Friday, May 24, 2024

Delray Beach and BH3 Say “I Do”

“We’re married.”

So said Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia to Daniel Lebehnson, co-owner of BH3, Tuesday morning. Petrolia and the other community redevelopment agency board members had just approved the agreement for BH3 to acquire the CRA-owned site 9 acres next to the Fairfield Inn and develop what the city hopes will be a transformational project.

Neil Schiller, BH3’s attorney, acknowledged that the company “would not be giving the city a check” for the site. Other bidders had offered $4 million, though most attached conditions. During earlier debate on the property, some residents criticized Petrolia and other CRA members for not seeking top dollar.

So Schiller noted that BH3 would build two parking garages and a parking lot as part of the project. They would add, Schiller said, 206 spaces along Atlantic Avenue with a value of $10.6 million. In addition, Schiller said, BH3 would build 18 workforce housing units—aimed at the wage-earning middle class—near the site. Those, he said, would be worth about $5 million.

Schiller said the deal would bring “extraordinary value” to Delray Beach. “Sometimes that gets lost.” He called the agreement “not a normal, regular deal.”

No board member, however, carped about the numbers. The main issue was whether BH3 would keep its vows and remain Delray Beach’s partner in this public-private marriage.

To address the city’s concern about BH3 potentially flipping the property, the company will be able to bring in other investors as long as they collectively didn’t have a majority share. If their share reached 51 percent, BH3 would have to pay the CRA $4 million.

Petrolia had wanted a higher penalty—perhaps $7.2 million. That’s how much the CRA spent to assemble the three blocks. But most board members were satisfied with $4 million, tying that to the offers from other bidders.

(Rendering by BH3)

Debate on this topic included whether Lebehnson would be able to give his daughters shares in BH3. His daughters are 11 and 7 years old, and presumably would not be management material until the project is complete. At the suggestion of CRA Attorney D.J. Doody, the addition to the agreement of the word “notwithstanding” resolved the issue.

The CRA board also had to decide what could trigger the agency’s ability to repurchase the property. That could be necessary if the agency sensed that BH3 couldn’t or wouldn’t finish the job. When a previous developer couldn’t obtain financing, the CRA took back the site in late 2016.

So BH3 must begin work on the block that would include a grocery store and parking garage no later than six months after obtaining approvals for that portion of the project. The CRA had wanted the condition wider—work on all three blocks. The compromise notes that the grocery store has been the priority for the CRA.

When the meeting ended, the mood was upbeat. Even those who had voted against BH3 in January joined the unanimous vote to approve the agreement. There was talk of naming the roughly $100 million project Frog Alley, after the centerpiece public space in the design.

Of course, there was much optimism in 2013, when the CRA picked Uptown Delray. With BH3, the CRA hopes that this marriage lasts.

Delray Beach addresses rising seas

If only Congress and the Florida Legislature took climate change as seriously as Delray Beach.

In February, the city commission heard a consultant estimate that it will take almost $400 million to fortify the city against rising seas. The report broke down projects and cost in impressive detail.

On Tuesday, the commission heard a follow-up presentation from Missie Barletto, the city’s assistant director of public works. She spoke of the need to raise roadways and rebuild aging pump stations, such as the one on Thomas Street near the beach. Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus said it fails every year.

There has been progress. Half of Delray Beach’s public seawalls, Barletto said, have been raised or are being raised. The big problem is that most seawalls are private. Of those, most are below current standards. Unless every seawall is the same height, water will find the low point. Improvements must be citywide, de Jesus said, or the effort will be “a waste of time.”

So the commission must decide how to pay for the work and which residents should pay what amount. Should residents in the most at-risk neighborhoods pay more? Barletto said the commission also must approve an ordinance to require the improvements and set penalties for those who don’t comply.

Commissioners generally agreed that the city must conduct public outreach, especially in coastal neighborhoods. Commissioner Ryan Boylston suggested a series of town hall-type meetings.

“We must have buy-in from the public,” Mayor Shelly Petrolia said.

