Sunday, April 14, 2024

Delray CRA Seats Open, Boca Plans Another Downtown Garage, and More Boca/Delray News

Delray CRA independent, but commission aims to tighten its grip

delray cra
The CRA received money toward community engagement and project design for Old School Square.

At least one board member of the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency won’t return after the city commission makes new appointments in July.

Last week, Paul Zacks withdrew his application for another four-year term. Zacks, a former chief assistant in the state attorney’s office, previously served on the board of adjustment and the planning and zoning board.

One day before Zacks withdrew, Mayor Cary Glickstein sent a letter to CRA Chairman Reggie Cox and Executive Director Jeff Costello. A week earlier, Glickstein and city commissioners Jim Chard and Shirley Ervin Johnson had formed a one-vote majority to keep the CRA board independent of the commission. Glickstein, though, made clear that he wanted the CRA board to align its policies more with those of the commission.

In the letter, Glickstein specified those preferred changes, calling them “suggestions.” He argued that though the CRA is an “independent agency,” it nevertheless is also “an agency of the city. . .In that regard, it is entirely consistent with the CRA’s legislative mandate that CRA policies remain consistent with policies adopted by the city commission.” Among Glickstein’s suggestions are:

  • That the city tell the CRA which important capital projects are within the CRA and thus could become funded by the CRA, not the city
  •  That the CRA no longer budget money that can’t be used in the next fiscal year
  • That the CRA maintain a contingency fund for infrastructure and public safety. The city manager would approve any expenditures from the fund
  • That the CRA not approve “third-party funding requests”—such as for non-profit groups—that the city has rejected unless the city’s denial comes with a recommendation that the CRA approve the request.
  • That the city attorney and the commission review proposals for sale of public land before the CRA sends out the proposals
  • That the CRA allow all of its board members to review meeting agendas in advance, as the commission does for agendas of its meetings
  • That Costello attend the weekly meetings of top city administrators and meet regularly with the city manager.

To Glickstein, these changes would create “a more cohesive” relationship that would “produce better results and lessen/eliminate controversy and misunderstanding.” To Zacks, it amounts to overreach, a sign that the CRA “will no longer enjoy independence in its decision-making.” Regarding his service, Zacks said, “It always struck me that Delray valued the input of its citizens so highly that we were empowered to make decisions on behalf of our fellow citizens. . .unfettered by either politics or the dictates of elected officials.”

Zacks again noted what he called the “irony” that “the same city commission which has shown difficulty in governing themselves now wants to govern the CRA as well.” Zacks did note that the results of the March election gave him “some reason for optimism in that regard.” He closed by praising Costello, the CRA staff in general and the other board members.

As of last week, the city had received nearly two dozen applications for the four CRA seats that the commission soon will fill. With Zacks out, Cox is the only incumbent at this point seeking a new term. In his letter, Glickstein said “significant change. . .is absolutely essential for the continued progress of our city.” One would assume that the letter will be required reading for the applicants.

Where to put new Boca downtown garage?

Boca Raton City Council members agreed on the need for another downtown parking garage. They kind of agreed that the garage could be west of the FEC tracks, part of the planned city campus makeover.

Maybe not.

During last Monday’s meeting of the council acting as the community redevelopment agency, Kim Delaney of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council updated council members on the plan for making Federal Highway more inviting to cyclists, walkers and commuters. Delaney compared the narrower, downtown “urban” section of U.S. 1 in Boca Raton to the wider section at the city’s north end. During the discussion, the subject of the garage arose.

Any “downtown” garage on the west side of the tracks likely would need a walkover to the east. Delaney noted that such walkovers—costing $7 million each—at Tri-Rail stations along the CSX corridor farther west have become problematic. Riders don’t like them. “People like to cross at the street,” Delaney said. At night, they’re unsafe. Tri-Rail stations on the FEC tracks—the so-called Coastal Link—would not have walkovers.

Delaney asked the council to consider, “What is the main purpose” of the downtown garage. “What is the best efficiency?” Councilman Robert Weinroth, who pushed hardest to speed up the garage, allowed that Delaney had “changed a few minds.”

So city staff will work with Song and Associates, the West Palm Beach architectural firm that is gathering information about the city-owned 28 acres just west of the FEC tracks and where the garage might have gone. The focus will be on where a garage might go and how the city might work with a private landowner, since there isn’t much open land east of the railroad.

College student district: Info needed

After the CRA presentation, Delaney returned during the city council workshop to talk about Boca Raton’s effort to create a college district near Florida Atlantic University. She was similarly helpful.

Until now, the area under study has been FAU and the area east to Dixie Highway, covering just the four blocks north and south of 20th Street. Delaney said the affected area actually goes west to Interstate 95, east to Federal Highway, north to Spanish River Boulevard and south to Glades Road.

Here’s one reason why: Boca Raton is upside down in terms of employment, with most people commuting in. The same is true of FAU. Most students drive to the commuter college that President John Kelly wants to make into a more traditional college. If more students live on or near the campus, traffic problems will decrease.

Some relief should come this summer, with the opening of the new I-95 interchange at Spanish River Boulevard. A different kind of relief, however, must come to single-family neighborhoods bordering FAU where many students rent houses. When such neighborhoods reach a 30 percent rental rate, Delaney said, they are “hard to bring back” to home ownership.

This district should happen. It makes sense for FAU. It makes sense for the city. The area is moving that way, and the demand is there. Delaney noted, however, that there will be “displacement.” Change will force out some incompatible businesses. Delaney warned that the city and FAU could go t0o far. The city still needs some of the businesses in what has been an industrial district. Example: car repair shops. Students drive, too.

Delaney said the city needs “a full economic assessment. We are data poor.” City staff will draw up a plan for the scope for the study’s second phase and how much it would cost. The hope is to have a second public meeting, known as a charrette, in January.

It’s the progress, stupid

Developments on the downtown garage and the student district reflect the city council’s new emphasis on showing progress toward completion of old priorities. Council members expressed this sentiment at their goal-setting session. Expect to hear it again when the session’s facilitator holds a follow-up meeting next month.

Boca approves hospital parking garage

After securing some minor concessions, the Boca Raton City Council last week approved zoning changes for Boca Raton Regional Hospital’s proposed parking garage.

Residents of single-family homes to the south and condos to the east objected the changes, which at first had the garage 100 feet away. After discussions between hospital representatives and the council, the setback went to 140 feet. Other conditions apply to landscaping that would buffer and the garage’s design, which will seek to minimize the amount of light the neighbors get.

Some neighbors wanted the hospital to put the garage on the north side of Meadows Road. Since the garage would be primarily for doctors and patients, that would be impractical. Boca Regional already ferries many employees to the hospital on shuttles from off-site parking.

A lawyer for some of the neighbors complained that the hearing should have been quasi-judicial, requiring sworn testimony and allowing more time for opponents to make their case. City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser responded that the issue involved an application of current policy, and thus no such hearing was required. All hearings involving the site plan for the garage, Frieser said, will be quasi-judicial.

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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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