DeSantis Changes COVID Rules, and GL Homes Wins Ag Reserve Vote

desantis
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Photo: Matias J. Ocner/TNS via ZUMA Wire

Nothing will change in Boca Raton after Gov. DeSantis rescinded all local COVID-19 restrictions put in place under emergency orders. The city doesn’t have restrictions in place.

That might work for now. Mayor Scott Singer, however, worries about what could come next.

“We are cognizant of the fact that (virus) variants are circulating,” Singer said Wednesday. He’s correct. COVID-19 variants have been increasing rapidly in South Florida over the last month.

Public health experts worry that a Florida-created variant could be resistant to the COVID-19 vaccines. If variants cause a new wave of dangerous cases, Singer said, “Local government can’t act quickly.”

Presumably, any city or county would have to get permission from the governor before trying to stop the spread. Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Palm Beach County remain under states of emergency, to ensure that they qualify to have the federal government reimburse them for expenses related to the pandemic.

Palm Beach County Health Director Alina Alonso told county commissioners on Tuesday that this area is “a long way” from herd immunity, despite the vaccinations. She noted that it took the country two years to reach herd immunity during the H1N1 pandemic that began in 2009.

“The real problem is that everyone’s acting like the pandemic is over,” Dr. Aileen Marty, a professor of infectious disease and outbreak response at Florida International University told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “If we get lackadaisical. . .these variants can overcome some of the immunity that we’ve developed, and we may find ourselves in a very bad situation again.”

Private businesses may continue to require masks. Most grocery stores will continue to do so. Restaurants will decide their own policies.

Delray Beach resumed in-person commission meetings this week. Boca Raton still is meeting remotely, but Singer said the city council would discuss returning to the usual format.

On Tuesday, City Attorney Lynn Gelin said the legal department is “reviewing” DeSantis’ directive. As usual, it came with no warning. Gelin hopes to have a memo for the commission by Friday.

Organizations vie for space at Mizner Park

jazz brunch

The Boca Raton Arts District Exploratory Corporation has two competitors for city land in Mizner Park.

At least in theory.

BRADEC, composed of people and entities from within Boca Raton, began its campaign for a local performing arts center in 2018. At that time, the group envisioned a complex on as much as 21 acres next to the Spanish River Library.

After further review—and resistance from City Manager Leif Ahnell about losing so much public space—the group shifted to a plan for Mizner Park. BRADEC wants to take over the city-owned Mizner Park Amphitheater and lease the vacant, adjoining property that the city owns. Under the proposal, BRADEC would upgrade the amphitheater and build an arts center, with the two working in tandem.

State law requires that the city advertise property before approving any lease. The deadline for proposals was April 30. BRADEC’s came in, as expected. So did two others. But there’s little actual competition.

The BRADEC proposal is 242 pages. It projects groundbreaking for the new amphitheater in 2024 and for the arts center a year later. It includes supporting research from the group’s consultant.

In contrast, the proposal from Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) runs just 18 pages. AEG is the second-largest promoter of live events in the country, and the company notes that it has staged performances at the amphitheater since it opened. The company also sniffed around about the center near the Spanish River Library.

But AEG offers few details. The company disagrees with BRADEC’s plan for a venue that would seat between 800 and 1,200 people. AEG would create one for 2,000. Aside from that, AEG mainly lists the varied venues it operates throughout the country.

Then there was the one-page submission from Naftali Group, a New York-based real estate company. Executive Vice President Gary Cohen said the company would “redesign” the amphitheater with the city continuing to own and operate it.

As for the adjoining site, Naftali proposes a “mixed-use project” that could include “residential, retail, office” and a parking garage. Several years ago, The Related Group asked about housing on that site. The public backlash was harsh.

City council members will discuss the proposals at Monday’s workshop meeting. I would expect only the one from BRADEC to get serious consideration.

Delray Swan rezoning approved

On Tuesday, the Delray Beach City Commission approved the rezoning that is part of the proposal for Delray Swan. It would be a four-story, 148-unit apartment project in Osceola Park near downtown. The commission debate was familiar.

Commissioners Ryan Boylston and Adam Frankel praised the potential investment in what has been an overlooked neighborhood. They noted that the developer had reached out to almost every home that the project would affect. Osceola Park Neighborhood Association President James Quillian added his support.

Mayor Shelly Petrolia, however, worried, “Where do we want our downtown to end?” A multi-family project, she suggested, spoke more about East Atlantic Avenue than about a single-family neighborhood.

The rezoning applies to a portion of the nine-parcel project site. When taken in total, the density drops. Commissioner Juli Casale worried that the developer would get more rights for the one portion and flip it, which could make the complex more intrusive.

As often happens, the swing vote was Shirley Johnson. As often happens, she sounded confused. “I don’t necessarily like it,” Johnson said. But then she cited all the favorable comments and asked, “Who are we to say?” Johnson voted yes.

The decision does not mean that the project has been approved. The developer still must return with a site plan.

Suzanne Fisher cleared of wrongdoing

The Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics has found “no legal sufficiency” to investigate former Delray Beach Assistant City Manager Suzanne Fisher.

In a letter to the city commission after he was suspended last June, former City Manager George Gretsas alleged that Fisher used her position to secure a job for her boyfriend at the Delray Beach Golf Club. His allegations went to the Office of Inspector General, which believed that they were a matter for the ethics commission.

Fisher’s boyfriend, Andrew Reeder, did get a job with BJCE, the company with which the city contracts for golf club operations. Reeder is the food and beverage manager.

But the commission staff determined that while there was “an appearance of impropriety,” Fisher did not misuse her office to make that happen. Another deciding factor, according to the investigator’s report, was that Reeder was not Fisher’s “relative or domestic partner.”

Fisher became a key figure in the firing of Gretsas. She alleged that his attempt to fire her was retaliation. Gretsas’ attorney said Gelin failed to tell Gretsas about Fisher’s complaint when Gretsas tried to fire Fisher. All mention of Fisher disappeared when Gelin rewrote the charges against Gretsas that led to his firing.

BRRH submits plans for building

The makeover of Boca Raton Regional Hospital isn’t happening just on the south side of Meadows Road.

On tonight’s Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board agenda is the hospital’s plan to demolish three office buildings across Meadows Road from the main campus. Replacing them would be a building nearly twice as large with 388 parking spaces. Those would be in addition to the new garage adjoining the patient tower.

GL Homes allowed to build 300 homes in Ag Reserve

Early Wednesday evening, the Palm Beach County Commission approved the Lake Worth Drainage District’s proposal to sell nearly 300 acres of non-developable land along its canals to GL Homes. In return, the company can build roughly 300 homes that will be over the development capacity planned for the Agricultural Reserve Area.

The vote was 5-2. I’ll have a full report Tuesday.