Will Delray Beach lose the city’s second opportunity to redevelop West Atlantic Avenue?
At its Jan. 28 meeting, the community redevelopment agency voted to serve BH3 with 30 days notice of default on its agreement to buy three blocks east of the Fairfield Inn for the company’s proposed mixed-use project. The CRA board cited BH3’s failure to meet the deadline for submitting a site plan to the city for approval.
After the CRA chose BH3 last April, the purchase agreement set a submittal deadline of Nov. 19, which the developer acknowledged was aggressive. The CRA extended the deadline to Jan. 17 after BH3 cited its need to redesign the plan so the project could attract a grocery store. CRA officials have said that a grocer is the main priority for the site.
On Jan. 17, however, BH3’s attorney wrote to the CRA asking to extend the deadline to March 16. Neil Schiller said the developer had anticipated the need for more time because the plan “was still in flux.” Schiller cited progress in other areas—such as negotiations to acquire other properties adjoining the site—and said the redesign would “tailor the site plan to fit the national grocer we’ve been linked to.”
Addressing the CRA board, Schiller touted the new plan. It would more than double the office space, in response to “very strong demand.” It would have more housing, especially workforce units. The additional retail space would draw local small business owners. The public space would nearly double and would feature an elevated park.
Schiller said BH3 would meet with CRA Executive Director Renee Jadusingh every two weeks through the approval process. He asked the CRA to delay its notice of default.
CRA board members reacted sharply. Mayor Shelly Petrolia said, “It’s very difficult to believe that we (now) have a schedule. I have a lot of concerns.”
City Commissioner Ryan Boylston said Schiller’s letter and presentation came late. “You can’t just dump all this on us.” Commissioner Bill Bathurst called the new version “way too big” and “not anything I’m in favor of.” Board member Angeleta Gray also criticized the project’s size.
Schiller responded that that problem is accommodating the grocer. BH3’s potential tenant—which the company would not name—wanted not just a different location and configuration within the project but, according to Schiller, also “activity” around the store day and night.
In an interview, Boylston agreed that the CRA’s demand for a store required a redesign. When the CRA granted the first extension, Boylston told me that he was optimistic, because BH3 was using input from residents.
But, Boylston said, he had seen only a “site map,” not an actual plan. And BH3, he said, went dark after that. At the meeting, Board member Pamela Brinson said there had been “no collaboration.” Schiller countered that the new plan had become “final” only 10 days before the meeting.
The notice of default gives BH3 30 days to have its plan ready for approval. Boylston asked CRA Attorney D.J. Doody if that seemed realistic. Doody answered, “No, sir.”
So Boylston sought to delay a vote on the default notice until the CRA’s Feb. 25 meeting. In effect, that would have given BH3 the 60 days Schiller wanted, because another 30 days from then would be close to the developer’s March 16 deadline.
That motion failed. Petrolia, Bathurst, Brinson and Gray then voted to serve notice of default. Only Commissioner Shirley Johnson joined Boylston in opposition. Commissioner Adam Frankel was absent.
Doody stressed that the CRA had not voted to end the contract. On Feb. 25, if board members see sufficient progress by BH3, the CRA could delay a final vote on default until its March 24 meeting, which would allow BH3 that 60-day period it had requested. In the best-case scenario, BH3 at that time would have a plan that the CRA can support.
BH3 remains engaged. In a statement provided by Schiller, the developer said, “The team is working diligently to revise our plans based on feedback from the CRA members and community members.
“We are confident that we will submit a full application to the city by our deadline. We have been in constant communication with the CRA in the last few weeks to ensure that everyone is on the same page moving forward.”
At the meeting, BH3’s Daniel Lebensohn said, “We can’t go back to (the original) plan,” given the requirement to include a grocery store. West Atlantic Avenue is a “food desert.” It lacks a national grocer because the chains don’t consider it a viable market. Whatever BH3’s communication issues, the company is having to work around the city’s demand.
Petrolia, who pushed so hard at first for another developer, asked why a grocer wouldn’t simply build a store if the city donated the land. The simple answer is that the company would refuse that offer because it couldn’t make money on a store absent redevelopment around it.
The CRA has been working on this project since 2013. The first developer lost the contract because of its failure to secure financing. That’s the developer Petrolia wanted to give a second chance. Terminating BH3’s contract would mean another restart.
It could be worse than that. Lebensohn noted that BH3 “has spent seven figures to get here.” Termination could mean a lawsuit and further delays. Petrolia said termination could mean that “there’s probably a better path” for that land, but she offered no specifics.
In a statement, Lebensohn said, “Our continued vision toward success remains—through collaboration with the community, the CRA and the city —to make this project into a reality. We are invested in West Atlantic already, through art, entertainment and charitable endeavors, and we sincerely hope locals and government embrace and support our continued efforts on this exciting project. We remain Delray local and we remain dedicated to the community.”
That CRA discussion about the West Atlantic Avenue project featured more of Petrolia’s haughtiness.
As noted, Boylston had tried hardest to give BH3 a chance to salvage its project, while Petrolia had been the most skeptical. As Boylston persisted, Petrolia asked, “Are you running this meeting, or am I?”
“Relax,” Boylston said. Petrolia responded, “You relax.”
Internal auditor leaves
The woman who brought down former City Manager Mark Lauzier has left Delray Beach.
As internal auditor, Julia Davidyan flagged what she and City Attorney Lynn Gelin alleged were violations of the city charter related to hiring and pay. The commission agreed, voting unanimously last March 1 to fire Lauzier for cause.
Davidyan later asked the commissioners, to whom the auditor reports, to go part-time so she could teach at Nova Southeastern University. Apparently, she found that career more appealing and will teach full-time.
Final hearing on dispensaries
At tonight’s meeting, the Boca Raton City Council will hold its second and final hearing on whether to allow medical marijuana dispensaries. City Manager Leif Ahnell continues to recommend that the council reject the proposed ordinance, citing the city’s inability to control where dispensaries would go.
Also on Boca Raton’s agenda tonight is a proposed private communications tower on city land near Interstate 95 and Southwest 18th Street. This item has nothing to do with the public safety communications tower Boca Raton wanted to build near the city’s municipal golf course.
The county commission approved the structure, which the city would share with the county, but a neighboring landowner challenged that approval. The tower remains in litigation.
Addison Mizner opening date
I reported last week that the new Verde Elementary School in Boca Raton will open for the academic year that begins in August. Palm Beach County School Board member Frank Barbieri told me Friday that—barring unforeseen delays—the new Addison Mizner Elementary in Boca Raton will open for the school year that begins in August 2021.
Where in the world is Al Jacquet?
Remember the Al Jacquet who, as a Delray Beach city commissioner, often missed meetings? He wasn’t there to choose a trash hauler, a city attorney and a city manager.
The Palm Beach Post just reported that, as a state legislator representing Delray Beach, Jacquet is having similar issues.
According to the Post, Jacquet didn’t have a district office for six months. District 88, the seat he has held since 2016, stretches from Lake Park to Delray Beach. The district includes mostly minority areas, including Delray Beach’s northwest and southwest neighborhoods.
Jacquet’s website lists a district office in Mangonia Park. A call on Monday went to voicemail.
In addition, the Post found, the Florida Elections Commission has been trying to enforce collection of fines against Jacquet for campaign finance reporting errors. Jacquet listed four addresses on four traffic citations. At one point, Jacquet told a friend, he lived in his car.
When a Post reporter approached him in Tallahassee, Jacquet ducked all questions. Jacquet won a second term in 2018 without opposition. He has challengers this year.