Friday, February 16, 2024

Delray Political Divide Deepens & Alarming Mailer Sent on New Dixie Boca

It had been a calm Delray Beach City Commission meeting on Tuesday.

Until the end.

During commissioner comments, Juli Casale said, “I’m sorry I have to bring this up.” As she went on, it became clear that it was more like, “Sorry, not sorry.”

Casale said she was “extremely disappointed” by the emailed letter that Commissioner Ryan Boylston sent to Palm Beach County School Board members three weeks ago. Boylston did so after what he considered Casale’s disparaging comments about Delray Beach’s schools.

After receiving what he called “a number of calls,” Boylston said he sent the email to keep the city from having “a bad relationship” with the district and board. Boylston said the comments were Casale’s alone and blamed them on “election season.” Casale is up for a second term in March.

Casale called the letter “unprofessional.” She said to Boylston, “I won’t do that to you.” Boylston, Casale said, “broke procedure.” She claimed that Boylston had written as if speaking for the entire commission.

Boylston responded that his email “wasn’t a shared view.” As he spoke, Casale interrupted, after which Boylston said, “I’m going to take my turn.” Casale interrupted again, after which Boylston said, “Let me finish talking.”

He didn’t get much time. Mayor Shelly Petrolia jumped in, seemingly on cue. Petrolia is Casale’s main commission ally, having recruited Casale to run in 2020.

Petrolia said to Boylston, “I don’t think you have the authority to send an email.” She said, “You sent the letter directly to Randy Schultz.” Petrolia is wrong. I did not obtain the emailed letter from Boylston.

Raising her voice, Petrolia said Boylston had been wrong to “directly go after” Casale. “It’s not your job to tattle.” The mayor added, “I’ll start making notes,” implying that she would send out communications critical of other commissioners—something she has done regularly. “You retract” the letter, she said to Boylston.

“May I speak?” Boylston asked. Petrolia responded, “There’s no reason to say more. You’ll dig a deeper hole for yourself.”

Though Boylston said, “I’m sorry that (the letter) ended up in the press,” Petrolia told City Manager Terrence Moore to draft a letter to the school board stating that Boylston had been speaking only for himself.

As I wrote previously, politics run through this issue. Boylston backed Rob Long when—as chairman of the county’s soil and water conservation district—he highlighted problems with Delray Beach’s water. Independent researchers upheld Long’s comments. Long is running against Casale. Long’s girlfriend is school board member Alexandria Ayala.

I would expect more of this tag-team approach between Casale and Petrolia as the election approaches. Though Long filed to run only in early September, he raised $12,000 in that first month. Casale, who filed for reelection a year ago, had raised about $6,500, most of that from a $5,000 loan to herself.

Delray puts in bid to host tennis tournament

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

When things were civil, the commission agreed that Delray Beach again would seek to host part of a prestigious international tennis tournament.

That would be the Billie Jean King Cup, formerly known as the Federation Cup. It matches teams of female players who represent their countries in a format like the Davis Cup for male players. The site would be the tennis center and stadium on Atlantic Avenue from April 8 to April 23 next year.

As Commissioner Adam Frankel noted, American women’s tennis is trending up. One reason is Delray Beach native Coco Gauff, now ranked fourth in the world in singles and second in doubles. She could be playing in front of a hometown crowd.

Delray Beach’s bid was accepted for the 2019 event, but because the United States lost early the event went elsewhere. This new bid also is contingent on the American team lasting long enough in the competition. Delray Beach would not lose money if what happened in 2019 happened again.

The city will match the $75,000 from the Palm Beach County Sports Commission in direct payments. The city also will contribute $340,000 worth of in-kind contributions, such as security and emergency response. Parks and Recreation Director Sam Metott said, “I think we have a really strong bid.”

Petrolia raised a traffic concern, since the event would overlap with Delray Affair, which is April 14-16. Boylston said the city should “put in the bid and figure it out.” Commissioner Shirley Johnson called it “a wonderful opportunity.” Approval came unanimously.

Suspicion cast on New Dixie Boca plan

I have written about the effort to create new zoning rules for an overlooked part of Boca Raton that would create new investment for the area. Organizers have worried about misinformation. They were right to worry.

The target area is roughly 10 blocks of North Dixie Highway just south of Spanish River Boulevard and including neighborhoods to the east. Those neighborhoods are Boca Woods, Chatham Hills, Villa Rica and Winfield Park.

Local Realtor Michael Weppner had the idea for this renovation effort. He’s a leader of New Dixie Boca, which got money from the city to hold two community meetings and develop a plan based on public comments. The city would have to approve any changes.

The second meeting takes place Wednesday at the downtown library. Residents of those neighborhoods just got a mailer warning of attempts to “demolish residences” on Dixie Highway,” which would cause people to “lose their homes” and “destroy the peaceful residential character of our neighborhoods.”

Patricia Spinella lives in Boca Woods. She emailed Weppner after seeing the mailer. Spinella worried that “investors” drawn by new rules would create the apocalyptic scenario outlined in the mailer.

Weppner responded that he and his son are the only two leaders of New Dixie Boca who do not live in the area. They also are the only Realtors affiliated with the group. Weppner knows of no “investors” buying up properties. Weppner added that he once lived in Winfield Park.

Though Weppner freely acknowledges his belief that redeveloping that portion of the North Dixie corridor is a “great idea,” he wants any proposals to come “from the neighbors.” He also believes—and I would agree—that the group has been transparent. The mailer seems to have been anything but.

Such suspicion probably was inevitable. Across South Florida, investors are turning homes into vacation rentals and otherwise ignoring traditional neighborhoods. Weppner has spoken of encouraging live/work lofts along North Dixie where absentee-owner duplexes stand, but there is no conspiracy. 

I’ll have more after next week’s meeting.

Boca city council to comment on Ocean Breeze plans

The former Ocean Breeze golf course

At Monday’s workshop meeting, Boca Raton City Council members will give their first public comments about the plan for the Ocean Breeze property.

The Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District owns the site. It has proposed everything from a golf facility to an aquatics complex. Any plan would need city approval. I’ll have more after the meeting.

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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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