Delray Politics Get Ugly & What’s Next for Boca Golf Course?

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Delray Beach City Hall (Photo by Christiana Lilly)

Political civil war within the Delray Beach City Commission has broken out.

Last Wednesday, Mayor Shelly Petrolia sent out an email titled “Disappointment From the Dais.” In the email, Petrolia criticized three recent commission actions. Her choices and comments aligned with Petrolia’s campaign—which I reported this month—against commissioners Bill Bathurst and Shirley Johnson. They are seeking second terms in the March 17 election.

Petrolia first singled out Bathurst, Johnson and Adam Frankel for their vote last September against the commission appealing a favorable Site Plan Review and Appearance Board ruling for Delray Place South. (Petrolia called it the “Sight” Plan Review and Appearance Board.)

Because the SPRAB decision stood as a result of the commission’s vote, Delray Place South can build a new entrance from Eve Street. Some residents of the Tropic Isles community have opposed the new entrance. Bathurst, Johnson and Frankel, Petrolia wrote, “effectively shut down any citizen input.”

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Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia

After that vote, Petrolia said, Bathurst and Johnson “received campaign contributions from parties associated with this developer.”

Petrolia then cited an October vote against moving a valet parking stand from Atlantic and Swinton Avenues. City staff and the fire department had recommended moving the stand, to relieve traffic. Bathurst, Johnson and Frankel voted against it. Ryan Boylston was absent.

“Shortly after” that vote, Petrolia said, “$8,000 from restaurants associated with the valet stand found it’s (sic) way into campaign accounts” of Bathurst and Johnson.

Finally, Petrolia reiterated her objection to the November commission vote that settled the city’s lawsuit against Match Point, promoter of the pro tennis tournament.

Only Petrolia remains from the commission that approved suing Match Point. Petrolia noted what she called deficiencies in the 25-year deal, such as the city not getting any sponsorship or revenue money from the event. Delray Beach, Petrolia said, had been “in a positive legal position,” and she implied that the city would have won at trial.

Petrolia was the only vote against the settlement. Whether Bathurst, Johnson, Frankel and Boylston “made the right call,” Petrolia said, is up to the public.

The commission met one day after Petrolia sent the email. During commissioner comments at the end of the meeting, Boylston confronted Petrolia.

Delray Beach Commissioner Ryan Boylston

As it happened, Boylston, Bathurst and others had been in Tallahassee the day before, lobbying state legislators. Boylston said he wanted to “apologize” to Delray Beach for damage from Petrolia’s email.

Of the 10 minutes he spent with one legislator, Boylston said, nine minutes were devoted to the email. All over the Capitol, Boylston told me later, people were asking the city’s delegation about the email. Boylston said it became a harmful distraction and reinforced the image of Delray Beach as dysfunctional.

“We came to restore civility,” Boylston said of his campaign in 2018. “We had done that” until the email.

“I’ve lost votes” on the commission, Boylston said, noting that he had opposed the decision to have the commission take over the community redevelopment agency. “But you go on.”

Johnson is African-American and the commission’s only minority. One of her two challengers is a woman of color. The other—a Petrolia ally—is a white man. Boylston pointed out that the commission has had at least one minority member since the 1960s. Referring to the prospect of an all-white commission, Boylston said, “I won’t let that happen.”

Petrolia didn’t back down. “I’m proud of that email,” she said, adding that she had received many favorable comments. “I’m not telling people who to vote for.”

That comment is noteworthy. As Boylston noted, Petrolia didn’t use her city email account. She used her campaign account and her home address, not City Hall.

Petrolia—who long ago stopped responding to questions from me—may be acting under rules for election communications organizations, known as ECOs. Essentially, Petrolia can’t campaign for people but she can campaign against people without actually endorsing their opponents. Her targets are Bathurst and Johnson, whom Petrolia worked against in 2017.

Petrolia pointed out, correctly, that the Palm Beach Post and South Florida Sun Sentinel aren’t covering the election. She added, also correctly, that the information in  her email is true. Petrolia said residents could go to the polls uninformed. So she will provide her own campaign coverage. “It’s my responsibility to this town.” She banged the gavel and adjourned the meeting.

