Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Delray’s Events Policy & Pricey Infrastructure Upgrades

Delray Beach still wants special events.

But maybe not so many more big ones. Maybe more smaller ones. Especially not big ones on the beach.

Those and other thoughts emerged from last week’s city commission workshop meeting on the good-to-have problem that the city is popular. Commissioners want Delray Beach to welcome outsiders but prioritize residents.

Indeed, the city hosts so many gatherings already that Commissioner Ryan Boylston proposed the hiring of a special events coordinator. That person would report to Assistant City Manager Frank Oris and handle events that go beyond small-scale, city-run events that are handled by the parks and recreation department.

Boylston said Wednesday that the current special events policy “snowballed” after a previous commission approved it seven years ago. Several large events, notably Garlic Fest, left town after organizers didn’t want to comply with stricter rules designed to minimize inconvenience to residents.

Yet Boylston also acknowledged that he hears few complaints about the absence of those events. He hopes the new approach will draw more “niche events” that don’t require extensive street closings. That seemed to be the consensus.

“I think we’re all on the same page for discussing” the policy, Boylston said of the meeting. City Manager Terrence Moore said, “A great deal of clarity was achieved” in terms of street closings and who can approve money when the city sponsors an event.

Some issues remain. Boylston and Mayor Shelly Petrolia noted that temporary chain-link fences at some events look tacky. City Attorney Lynn Gelin noted the “liability issues” for the city when events serve alcohol. The fencing can provide safety separation. Petrolia said she especially does not want the public beach “activated” for big events.

Boylston wants to continue discussion at the commission’s goal-setting meeting next month. Moore said he sees “potential” in the idea of an event coordinator. Boylston said that person could be the liaison between the city and the Downtown Development Authority on the agency’s management of Old School Square.

Delray Affair, which the chamber of commerce puts on, is the city’s biggest downtown event. Only now, Boylston said, are the city and chamber preparing to talk about how each side perceives the event. “We’re going to find out,” Boylston said, “what’s broken and not broken.”

Commissioner Rob Long called the meeting “a first step to simplifying” the event approval process. “Applicants should have to spend less time, and so should staff.” He supports the hiring of an events coordinator.

Delray Beach, Long said, has changed in the last decade. “We are now a destination. Events should be less about drawing people and more about entertaining the people who are here.”

Pricey but essential upgrades in Delray

Several high-priced but essential upgrades are about to hit Delray Beach residents.

Start with the new water plant. Add the public safety and parks bond programs that voters approved this year. Now throw in flood control.

Last week, a consultant laid out what it will cost to modernize the stormwater system in a city where several neighborhoods already suffer tidal flooding. Continued sea level rise will make the problem worse.

Current stormwater assessments on homes—$63 in most cases—and businesses, the consultant said, are not enough to finance the necessary improvements. Just for next year, the cost is $47 million. Over five years, it’s $380 million. Securing that money will require “a big uptick” in rates to support revenue bonds for the work. There is no reserve fund on which to draw.

The consultant proposed a four-tier scale, based on how much ground a property covers and thus leaves “impervious.” The lowest tier would run from zero to 2,000 square feet. The highest would be from 7,000 square feet to 10,000.

Assessments would rise proportionally with each tier. Most homeowners, the consultant said, would be in the second tier—from 2,000 square feet to 5,000. The consultant also proposed ending discounts and exemptions, notably for places of worship.

For now, the commission will worry about rates for next year. Petrolia said it would be “very difficult” to tell some residents that their costs might increase by nearly 500 percent over five years. Long agreed, but he said, “It’s a very necessary investment. I don’t think we have much of a choice.”

The Residences of Boca Raton approved by CRA

A 190-unit rental apartment project for downtown Boca Raton won approval on Monday.

The Residences of Boca Raton will go on four properties where the buildings are so old that they do not conform to design guidelines in the city’s current downtown plan. Owners of space in the neighboring office building noted that the project will get 20 percent of its area from alleys that the city is abandoning. They urged the city council, acting as the community redevelopment agency, to reject the project.

Mayor Scott Singer responded that the city actually will get $2 million in benefits, from not having to maintain what amount to dead-end alleys and from the project enhancing the area. The CRA board approved the project unanimously.

A new roof for Boca City Hall

Boca Raton will spend $1 million on a new flat roof for City Hall. The vote comes two weeks after damage from 26 inches of rain left Fort Lauderdale City Hall uninhabitable.

Councilman Mark Wigder objected to spending that much when the city prepares again to discuss plans for a new City Hall that would be part of a revamped downtown municipal complex. Wigder also said the item came as a surprise and was on the consent agenda, which usually generates little debate.

City Manager Leif Ahnell responded that the staff “can’t Band-Aid” the roof anymore. Council members approved the project, 4-1, with Wigder dissenting.

No timetable for returning meetings to Boca council chambers

Speaking of City Hall, Ahnell said there is “no timetable” for returning meetings to the council chambers.

During the pandemic, Boca Raton shifted meetings to the municipal complex on North Congress Avenue that also serves as the emergency operations center. It allows much more space for council members on the dais and for audience members.

Ahnell made the comment in response to a question from Brian Stenberg, who ran unsuccessfully against Monica Mayotte two years ago. Stenberg said Boca Raton is the only city meeting so far from its headquarters.

Boca dog park drama

If Ahnell looked testy when Wigder pressed him about the roof, he looked frustrated when discussing the city’s dog park.

Apparently, some dog owners had complained about mud along the fences that separate larger dogs from smaller ones. City staff had the bright idea to install concrete dividers along the fences.

When he heard, Ahnell said, he scrapped the idea. The city will look for alternatives. Ahnell’s comment did not deter a dog owner from saying that the city might be responsible for vet bills if a pet was injured on the concrete.

This exchange came after one woman accused the city of “unsavory handling” of the sea turtle program at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. Council members unanimously approved transferring management of the program from the city to the Gumbo Limbo Coastal Stewards.

St. Joseph’s to close in Boynton

St. Joseph’s Episcopal School in Boynton Beach will close.

The private, K-8 school of about 150 students is next to the similarly named church and land the church owns. It opened in 1958 and is almost as old as the church.

Last year, however, the church said it would not renew the school’s lease for another five years. Parents got a reprieve for this year. Meanwhile, a school donor filed a lawsuit, challenging the church’s grounds for wanting to evict the school.

A trial had been scheduled for this fall. Instead, parents heard two weeks ago that the lawsuit had been dropped. Steve Mackey, who has two children at the school, said he and other parents seeking other private schools are scrambling. His plan? Move to Massachusetts for a year, have his children attend school there, and “wait for everything to sort itself out.”

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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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