Delray’s building regs, the endangered Democrat and more.

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Delray’s new building rules

Delray Beach Planning and Zoning Director Dana Little told me Friday that he will be “happily surprised” if the city commission adopts new downtown building rules at tonight’s meeting. Little is right to be thinking that the final vote on what are formally called the Land Development Regulations for the Central Business District might not come until January.

Little and his staff have changed the proposals to reflect suggestions and questions from commissioners and residents at the first hearing on Nov. 18. But the suggestions and questions aren’t over.

In an email, Commissioner Shelly Petrolia said she wants to know “what portion of a civic open space can become ‘outdoor dining.’” She wants the answer to be “None,” because allowing any “defeats the purpose of a civic space.” Little noted that requiring more open space in downtown projects is a key goal of the proposals, which he has helped to craft first as a staff member for the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council as it assisted the city and now as the key city department head.

Petrolia also wants to require more so-called “workforce housing,’ so that more people who work in Delray Beach can afford to live in Delray Beach. She points out that at the first hearing three commissioners did not want the percentage of such housing tied to a project’s density. Under the proposal, she said, an increase from 30 units per acre to 50 units per acre would mean asking the developer for just four more units of workforce housing. Obviously, pushback comes from developers, who make more money selling higher-priced units.

Though Little says one of the appeals for developers in amending the regulations is “clarity,” Petrolia says the proposals do not make clear which areas would be able to get density increases. She also has some “smaller issues.”

Mayor Cary Glickstein’s priority has been to encourage more development of office space. He believes, however, that the proposals focus too much on “Class A” space—the most expensive—and not enough on “creative, compatible office space.”

But, referring to the staff, Petrolia says, “I generally like where they are.” Glickstein believes that approval will come tonight even though the regulations “need some work” before the meeting.

Little says the most important demand from the public was that the regulations require “wider sidewalks. If there’s one thing that came through, it was that people are fed up with 5-foot sidewalks.” Another priority of residents was that open space requirement, to provide what Little calls the sort of “great public experiences” offered by strolling Palm Beach. Also, more regulations will come with graphics, not just words, to avoid unpleasant surprises or the chance that a developer could fudge things.

At the Nov. 18 hearing, one resident drew lots of applause when she asked that the commission allow “no exceptions” to any regulation. That probably won’t happen. The controversial “conditional use” program, though, will be changed to a “bonus” program for additional height and density to become, as Little puts it, more of a “tool” for the city to reach goals, not just something that the commission gives out for no apparent public benefit in return.

Delray last amended its downtown building regulations when the city was trying to attract residential development. That has happened. The goal now is to make the city more livable and sustainable for those and all residents of the city. It could happen tonight, but if it takes one more meeting, the delay probably will be worth it.

Imagining a new downtown

Boca Raton residents just got a mailer asking them to “imagine a new vision for Downtown Boca.”

That “new vision” is New Mizner on the Green, the four-tower condo project proposed to replace Mizner on the Green, the rental complex on Mizner Boulevard. The mailer —from the Broward-based developer, Elad National Properties—touts many “community benefits.” Among them: a 2-acre public park, $5 million in property tax revenue to the city; increased downtown property values; and “extraordinary architecture.”000

The towers, though, would be roughly 200 feet taller than rules for the site allow. As Mayor Susan Haynie told me recently, a council member would have to propose an amendment for the full council even to consider the project. No council member has proposed one.

So the mailer—an idea crafted by Elad and the company’s public relations firm—seeks “supporters” who would be willing to write letters to council members or newspapers, call city leaders or otherwise help the project gain traction. The mailer is pretty and the wish to move things along—the project basically has been stalled since last summer—is understandable, but the tactic could backfire if council members consider the mailer a not-so-subtle form of outside pressure.

Same sex marriage on the way?

Florida soon could become one of the 35 states where gay marriages can take place, but the legal challenges to the state’s ban on same-sex marriage wouldn’t necessarily end.

Last August, a federal judge struck down the 2008 ban as unconstitutional. Judge Robert Hinkle issued a stay of his order until Jan. 5, so the state could appeal. Last week, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to extend the stay. If the court rejects Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s appeal, same-sex couples can apply to county clerks for marriage licenses.

Compliance, though, could depend on the individual clerk. Hinkle represents only the Northern District of Florida. Different lawyers could give different interpretations of the court’s decision. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear any of the federal cases, even though the recent round of challenges began after the court last year struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.

For that and other reasons, the challenges in state court would continue whatever happens at the federal level. This year, state judges in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties also struck down the same-sex marriage ban. Similar challenges have led other state courts to strike down same-sex marriage bans without action by federal courts.

The two South Florida cases have been combined and sent to the Florida Supreme Court. I communicated last week with a lawyer who represents some of those plaintiffs, and she said they intend to pursue their cases regardless of what happens with Hinkle’s ruling. Rejection by the Florida Supreme Court would be a more conclusive legal end to the ban, absent a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Endangered species

With Mary Landrieu losing her runoff election in Louisiana last weekend, the 11 states of the former Confederacy have just three Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

Two of them—Tim Kaine and Mark Warner—represent Virginia. The other is Bill Nelson of Florida, who is up for reelection in 2018, when he will be 76. Nelson has been progressively luckier in his Republican opponents – from Bill McCollum to Katherine Harris to Connie Mack IV. With the GOP focused on avoiding self-destructive primaries, Nelson surely does not expect to get lucky again.

Florida wins the nasty crown

It may seem hard for Floridians to believe, but one study concludes that we didn’t have the nation’s most negative race for governor.

The W (see table 10), which tracked advertising and campaigns for 2014, believes that the Rick Scott-Charlie Crist mudfest was just the seventh-most negative, behind those in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Mexico, Arizona and Illinois.

Researchers divided the ads into three categories: Positive, Negative and Contrast. In Florida, nearly 15 percent of the ads were positive, compared with barely more than 3 percent in New Hampshire and 5.3 percent in Connecticut. Still, the study also found that in the 10 “Least Positive” governor’s races, Florida had the second-highest percentage of negative ads – 79.2 percent. Floridians also saw more ads than voters in any other state – almost 22,000, or roughly one-third more than even Texans did.

So, yes, if you feel from having witnessed it that Florida had the nastiest campaign for governor, go with your feeling. You’re right.

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You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

For more City Watch blogs, click here.About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.

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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.