Tuesday, November 28, 2023

County Commission Sells Out on Agricultural Reserve & No Change On Old School Square

The Palm Beach County Commission will move ahead on a plan that could put 1,250 homes northwest of Boca Raton in the Agricultural Reserve Area.

On Wednesday, the commission voted 4-3 to seek state review of the deal under which GL Homes would give the county 1,600 acres near West Palm Beach in exchange for permission to build those homes. It would be the first time that the county allowed a company to trade development rights outside the reserve for rights within the reserve.

Commissioners Maria Marino, Melissa McKinlay, Robert Weinroth and Gregg Weiss voted for what technically is called “transmittal” to the state. Mack Bernarde, Dave Kerner and Maria Sachs—whose district includes the reserve area—voted against the proposal.

The voter-approved bond program and plan designed to preserve farming within the reserve dates to 1999. Several commissioners—none of whom were in office then—misread or misinterpreted that plan. Example: Weinroth.

He noted that the bond purchased only about 2,400 of acres within the reserve for preservation. Under rules that went with the bond, GL has preserved roughly 6,000 acres. Developers must leave open 60 percent of all the properties on which they build? Why should this commission be slave to the bond program just because voters approved it? Aren’t developers doing an even better job at saving land?

In fact, the bond program would have bought more land, but the county was competing for it with GL and other developers. As Karen Marcus, who was on the commission in 1999 and co-founded the group Sustainable Palm Beach County, put it, that’s why the rules have mattered so much. Those are the rules this land swap would break.

Though the proposal came from GL Homes, Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said she asked the company to bring it to the county. McKinlay said the northern land could benefit from water projects that make use of those 1,600 acres. She cited a “countywide benefit.” Critics responded that the county should not potentially sacrifice the Agricultural Reserve Area—outside of McKinlay’s district—for this benefit.

Weinroth and Weiss said they simply wanted more details. The commission still could reject the proposal. I’ll have more when it comes back to the commission.

Old School Square termination imminent

delray old school square
Old School Square

Old School Square supporters packed the Delray Beach City Commission chambers on Tuesday, hoping to change minds. Those minds still weren’t open to changing.

Speaker after speaker asked Mayor Shelly Petrolia and commissioners Julie Casale and Shirley Johnson to reconsider their August votes to terminate the lease that Old School Square for the Arts has held for 32 years. Some of the speakers serve on the group’s board. Frances Bourque, who founded the city’s cultural hub, was in the audience.

As usual, none of it mattered.

Petrolia, Casale and Johnson barely acknowledged the speakers. In one way, that was no surprise. They refused even to hold an executive session on Old School Square for the Arts’ offer to settle the group’s lawsuit alleging wrongful termination.

In another sense, however, it continued the frustration for the roughly 11,000 residents who have signed petitions asking the city at least to meet with Old School Square and try to resolve the differences. Petrolia, Casale and Johnson terminated the lease without cause. While they have criticized Old School Square for allegedly failing to supply documents, they have not explained in detail their reasons for ending the lease.

“They keep reaching for decisions to justify their action,” Commissioner Ryan Boylston said after the meeting. He and Adam Frankel opposed termination. Casale continued to claim that she intended her vote only to prompt discussions between the group and the city. The vote had one effect: to end the lease.

That termination takes effect Wednesday, with the city having not found a replacement organization to run Old School Square. The group will continue its public relations effort with a free concert and rally Friday from 6 p.m. until 10:30 p.m.

The event is called “Turn the Tide Delray.” The group will accept donations toward what the group calls its “fight to maintain its right to continue to provide enriched art and cultural programming to the Delray community and destination visitors, and to support other non-profits falling victim to the same unchecked municipal powers.” Over the last three decades, Old School Square has supported many non-profit groups.”

Old School Square Chairman Patty Jones spoke at Tuesday’s meeting. In a statement, she said, “This corrupt attempt to oust us is not supported by this community, as demonstrated in the tens of thousands of voices, signatures and letters sent in advocacy of OSS, and (today’s) event is an opportunity for us all to come together—through music, demonstration, and community engagement—to remind our elected officials that we cannot be pushed aside or silenced.”

Two state bills pass

Old and new capitol buildings in Tallahassee, Florida. (State Archives of Florida)

I have written about two bills in the Florida Senate that are designed to undercut or head off any attempt by cities and counties to regulate private businesses. With the session not half over, those bills have passed the full Senate.

That speed is no surprise. SB 620 and SB 280 are priorities of Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby. In contrast, neither House version of the bills has had even a hearing. Even if they don’t move far in the House, they could get fast-tracked in the days before the session ends on March 11.

Boca Raton and Delray Beach oppose both bills. Sens. Tina Polsky and Lori Berman, who represent the cities, voted against each one.

Bezos Academy

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

A Bezos Academy preschool will open this fall next to Boca Raton’s A.D. Henderson University School.

Henderson is on the Florida Atlantic University campus. The FAU board aproved a 10-year agreement for the academy. It will be a tuition-free preschool, financed through a foundation started by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.

Bezos started the academies two years ago. They operate under the Montessori learning program. Bezos attended a Montessori school when he was two, and he believes that he benefited from that structure.

According to a news release, the school will operate year-round and accept children between 3 and 5 years old. Though the academies are designed to serve low-income children, families earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level—or roughly $100,000—can apply. Information will be available at www.bezosacademy.org.

Another big BRRH donation

Boca Raton Regional Hospital has received $2 million more toward its Keeping the Promise capital campaign.

The gift comes from Robyn Moncrief, a retired surgeon at the hospital, and her husband, Alex Gellman. The donation brings donations toward the campaign’s goal of $250 million to $225 million.

Boca Square ALF opposition

It soon may be news that the Boca Raton City Council doesn’t hear from someone opposed to an assisted living facility near Addison Mizner School.

In December, one potential neighbor of the project sat through two hours of debate on an unrelated topic at a council meeting to express her opposition. At the most recent meeting, another potential neighbor did the same.

As council members regularly respond, the project still isn’t scheduled for any advisory board review. But the people who live nearby clearly intend to let the council know regularly how they feel.


In my Tuesday post, I said that the city manager and city attorney are the only Delray Beach employees who report to the city commission. The internal auditor also reports to the commission.

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.


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