Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Crocker’s Lawsuit, the Commission Race, Cane Gives Big and Other News of Note

If Crocker Partners’ $137 million lawsuit against Boca Raton gets to a trial, much argument will focus on the Jan. 23 meeting of the city council.

Two weeks earlier, at the first public hearing on rules for redevelopment of the Midtown area, there had been no support outside of Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke for her demand that the city create a Midtown master plan before approving any regulations. But at the second and final hearing, at which the council had to approve the regulations, O’Rourke found support.

Rather than negotiate with Crocker over the major issues, the council voted 4-1 for a “small area master plan.” The city never had tied such a study—one that neither O’Rourke nor anyone else could define—to a development order. Not until March did Development Services Director Brandon Schaad tell the council what the study might cover. The vote delayed any decision for perhaps a year. The council appeared to be stalling.

Crocker Partners Managing Partner Angelo Bianco said Monday that the company has begun gathering evidence but can’t do so in earnest until 120 days from when Crocker last week notified the city of its intent to seek damages. Under the state’s Bert Harris Act, Crocker claims that the city’s failure to approve development regulations essentially created an illegal building moratorium in Midtown and prevented the landowners from exercising their property rights. Crocker is Midtown’s largest landowner.

If the case gets to trial, expect an examination of the possible politics behind that Jan. 23 decision.

At the time, O’Rourke was the council member most closely tied to the BocaWatch website, which opposed Midtown and Crocker. BocaWatch also had regularly criticized then-Councilman Robert Weinroth. At the time of the first hearing, he faced a reelection challenge from Monica Mayotte, whom BocaWatch supported.

Between the hearings, however, Weinroth dropped out of the council race to run for county commission. He then voted with O’Rourke for that “small area master plan,” eight months after telling Crocker’s Angelo Bianco that he and the city were very close to agreement. BocaWatch now supports Weinroth in his county commission race against Mayor Susan Haynie.

Councilman Jeremy Rodgers faced his own reelection campaign. BocaWatch supported his opponent, Kim Do. Singer had announced that he would run for mayor in a special election that still was 14 months away.

O’Rourke also may get scrutiny from Crocker’s lawyers on a related Midtown matter. Tri-Rail wants to build a station near Boca Center. City planners have said the station must be open before any development can proceed. Under such an approach, without the station there would be no development.

The council is on record in support of the station. Last August, however, O’Rourke attended a meeting with Tri-Rail officials and raised several objections. Many of her questions seemed off-point.

Boca Raton never has faced litigation like that over Midtown. Whatever revelations emerge and whatever the result, what could have been a needed and helpful redevelopment project could be gone because the city stopped negotiating on Jan. 23.

And that’s the best-case scenario. The worst case is that the city loses Midtown and a lot of money.

Tennis contract update

Speaking of lawsuits, the firm representing Delray Beach in its challenge of the city’s pro tennis contract has withdrawn from the case.

City Attorney Max Lohman told me that the city commission had asked Weiss Serota Helfman Cole Bierman & Popov to amend the complaint, but the firm refused. Delray Beach alleges that a previous commission illegally awarded the 25-year contract in 2005 without competitive bidding. Lohman said the commission will seek another firm to take over the case.

Commission race war chest update

Robert WeinrothIn that county commission race between Robert Weinroth and Susan Haynie, Weinroth continues to outraise his former Boca Raton ally.

In March, Weinroth received about $20,000 in contributions, compared to about $11,800 for Haynie. His overall total of $57,600 is just $1,000 behind Haynie. She began campaigning in October. He started in January, after dropping out of the city council race.

Firearms lawsuit

I wrote last week about the Boca Raton City Council’s decision to join the city of Weston’s lawsuit against the state law that proscribes penalties for city and county officials who are accused of violating the state ban on local regulation of firearms.

Jeremy Rodgers was the only no vote. I was unable to get comment on his decision in time for the post.

Rodgers said he favors working with the Legislature on firearms issues. He said gun owners can face punishment if they violate state rules, so he’s OK with the same threat facing elected officials. The Legislature passed those penalties in 2011 because the National Rifle Association claimed that some cities were trying to get the 1987 law giving the state control of firearm rules.

So what if Boca Raton wanted to make its planned downtown government campus gun-free?

“That’s another item better done at the statewide level,” Rodgers said. “A reasonable argument could surely be made for it. Firearms are already banned at government meetings, including municipal.”

Rodgers noted the Legislature’s action this year in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. He called it “real change…the first in over 20 years, with bipartisan support. It was far from perfect and far from making everyone happy, but our efforts are better spent pushing the state for common sense safety.

“You can take this the other way. Are some cities now going to allow open carry? Are some going to allow [fully automatic weapons and .50-caliber machine guns] or sawed-off shotguns? This lawsuit is a disaster waiting to happen, and $10,000 of our taxpayer dollars are now being used towards it. Beyond that, it’s also being used towards some strong political means, and safety should never be a partisan issue.”

New COO at Boca Regional

Boca Raton Regional Hospital has a new chief operating officer.

Mindy Shikiar, who has been with Boca Regional since 2003, replaces Karen Poole. A news release announcing the change said Poole is retiring. Boca Regional is expected to decide by this summer on a partner as the hospital deals with health care consolidation. CEO Jerry Fedele will stay on a year past his own previously announced retirement date of August.

Dan Cane gives big to FAU’s Henderson

When writing for Boca mag’s April edition about Modernizing Medicine CEO Dan Cane as an Influencer, I noted his recent move into the city. That was one civic contribution. Here’s another.

Florida Atlantic University today will announce that Cane and his wife, Debra, are giving $1 million to FAU’s A.D. Henderson Lab School. The Canes children attend Henderson. Cane, whose company last year announced a major expansion, said he believes that hometown businesses should give back to their communities. Clearly.

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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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