As for payment, Petrolia wondered if the city could create a fund into which residents pay “a little amount each month” to get the work started. The city also hopes to obtain federal and/or state grants.

De Jesus stressed the need for perspective. Despite that daunting number, he said, the work will happen over three decades.

Still, as Petrolia said, “This is a huge nut” for one city. Rather then deny the problem, however, Delray Beach wants to act before a problem becomes a crisis.

The Mankos say they will sell

Camino Square

It was such a Boca moment.

On Monday, during debate over Camino Square, a woman rose to speak in favor of the project. Her property is nearby, and she hopes to benefit.

The woman was Alana Manko. She and her husband, Steven Manko, own sober houses in Boca Raton. One is just west of where Camino Square would go.

A week before she addressed the council, Manko, her husband and their daughter had been charged with two counts of patient brokering and one count of conspiracy to commit patient brokering. That’s when treatment centers get kickbacks from laboratories and other facilities for referrals. The Mankos also own a treatment center, called Treatment Alternatives, on North Federal Highway near the Delray Beach city line.

Not surprisingly, Manko didn’t mention her arrest when she addressed the council. She said simply that if Camino Square boosted property values, she would sell the two parcels that make up the sober home—at 329 West Camino Real and 899 Southwest Third Avenue. The Mankos own them through a company called Regency Properties. City officials and neighbors long have considered the sober home an eyesore.

Steven Manko sued Boca Raton in 2003, when the city tried to confine sober homes to certain neighborhoods. The city lost the lawsuit, but U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks awarded only nominal damages. Though Boca Raton didn’t prevail, former Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein believes that the litigation drove most sober homes to Delray Beach.

I interviewed the Mankos several years ago. We spoke about all the bad actors in the drug treatment industry. Alana Manko said she and her husband “want to do the right thing. I don’t look good in orange.”

Historical Society gets dollars

Rachel Mizner Room rendering (Boca Raton Historical Society)

Boca Raton will spend $650,000 toward the expansion of the city’s historical society.

The city had hoped to obtain a state grant for its portion, but the money didn’t get into the proposed budget. The society is raising private money but wanted the city to help with structural improvements since the city owns the society’s headquarters—the old town hall.

Council members couldn’t vote during Tuesday’s meeting, but they agreed to chip in. City Manager Leif Ahnell said a budget amendment and contract would take about a month to write. Mary Csar, the society’s executive director, said the city’s commitment would encourage reluctant donors. The entire project is estimated to cost about $2.1 million.

Weed killers a topic

Boca Raton City Council members usually don’t discussion individual items on the consent agenda, which includes items that the city manager considers routine. On Tuesday, they did.

The item was a contract for weed killers. Readers of this blog know that some Boca Raton residents have wrongly accused the Recreation Services Department of using dangerous chemicals and endangering residents. Director Michael Kalvort has explained more than once that the city tries to use organic methods when possible, but that such products are much less effective. They remove the weed above ground, but the root remains and the weed grows back.

Council woman Monica Mayotte—who asked for the discussion—and Council woman Andrea O’Rourke wondered whether the city could stop spraying and just have city workers pull the weeds. City Manager Leif Ahnell noted the obvious: “This is backbreaking work.” Kalvort said his department barely can keep maintenance employees, given the low salary.

Without this contract, Kalvort said, the city could run out of supplies before summer, when the weed problem is worst. Reality prevailed. The council eventually approved it, with Mayotte dissenting.


During the weed killer discussion, O’Rourke said she would discuss herbicides and other environmental issues at Boca Raton’s annual goal setting meetings. They will take place today and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 6500 North Congress Avenue. The public can comment at roughly 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. today and at roughly 11:15 a.m. on Friday.

Delray Affair!

If you love downtown Delray Beach, this is the weekend to be there for sure or be out of town.

The 57th Delray Affair takes place from Friday until Sunday. The event will close the 12 blocks of Atlantic Avenue from the Intracoastal Waterway to Northwest Second Avenue. The city expects record crowds.

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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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