Thursday, May 16, 2024

Delray Considers Events Policy and Flood Control

On Saturday, Delray Beach was hosting two big downtown events—Delray Affair and the Billie Jean King Cup qualifier. Coincidentally, the city commission will discuss the city’s special events policy at today’s 3 p.m. workshop meeting.

Several years ago, when Carey Glickstein was mayor, the commission approved a policy that seemed final but apparently wasn’t. That time, the priority was to restrict the number of events. Commissioners said residents had complained that they got no benefits from events that closed much of downtown and attracted lots of outsiders.

Mayor Shelly Petrolia is the only holdover elected official from that time. At the time, she echoed the prevailing sentiment and added that Delray Beach had reached the point where the city didn’t need special events to draw visitors.

Then, as now, Delray Beach was trying to strike a balance. Commissioner Ryan Boylston said Monday that the balance has swung too far against groups seeking to host events.

The previous action created a task force of city staff members to evaluate event permits. “I’ve been hearing,” Boylston said, “that it’s become really hard” to obtain a permit. That staff review focuses primarily on how much Delray Beach might have to pay to provide police and fire-rescue services. Boylston said the reviews now risk having staff members decide which events “are right for Delray.”

Another aspect of this issue arose in February. City Manager Terrence Moore closed part of Atlantic Avenue for a Martin Luther King Day event. He acted within his authority, but he didn’t tell the commissioners, who got phone calls griping about the closure. Moore acknowledged Monday that the city needs to fix the “disconnect” on special events.

Delray Beach has a problem that many cities would want: the city is popular. And the issue doesn’t concern just Delray Affair and major events downtown.

Boylston cited the example of people who want to do yoga at the beach. Small groups of friends are fine. But what happens when someone wants to teach a class of 25 or 50 and charge for it. “Everyone who does yoga at the beach,” Boylston said, “has called me.”

The proposed new policy would require a permit for any gathering of at least 25 people. It would continue events that the city runs—the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the holiday tree lighting—or runs with “an affiliated partner.” There are now 19. Commissioner Adam Frankel said there may be even more.

The policy also appears to concentrate most on “impact events,” defined as those that will draw at least 5,000 people. The rewrite also notes that, at least until next September, the Downtown Development Authority manages Old School Square. Many other changes are in the proposed document.

Boylston cited this weekend’s bed race as the type of event the city should welcome. It requires closing just one block of Atlantic Avenue, Boylston said, so the scale is right. “It was gone for 11 years. I’m glad it’s back.”

Frankel, who lives downtown, said the city needs to hear from all “stakeholders.” He noted that the DDA sent out an email pushing back at restrictions on events but didn’t send it to downtown residents “who feel the impact from the events.”

Frankel also said City Attorney Lynn Gelin told him that she hadn’t seen the 18-page proposal. Police and fire officials, Frankel said, have told him that they worry about events that close Federal Highway and one or more of the three bridges to the barrier island. There’s a lot to this issue.

A one-hour workshop likely won’t be enough to finalize the policy. I’ll have an update after the meeting.

Coco Gauff leads U.S. to Billie Jean King Cup finals

Cori “Coco” Gauff, photo by Aaron Bristol

Speaking of those two big weekend events, Moore said that they ran “smoothly”, despite both being staged downtown on Friday and Saturday.

Local hero Coco Gauff helped lead the United States team to a 4-0 victory over Austria in the Billie Jean King Cup qualifier. The Americans will join winners of the other qualifiers in the November finals.

Fort Lauderdale floods spur Delray stormwater discussion

Given the biblical rains that fell last week on Fort Lauderdale, Moore said the timing is “impeccable” for the city commission to discuss stormwater at today’s regular meeting.

Rates for maintaining Delray Beach’s flood-control system have not changed in 17 years. Moore said the study on today’s agenda argues for raising commercial rates and possibly lowering them for homeowners. I’ll update after the meeting.

Delray to consider settlement in whistleblower suit

Also today, the city commission will decide whether to approve a settlement with Christine Ferrigan. In her federal lawsuit, the former city employee alleged that she was fired for exposing problems with Delray Beach’s water supply.

Gelin recommends approval of the settlement, terms of which are not disclosed. Ferrigan previously sued Boca Raton under similar circumstances and making similar allegations. Boca Raton also settled that case.

Vacation rental bill still in play

Photo via Adobe Stock

Bills that would strip more local control from cities over short-term/vacation rentals remain in play with three weeks remaining in the legislative session. An example from last year in Boca Raton shows why local control is important.

City officials had received numerous complaints about the house at 960 Northwest Fourth Court. Despite their denials, it seemed clear that the owners—who lived in Miami—were using it as a short-term rental and violating city code. Speakers told city council members about excessive noise and guests coming and going every few days. A garage, they said, had been converted to living space, to allow more occupants.

After the city began assessing fines, the owners went to court. A magistrate ruled for the city. The owners planned to appeal, then dropped the case because they were going to sell the house. Records show that it sold last July for $1.375 million, a profit of $425,000 in nine months. The mailing address for the new owners matches the street address.

The vacation rental industry would like the Legislature to preempt all regulation to Tallahassee. Doing so would endanger single-family neighborhoods in desirable destinations such as Boca Raton and Delray Beach.

By the way, the owners in this case still own the property across the street.

Boca Raton to honor FAU basketball team

Boca Raton will honor the Final Four Florida Atlantic University men’s basketball team Wednesday at Mizner Park.

The free event begins at 5 p.m. It will feature food, games and music. Along with the players who came one buzzer-beater from playing for the national championship and Coach Dusty May will be appearances by FAU’s pep band and cheerleaders.

At 6 p.m., Mayor Scott Singer will present May and the team a key to the city. Singer has said the city will seek marketing opportunities with the team. FAU and May just agreed on a 10-year contract extension that, according to CBS Sports, will pay May more than $1 million a year.

Part of that deal is FAU’s commitment to upgrade the basketball facilities. May, then an assistant at the University of Florida, took the FAU job in 2018 without seeing the gym. After he did, May tried to back out, news reports said, telling his wife that he had “committed career suicide.”

Under May, FAU never has had a losing season. The challenge will be to sustain that record as FAU moves to the higher-ranked American Athletic Conference.

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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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