Will De Jesus Stay, Update on Atlantic Crossing, News from Delray and Boca

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Neal de Jesus during his tenure as fire chief

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“Should I stay or should I go…”

Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein wants to remove the “Interim” from Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus’s title. OK, but then what is he?

In a city that argued for hours over a dog beach, almost everyone seems to love de Jesus. If he was popular as fire chief, he’s approaching deification as the supposed fill-in until the city commission chooses a permanent replacement for Don Cooper, who resigned in December because of family health reasons.

Residents like de Jesus because he’s approachable. Commissioners like de Jesus because he’s made the meetings more focused. Tuesday’s meeting lasted only about two hours. Previously, even meetings with similarly light agendas could last twice as long. Everything possible now goes on the consent agenda, with commissioners retaining the right to pull items for debate.

If de Jesus indicated that he wanted the job, the commission probably would give it to him. But de Jesus has said that he would return to the fire department. Still, he hasn’t presented to the commission even a plan for choosing a permanent manager.

Will someone call the question? At her first meeting, new Commissioner Shirley Johnson said of de Jesus, “I heard that he does not want to be (the permanent manager.) If that’s his desire, we shouldn’t force him to continue.”

It had been clear that de Jesus would stay until after the election. Jim Chard, who also is new to the commission, said, “I think it’s up to him” to decide what happens now. Perhaps, Chard suggested, the commission could discuss the next step during one of what will be three goal-setting sessions.

If a majority of commissioners want de Jesus to stay, however, wouldn’t it be important to decide that before goal-setting? Also, the city’s top administrators should know if de Jesus is staying.

“That’s the problem with the substitute teacher,” Glickstein said. He wants the commission to “formalize” de Jesus’s role, which would include paying him closer to the $250,000 the commission envisioned might be necessary to attract a top-flight manager. That higher-paid status could last indefinitely or settle the issue. Whatever outcome de Jesus and the commission prefer, Glickstein said, “That dialogue is going to have to start soon.”

House Bill 17

Elected officials from Boca Raton, Delray Beach and many other cities have been in Tallahassee to speak against House Bill 17, which would prevent cities and counties from regulating most businesses. Local governments would have to abolish any existing regulations by mid-2020. It’s one of the worst ideas to kick around Tallahassee in recent years, and that’s saying something.

Despite Florida’s opioid crisis, under HB 17 cities likely could not regulate sober homes. That’s how Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein reads the bill. The push behind the legislation may be coming from other businesses that want to buy off one group of politicians rather than many, but the sweeping nature of it can produce the same sort of unintended consequences that could come from the waterfront ordinance in Boca Raton.

In Delray, the impatience for progress on the opioid epidemic and sober house proliferation continues. The subject arose during Tuesday night’s city commission meeting. City Attorney Max Lohman asked for patience while the city’s consulting attorneys prepare a review of laws that could allow regulation of what until now have been unregulated sober homes.

Lohman cited Prescott, Ariz. Like Delray Beach, its quality of life has drawn many young addicts who go through treatment and then seek to stay clean in a sober home not connected to the treatment center. Last year, the Arizona Legislature allowed local government to regulate health and safety standards for sober homes. The Florida Legislature might go in the opposite direction.

HB 17 has gone through just one committee, and there is no Senate companion bill. Still, if the legislation is a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz, it could be up for trading during the last days of the session between Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. The session ends on May 5.

Substance use disorder talks

Suzanne Spencer said she has “stepped down” as director of the Delray Beach Drug Task Force, but she still hosted last month’s SUD—Substance Use Disorder—Talks at the Crest Theater.

The third annual event brought together experts in a format similar to the TED—Technology, Entertainment and Design—Talks that are popular in Silicon Valley. As always, the range of issues showed that the problem is much bigger than Delray Beach, but Spencer said Delray is also positioned to respond.

“We are such a unique city,” she said. “We have such a progressive (police) chief,” Jeffrey Goldman, who presented at the SUD Talks. Spencer also believes that the county’s sober homes task force is “well on their way to making a great impact.”

Whatever happens with regulation, Spencer favors a stronger emphasis on prevention. “What are our choices?” she asked. “Harm reduction.”

Atlantic Crossing settlement

The Delray Beach City Commission will hold a special meeting next Thursday to discuss and likely approve a new Atlantic Crossing settlement proposal.

The commission met Tuesday in executive session to discuss the lawsuit. Last month, the commission approved a settlement, but Edwards Companies—the Atlantic Crossing developer—asked for changes. Presumably, this new offer from the city will reflect the discussion that took place during Tuesday’s meeting. Edwards is seeking $40 million in damages because the project remains unbuilt.

Boca Colonnade

The debate tonight at the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board over a project in the city’s northwest may foreshadow the coming debate over proposed zoning changes for the Midtown neighborhood.

Boca Colonnade, which now includes two office buildings on the northeast corner of Yamato Road and Congress Avenue, wants to add its third and final phase—a 322-unit apartment building. The eight-story tower would require changes to past approvals but no technical deviations. Staff recommends approval.

The interesting thing is that Boca Colonnade is a planned mobility development, a category the city created to encourage creative ideas on traffic. The project is in the Park at Broken Sound—formerly the Arvida Park of Commerce. According to the backup material, it would be the seventh planned mobility project proposed for the city, all but one of them in the Park at Broken Sound.

Residents of Broken Sound approached the city several years ago with an idea that became the planned mobility concept. Though the park had succeeded in attracting businesses, a lot of traffic had resulted, because office space generates the most traffic. Broken Sound residents suggested that housing might attract some of those employees, who then would have almost no commute. Those who live at Boca Colonnade also might use the shuttle to the Yamato Road Tri-Rail station and avoid commutes to jobs elsewhere.

The city also designated Midtown—the area between Town Center Mall and Interstate 95—for Planned Mobility Development. Only recently, however, has the city started to implement rules under which the four property owners in Midtown could add residential. There has been concern from the four surrounding neighborhoods: Via Verde, Boca Bath & Tennis, Paradise Palms and Fairfield.

At this point, 2,500 units are proposed for the roughly 300 developable acres of Midtown. That’s the same number of units allowed in the Park at Broken Sound. The city has approved 1,320 units, all of which are under construction. Boca Colonnade would make the total 1,642.

Whatever happens with this project, I would expect lots of discussion about the expected effect of the new residents on the Park at Broken Sound when the proposals for Midtown go before the planning and zoning board. That could happen this month or next. The questions will be whether those 2,500 units would be too many and where those units might be.

Still waiting for Louie

Things continue humming at the new Hyatt Place Hotel in Boca Raton, but the Louie Bossi restaurant that will front onto East Palmetto Park Road hasn’t opened. Audra Durham, the hotel’s marketing director, told me the plan is for the restaurant to open in early May.

CORRECTION:

I wrote on Tuesday that Delray Beach is a finalist for what would be its third All-America City award. In fact, the city is under consideration as a finalist.