Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Things Go Poof! In Delray

The Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency pulled a disappearing act this week. The board made two things vanish.

First to go was The Set Transformation Plan. A previous CRA commissioned it for nearly $100,000. City Commissioner Ryan Boylston called it “our plan to build wealth” in the minority-heavy neighborhoods north and south of Atlantic Avenue near I-95.

The CRA got the plan in late 2017. Since then, it had been “floating out there,” Boylston said. During public comment at last week’s city commission meeting, several African-American residents asked the commission to implement the plan.

Some speakers wore surgical masks, saying that they had been silenced. “We want a voice,” one speaker said. When some speakers tried to fill their allotted time by not speaking, Mayor Shelly Petrolia resisted. Things got testy.

Nevertheless, Executive Director Jeff Costello told me after the meeting that the board would discuss the plan at its June workshop meeting. When Boylston raised the issue during this week’s workshop, however, the other six board members decided that they wanted to ditch the plan.

Why? Factional politics likely explains it. One of the speakers last week was Reggie Cox, who had been chairman when the CRA board was independent. The commission took over the CRA after the 2018 elections that made Petrolia mayor. Cox and other ex-CRA board members opposed the move. Another speaker was Cox ally Chuck Ridley.

Both have been active with the West Atlantic Redevelopment Coalition (WARC). Some current commissioners believe that WARC has had too large a role in planning West Atlantic’s future.

Boylston proposed excising any mention of WARC from the plan. He got no takers. “I could care less (sic) about reviewing (the plan),” said appointed board member Angeleta Gray, a Cox critic.

So the plan for transforming a part of Delray Beach that everyone claims to prioritize is dead.

Downtowner’s wheels come off


Before Tuesday, Delray Beach CRA members thought that they had made progress on expanding downtown transportation. Then they learned that they hadn’t.

Last month, the CRA awarded contracts for a fixed-route shuttle and an on-demand service to the same company—Downtowner. This week, however, company officials told the CRA that they wanted to renegotiate because the numbers didn’t work. For either service.

One problem may have been that the city’s Request for Proposal required bidders to have at least $5 million of liability insurance. Downtowner said that was excessive under current standards. “That part is our mistake,” Mayor Shelley Petrolia said.

Otherwise, though, there was general griping about Downtowner not raising issues earlier. Procurement rules forbid the CRA from negotiating because it would have amounted to unfair treatment for other bidders.

So the CRA will negotiate with Cincinnati-based First Transit—the second choice—for the fixed-route service and with Freebee for the on-demand—known as point-to-point service. The company already operates in Fort Lauderdale and Miami. In the meantime, the city trolley will provide downtown shuttle service.

Growth management decimated?

What little remains in Florida of growth management could disappear if Gov. Ron DeSantis signs House Bill 7103.

The legislation began badly enough—as an attempt to weaken rules for developers to provide affordable housing. At the end of the session, it got much worse.

Though it’s a House bill, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, added an amendment near the end of the session. It passed along party lines in the Republican-controlled Legislature with no public debate. There was no staff analysis and no testimony. It’s easy to understand why legislators wanted secrecy.

Florida law requires that cities and counties make development projects consistent with their comprehensive plans. But under former Gov. Rick Scott, the state removed oversight of local development decisions. To keep cities and counties honest, the only alternative for citizens is to challenge the decision in court.

That’s hard enough. But the Brandes amendment requires the losing party in such lawsuits to pay both sides’ legal fees—at trial and for any appeals. As the Florida League of Women Voters stated in a letter to DeSantis asking him to veto HB 7103, “Requiring the losing party in comprehensive plan enforcement litigation be held liable for attorney fees of the prevailing party will act as a financial deterrent to all but the wealthiest citizens and will therefore create a chilling effect on the enforcement of comprehensive plans.”

The state already has a “loser-pay” law that covers frivolous challenges. So the intent of HB 7103 is to discourage legitimate challenges. Another part of the bill would require new cities to adopt comprehensive plans based on developers’ plans, not citizen input.

To understand the motivation for that portion of the bill, consider that the priority of Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, was a bill authorizing construction of new toll roads in rural areas. That would open up more of Florida to development—and new towns.

Changes to comprehensive plans can be necessary and proper. Cities and counties began crafting them more than three decades ago, after a very different Legislature passed the Growth Management Act, and local governments update the plans regularly to adjust for change.

Such plans, however, are the blueprints for cities and counties. Changing them strictly to accommodate a development does not serve the public good. If the governor is the Teddy Roosevelt Republican he claims to be, he will veto HB 7103.

CTCA loses incentive money

Five years ago, Boca Raton officials celebrated the move to the city from suburban Chicago by Cancer Treatment Centers of America. The company received a $2.4 million package of state and local incentives in return for employing 250 people at its headquarters on Broken Sound Parkway.

Last month, however, the county commission—at the company’s request—ended its portion of the package and transferred roughly $360,000 from the economic development fund to the general fund. The company also will not get the city and state portions of the incentive package because it didn’t meet the hiring goals.

In a statement, the company said, “Like everyone in health care today, Cancer Treatment Centers of America is operating more leanly in areas that do not sacrifice the exceptional level of patient care for which we are known.” The company has “over 100” employees in Boca Raton.

Business Development Board Director Kelly Smallridge, who helped to broker the incentive deal, told me that management wasn’t looking to move the headquarters. The statement said Cancer Treatment Centers of America remains “committed” the city and county.

City gives BRHS donation

Rachel Mizner Room rendering (Boca Raton Historical Society)

This week, the Boca Raton City Council approved $650,000 toward the expansion of the city’s historical society and museum and upgrades to the group’s headquarters at Old Town Hall, which the city owns.

I asked Mary Csar, the society’s executive director, when the work will be complete.

“To be honest,” Csar said, “we do not know yet. It will take about six months for the building improvements and then the (new) exhibits have to be installed. The exhibits are being built now, so they will be ready. A lot depends on how quickly we get started.”

She called the expansion “great for the community.”

Boca trims down

A tree torn out of the earth by Hurricane Irma. (Photo by David Shuff)

Boca Raton is pushing harder on a campaign to make the city safer during hurricanes.

The city started its Clean and Cut Program a year ago. It offers extra days of vegetation and bulk pickup during June at no added charge to residents.

As the city noted in a news release, the idea stemmed from problems during Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Residents waited too long to trim trees, and the sanitation system couldn’t keep up with the rush. So the city had to suspend pickup with much debris still in front of homes.

Last June, the city picked up 20 percent more waste than the year before. The city made a presentation on the program Wednesday night at the downtown library. Other cities are making similar efforts.

If memories of Irma aren’t enough, consider what Hurricane Michael did to the Panhandle last year. Trimming early protects you and your neighbors.

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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