of Linton Boulevard and crashed into a minivan driven by Jorge Raschiotto. According to the probable cause affidavit, Streater hit the van so hard that the vehicles traveled together nearly the length of a football field.

Streater claimed that his car malfunctioned. Prosecutors allege that he had sniffed an inhalant and drove while severely impaired. Streater is on house arrest and has moved to Flagler County, south of Jacksonville. His trial may start this fall.

Tri-Rail land lease deal

Boca Raton Tri-Rail station. (Photo by Aaron Bristol)

At Friday’s meeting, the Tri-Rail board may approve a deal to lease roughly eight acres of land next to the Boca Raton station on Yamato Road.

An entity of PEBB Enterprises proposes a six-story building housing medical offices and retail and restaurant space. The project also would have an eight-story parking garage. Tri-Rail would lease the site for 95 years—that essentially would mean ownership—with PEBB paying $425,000 in rent the first year. There would be annual increases of 1.5 percent, and the two sides renegotiate the lease terms after 35 and 75 years.

Tri-Rail chose PEBB from among three bidders because board members and staff believe that the company’s project fits best in that area. Boca Raton would have to approve the proposal.

Two subplots have emerged. Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale would be a “principal participant” with PEBB in developing a “unique orthopedic center of excellence” within the project, according to a letter from the hospital’s CEO. Boca Raton Regional Hospital CEO Jerry Fedele previously had written to Tri-Rail, saying that PEBB’s application would face “strong opposition” from the hospital.

Fedele notes that medical offices in Boca Raton’s northwest sector must be linked to a hospital or educational institution within the city. Fedele claimed that Holy Cross was misrepresenting its relationship with Florida Atlantic University. Holy Cross says the hospital has no relationship with FAU as it concerns the PEBB project.

In addition, the Lake Worth Drainage District owns 11 acres next to the Tri-Rail property and may want to sell that property. District officials note that a combined parcel could be more valuable. The two agencies will discuss the idea on July 9, so the Tri-Rail board may postpone a decision on PEBB until after that meeting.

And keeping the shuttle going

Also at that Friday meeting, the Tri-Rail board will extend its agreement under which Boca Raton provides shuttle service from the Yamato Road station to Boca Center, just east of Town Center Mall.

The agreement will last until October 2020. The city obtained a $177,000 federal grant for the service, which allows employees who work at and near the mall—the Midtown neighborhood—to use Tri-Rail. Yamato Road is Tri-Rail’s busiest station. The agency wants to add a Boca Center station, but that stalled because of the factional politics that stalled redevelopment of Midtown.

Delray City manager deadline

Friday is the deadline for applications to be Delray Beach’s permanent city manager. A consultant will cull the applicants and present the finalists to the city commission.

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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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