Delray Beach Commissioner Bill Bathurst

Bathurst sent out his own email in response to Petrolia’s. He opened by saying that the Delray Beach delegation had worked in Tallahassee to get $600,000 for a sustainability project.

“Meanwhile, while I was up in Tallahassee working for you, our city’s mayor, Shelly Petrolia, sent out a political and negative email about me, and other commissioners, with the goal of creating division and controversy. This is a blatant attempt by the mayor to impact the upcoming election and insert politics during an important policy discussion. That’s not helpful or beneficial to our city when we are trying to work together and get things done for Delray Beach.

“Leadership is about being able to work collaboratively with other elected officials, constituents, and community leaders. That’s what I am focused on. As your commissioner, I’m working on getting things done.”

The commission meets today at 4 p.m. Boylston told me that he will say more about Petrolia and the election.

Uptown Boca

Uptown Boca last week announced a slew of rental tenants for the mixed-use project on Glades Road just east of State Road 7.

Uptown Boca Raton

The big name is REI, the consumer co-op outdoor retailer headquartered near Seattle. This will be REI’s first South Florida store. The only other Florida locations are Jacksonville and the Orlando suburb of Winter Park. REI’s website says the co-op has 18 million members.

Three restaurants—Naked Taco, Sloan’s Ice Cream and L’Eggspress—will join Chick-fil-A, Lynora’s Osteria, Olive U Mediterranean Grill, Bolay and BurgerFi. In addition to the 155,000 square feet of retail, Uptown Boca will have 456 apartments. Other newly announced tenants will cater to those residents: the male-oriented barbershop Sports Clips, The Joint Chiropractic and Tide Cleaners.

In addition, Uptown Boca will feature a Lucky’s Market and a Silverspot Cinema. The project is a joint venture of Giles Capital Group, Rosemurgy Properties and Schmier Property Group, in partnership with Wheelock Street Capital. According to a report in the Sun Sentinel, the developers bought the 38-acre site from the Johns Family for $37.97 million.

According to Uptown Boca’s website, apartment leasing will begin soon.

Golf course compromise?

We should learn today whether any chance remains for compromise on a new public golf course in Boca Raton.

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The Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District will meet at 5:15. Earlier this month, the district board voted unanimously against the city council’s proposed agreement for the course. Last week, council members discussed whether to end the talks or to try again.

Councilman Andy Thomson, a lawyer in his day job, was puzzled by the board’s refusal to make a counter offer. He has been the most critical of the district’s plan for the course, but Thomson said, “I still think there’s room to salvage” the agreement. He wondered if the city could “look at the list of grievances” from the district.

City Manager Leif Ahnell said the city might “possibly address some of the items.” The council and district are scheduled to meet next Monday.

Delray annexation

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Delray Beach soon could get a tiny bit bigger.

Before the city commission at today’s meetings are three ordinances that would allow the city to annex roughly seven acres on its northwest border. The parcel lies between Banyan Creek Elementary School and Barwick Road. To the south is the Sabal Lakes community.

In 2018, the owner sought a land-use change from Palm Beach County that would have allowed him to build 102 apartments. Nearby Delray Beach residents objected, and county staff recommended denial.

Now the owner wants to build 40 single-family homes and be part of the city. According to the staff memo, annexation would result in a net financial gain for Delray Beach because added property tax revenue would be greater than the cost of providing new services.

Downtown wayfinding signs

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Boca Raton is touting new downtown “wayfinding signs” that point visitors to Mizner Park, Royal Palm Place, Visitors Center and other destinations. Six are up, and six more are coming.

The city previously installed “directional pavement signs.” Next up are “gateway signs” at the four entrances to downtown. The city expects them to be installed by the end of this year.

Signs could be helpful. More helpful would be a downtown shuttle system, especially with the Brightline station coming. Boca Raton has discussed such a system for five years, with no permanent solution.