Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Delray Seeks Funding for Golf Course and George Bush Bridge Reopens

Delray Beach hopes that a private developer finally can provide the money to renovate the city’s aging public golf course.

For almost a decade, city commissioners have heard complaints from regulars about the declining condition of the 18-hole course on Homewood Boulevard south of Atlantic Avenue: The fairways and greens are terrible; the tee boxes are collapsing; other public courses are in much better shape. Successive commissions, however, determined that Delray Beach had more pressing needs.

At their April 19 meeting, commissioners tried a different approach. They hired real estate services company CBRE to market a portion of the course to a developer. In exchange for the land, the developer would contribute money toward restoring the Donald Ross-designed course. The work would cost at least $10 million.

Delray Beach is making this effort under the state’s public-private partnership (P3) law. It allows local governments to lease or sell property to private interests to pay for improvements. The law sets out conditions to prevent local officials from giving sweetheart deals.

Under Delray Beach’s contract with CBRE, the company will get a $7,500 monthly retainer to market the property. CBRE boasts that its database includes 1.1 million investors. If CBRE brokered a deal that the commission approved, the company would get a success fee based on a sliding scale. For any project up to $10 million, CBRE would get 3.5 percent of the amount. That would be $350,000 for a $10 million deal.

For anything higher, the percentage would be lower. A project in the $20 million to $30 million range would get CBRE 2.5 percent. A project $100 million or more would bring a fee of 0.95 percent. The developer also would reimburse the city for CBRE’s retainers.

Company representatives estimate that it will take between seven and nine months to determine developer interest, or lack of it. One said the site has “strong value potential.” Commissioners asked the company to speed up that schedule.

The commission has not decided how much of the course – and where – might be developed. Early discussion focused on roughly six acres along Atlantic Avenue. Atlantic High School is across the street and slightly east of the course.

“We’re going to wait and see what comes back,” Commissioner Ryan Boylston said. That site along Atlantic Avenue, he said, might require moving one or two holes.

Two developers, Boylston said, sent letters of interest after the commission informally stated its interest in such a partnership. “I believe that the proposal will be for the entire amount that we need” to renovate the course.

CBRE cited the deal it brokered for Related Group of Florida to build a condo on public beachfront property in exchange for the company building a new community center and park and paying rent to the city for 99 years. Residents, however, overwhelmingly opposed the deal. Critics noted that the city relied heavily on CBRE for those optimistic revenue projections, even though the company stood to make a $1 million fee if the commission approved it.

To get the course residents want, the P3 may be Delray Beach’s only option. The city is using all of its American Rescue Plan money just to balance this year’s and next year’s budget. A possible capital improvement bond does not envision money for the course.

Even if the proposals justify Boylston’s optimism, the city will need to charge players rates that provide enough money for operating expenses. Otherwise, even a renovated course after two decades could need work that the city couldn’t afford.

Though the real estate market is cooling, “I am 100 percent confident,” Boylston said, that the city will receive a good proposal.

Boca beach house stirs new controversy

The developer seeking to build a large oceanfront home in Boca Raton has a new beef with the city.

Last Thursday, the Environmental Advisory Board was set to review a new proposal from Delray Beach-based Azure Development for the property at 2600 North Ocean Boulevard. Instead, the company asked for a continuance.

Robert Sweetapple is Azure’s attorney. He said the city surprised him several days before the scheduled hearing with a new staff report that contradicted the previous one. Though the first report recommended denial, Sweetapple said, it stated that approval was possible if the developer made certain changes.

“We were very encouraged,” Sweetapple said. “We were trying to meet with (the staff). Then the second version came out. It contained a firm denial recommendation.

“There is just too much political bias,” Sweetapple said, against any project for that site. Azure needs a variance that would allow the home to be closer to the ocean than rules permit. An appeals court overturned the city’s rejection of a variance for a duplex, agreeing with Azure that council members Monica Mayotte and Andrea O’Rourke had stated their opposition before the vote.

Azure could have sought a new hearing on the duplex. The company submitted a different proposal, Sweetapple said, because he intends to file an inverse condemnation suit against Boca Raton. The suit will claim that Azure “has been denied reasonable use of its property.”

In a separate lawsuit, Azure claims that Boca Raton officials violated the state’s open-meetings law in a campaign to kill development of the site. Based on court records, I had written that Azure temporarily had withdrawn the lawsuit. Sweetapple, though, said it goes to trial on June 7. Court records do not confirm this. A city spokeswoman, after contacting the legal department, said the June 7 date is tentative.

There is no date for a new hearing on the home. And there seems no end to this large dispute over a small part of Boca Raton.

New ordinance for Delray water and sewer rates

delray

Today’s Delray Beach City Commission meeting will feature the first reading of the ordinance that would implement new water and sewer rates.

Paying for the proposed $145 million water plant requires higher rates. Delray Beach’s are among the lowest in Palm Beach County. The average residential customer pays about $57 per month. The new proposed schedule would raise that to nearly $80 over four years. If the plan passes today, final adoption would come May 17.

George Bush Bridge reopens, but closures imminent

george bush bridge
George Bush Bridge

The George Bush Bridge in Delray Beach reopened Friday, but more disruptions are coming.

After problems developed on March 3, the bridge had remained stuck in the open position. After one false start, a new part arrived. Three weeks of testing followed before county engineers declared the bridge safe for travel.

According to a city news release, “intermittent closures” are coming as engineers monitor the bridge. Permanent relief won’t come until the county builds a new bridge. County officials hope to get money from the 2021 infrastructure bill.

Seidman campaign ramps up funding

peggy seidman
Peggy Gossett-Seidman, photo from Facebook

Highland Beach Town Commissioner Peggy Gossett-Seidman has now loaned $110,000 to her campaign for the new Florida House of Representatives district that includes Boca Raton.

Gossett-Seidman started with a loan of $30,000. She has added an $80,000 loan. According to the most recent state report, Gossett-Seidman has raised about $27,000 from other sources. She is running in the Republican primary against Christina DuCasse, who has raised only about $3,500.

Boca Raton City Councilman Andy Thomson is the only Democrat who has filed to run. Thomson has raised about $128,000, of which $30,000 is a loan to his campaign. The qualifying period for legislative races is June 13-17.

Boca City Hall homeless issue

A strange thing happened at last week’s Boca Raton City Council meeting.

Amy Price, who works in the city’s Development Services Department, spoke during public comment. It’s common for employees to speak during meetings, but they usually do so in their professional capacity and speak to an item on the agenda.

This time, Price stated that she was speaking for herself, not as an employee. She complained about homeless people hanging out around City Hall. Some had been naked, she said. Some had been showering in the fountain. Some had defecated.

From my standpoint, Price sounded like someone who had made this complaint up the chain and been frustrated by the lack of action. City Manager Leif Ahnell, sounding defensive, said access to the building has been restricted because of the problems Price cited.

Council members seemed taken aback by the conditions Price described. Andrea O’Rourke, however, did not dismiss the comments, saying of Price, “I agree with her.”

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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