Sunday, April 14, 2024

Delray’s festival issue, more on Chabad zoning and update on Office Depot merger

Take back Delray  

The theme at Tuesday night’s Delray Beach City Commission workshop was: Take Back Delray.

       But it wasn’t exactly the sort of “take back” you hear in political campaigns. Commissioners want to take back Delray from the special events that they believe flood the city with outsiders at the expense of residents, closing streets and hurting businesses.

       And we’re talking some of the biggest, most entrenched events. Start with Delray Affair, scheduled for April 8-10. The event, Mayor Cary Glickstein said, began “as a way to help business owners,” by bringing customers downtown. “Now, none of them want it.”

       Move to the Delray Beach Wine and Seafood Fest, which closed A1A along the public beach for two days last November. Glickstein called the event “honky-tonk,” and asked, “We closed down A1A for this?”

       In an interview Wednesday, Commissioner Shelly Petrolia agreed with Glickstein that, after sober houses, nothing angers Delray Beach residents more than “huge events in the center of town,” usually the Old School Square area. Petrolia said she gets “accosted at Publix” by residents wanting the city to do something. “Delray Affair was never out of control. It is now.”

       Delray’s first attempt at something—after two commission goal-setting sessions—was the staff proposal presented at the workshop to formalize the system for approving events and charge organizers enough for the city to recoup its costs, notably public safety.

       Glickstein, however, expressed frustration that the proposal contained insufficient “culling” of events. No festival, he said, is “sacrosanct,” despite its longevity. “I like where (the proposal) is going,” Glickstein said. Still, he envisions the need for some “collective pain” among event organizers to accomplish the commission’s goal of shrinking the event schedule and shifting some locations. Supporters of those big events, Glickstein complained, argue that they are getting residents in other cities “out of their homes” and into Delray Beach. The events, however, “are keeping our residents in their homes.”

       Garlic Fest, Petrolia griped, closed the city’s main intersection of Atlantic and Swinton avenues “for a Ferris wheel.” She is “frustrated that (commissioners) have to be the bad guys” and suggested that city staff didn’t try hard enough to hear from homeowner associations.

       Nancy Stewart is a senior partner of Festival Management Group, which produces Delray Affair, Garlic Fest, the Wine and Seafood Festival and next week’s Bacon & Bourbon Fest. Her complaint is that the commissioners haven’t communicated sufficiently with her organization.       The company is on the committee that prepared the proposed ordinance. “We have made major changes in the interim,” Stewart said, before any ordinance would take effect. She cites increased security as one example.

       Stewart called Tuesday night’s comments “disheartening. We’ve been looking at reinventing how we do things, but we can’t move immediately.”

       Another topic at the workshop was redevelopment of Congress Avenue. As part of the plan, some commissioners have suggested moving large events west. Stewart finds the Congress alternative “exciting,” but said the area doesn’t have the amenities of Old School Square and that moving would mean added costs.

       If residents are mad that events have overwhelmed the city, Stewart is annoyed that events she said have helped to create the new downtown are now unwelcome. After the Bacon & Bourbon Fest, Stewart said, she will respond to the commission.

       In an email Wednesday, City Manager Don Cooper said, “I think the direction was to proceed in the direction we are with additional modifications. I believe the commission would like to see recommendations on number and size, type of the events and additional measures” to address residents’ complaints. “(The commission) would like us to build in some incentives to move events to different locations away from Old School Square and the Central Business District to other areas of the community.

       “The commission understands that this will take some time, and some things will work and some things won’t, but the goal is to lessen the negative impacts and reduce the inconvenience to the community.”

       Cooper is right that not every idea will work, but he may be overstating the commission’s patience.

Boca’s Chabad zoning   

       If that debate in Delray was passionate, last week’s debate in Boca Raton of a zoning ordinance was tortuous.

       Let’s call it the Chabad East Boca Ordinance, just to make things clear. The city council approved the chabad’s synagogue/exhibit hall last summer for a site near the ocean on Palmetto Park Road, angering residents of the surrounding Riviera and Por La Mar neighborhoods. The approval has provoked state and federal lawsuits.

       In response, the council asked staff to review the commercial zoning designations for properties that adjoin single-family areas. By trying to placate the noisy opponents, however, Boca risked annoying owners of other properties throughout the city with similar zoning.

       For now, though, that threat seems small. The ordinance would reduce the maximum height allowed on those properties under certain conditions from 50 feet to 30 feet. Development Services Director Ty Harris, who has a law degree, told the Planning and Zoning Board that no current project is seeking the 50 feet.

       The proposal had gone to the board in January. Last week, it was back. Two members liked the ordinance. Four others believed that it was too sweeping and voted against recommending it to the council for approval.

       Then the maneuvering began. It was clear that a majority of board members wanted to avoid angering property owners on the mainland—they opposed the ordinance—but wanted to please residents who live on the barrier island and supported the ordinance. The board thus voted to send a memo to the city council asking, in essence, for the ordinance to apply just to the properties in question that are east of the Intracoastal Waterway.

       So tortured did the discussion became that City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser, who usually doesn’t take the lead at planning and zoning meetings, intervened at various points. The chairman of the Riviera homeowners association bizarrely compared the proposed ordinance to the Affordable Care Act and asked that it be “unbundled” to protect just his territory.

       The issue now goes to the council. Expect at least an equally tortured debate.

Office Depot-Staples merger

       The Federal Trade Commission isn’t budging on its attempt to block the Staples-Office Depot merger, which means that Boca Raton could know very soon whether the city will lose its largest private employer.

       Just before this planned merger, Office Depot merged with Office Max. The new company stayed in Boca, not Office Max’s headquarter town of Naperville, Ill. If Staples and Office Depot combine, however, the headquarters will shift to Framingham, Mass., Staples’ hometown. It is unclear if any employees would remain at the Office Depot complex on Military Trail north of Yamato Road.

       As The Boston Globe reported last week, Staples CEO Ronald Sargent announced that the company laid off 1,000 employees between November and January. Sargent defends the merger as necessary for the company to compete against discount and online office product retailers. The FTC counters that combining the top two companies in the industry would decrease competition and thus raise prices for businesses. Staples and Office Depot control 70 percent of that market.

       The FTC is seeking an injunction to block the merger. If the regulators and Staples can’t work things out— Staples already has ended certain contracts—a federal judge will hear the commission’s request for that injunction on March 21 and rule by May 10. Sargent has said Staples would give up on the merger if the company loses.

Police body cameras      

I have one more note on Delray Beach’s test program for police body cameras.

       Delray has 156 sworn officer positions. Roughly 100 are uniformed. A spokeswoman said the department has not decided whether plainclothes officers will wear the cameras. The program will begin with 20 officers, and expansion will depend on how much money the department gets to buy the equipment and store the tapes. Full implementation would take three to five years.

 

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.

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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