Sunday, October 2, 2022

District and City Break Up Over Golf Course?

The Boca Raton City Council doesn’t want to take no for an answer on a new public golf course. But the council might have no choice.

That no came last week from the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District in response to the city’s proposed agreement for the city building and operating the course. The layout is planned for the site of the former Ocean Breeze course at Boca Teeca.

Council members, who may not have seen the document before it went to the district last month, believed that the terms aligned with a consensus that arose from the council-district meeting in November. District board members, however, saw it differently.

Craig Ehrnst called it “potentially disastrous to the financial well-being of the district.” Executive Director Briann Harms said the provision that blindsided board members would allow the city to end the agreement six months after completion of the course, with the district then assuming “all costs and expenses” connected to operations and maintenance under standards the city set.

On Monday, council members seemed puzzled by what Deputy City Manager Mike Woika called “the wholesale rejection” of the agreement. Why wouldn’t the district make a counter offer?

Harms cited the “unhealthy relationship” that has developed between the city and the district. Although council members were willing to talk more, Harms said district board members have no interest in discussing golf at the next joint meeting on Jan. 27.

Instead, Harms said, board members would like to ask the city to relieve the district of its annual payments—roughly $1.4 million for this year—to the Boca Raton Community Redevelopment Agency. Such relief, Harm said, would give the district more money and could advance the schedule for building Boca National.

Since board members don’t want to raise the tax rate, the district likely couldn’t finish the work for five years. Harms said that without the city’s $20 million, the district would have to “reprioritize” but would meet all current obligations with the city. The former executive director promised that the district could buy the land and build the course without assistance from the city.

District board Chairwoman Susan Vogelgesang wants to end the CRA payments because residents of the district who live outside the city “are paying taxes that help to fund the CRA, but they do not get treated the same when it comes to paying for recreational facilities/library, etc. as do city residents.”

Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke, however, likely spoke for her colleagues when she told Harms that the CRA issue was hardly that easy. Any decision likely would have to wait until the two sides work out a master agreement that the “unhealthy relationship” has delayed for three years.

Even if the district walks away from the city’s offer to pay for construction, another confrontation could arise. The council must approve the site plan for the course. It will be based on a design that the council opposes.

The district already has dropped hints of a lawsuit if the council holds back that approval. Indeed, the district wants the approvals fast-tracked.

I would not rule out a revived partnership. But the chances look much bleaker than they did two months ago.

Boca election

Boca Raton will hold an election on March 17, but it won’t be much of an election.

City council incumbents Andrea O’Rourke and Andy Thomson drew no opposition during qualifying, which ended Friday. O’Rourke thus gets a second three-year term in Seat B. Thomson gets his first term in Seat A, having won the August 2018 special election to fill out the term after Scott Singer ran for mayor. Thomson could run for a second term in 2023. O’Rourke is term-limited for council, but she could run for mayor.

As he did in 2018, Bernard Korn qualified to run against Singer. Korn got just three percent in that three-way race. He had raised just $3,500 through October, all of it from himself. Singer had raised $102,000.

In 2018, there were questions about whether Korn lived in the city. County records still don’t show him owning property in Boca Raton. Korn has had no other involvement in city government. He wasn’t a credible candidate two years ago and he isn’t now.

Most years, the city would incur significant expense for having to hold a token election. This year, however, the uniform municipal election date coincides with the statewide presidential primary. So all of Boca Raton’s precincts would have been open anyway. The city will incur just a fraction of the normal expense from holding the election for mayor.

O’Rourke and Thomson must return their contributions—minus expenses—or give the money to charity. Thomson had raised about $90,000, while O’Rourke had raised $24,000 through October.

The Josephine’s murder

crime scene

On Friday, the criminal justice system closed the book on one of Boca Raton’s most notorious murders.

That was the killing in January 2013 of Rafael Rodriguez, the bartender at Josephine’s Restaurant on North Federal Highway. It began with a robbery and ended with Rodriguez mortally wounded from a gunshot.

Quinton Redell Sylvestre was the last of the three defendants to be adjudicated. The plea deal he accepted Friday on second-degree murder and other charges will send him to prison for 20 years, minus the roughly seven years he has spent in jail.

Last September, a jury convicted Samuel Magic Walker of first-degree murder. He got life without parole and is confined at a prison in the Panhandle. In December, Adalberto Junior Montalvo took a separate plea. He is awaiting transport to a prison. His release date is 2043.

Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Marx presided over Friday’s hearing. He could relate to the emotions among members of Rodriguez’s family. In 1994, his wife—a lawyer—was killed in Fort Lauderdale during a deposition. Karen Starr Marx was four months pregnant.

Tolls come to Delray-Boca 95

Construction on I-95 (Courtesy of FDOT)

The next phase of turning Interstate 95 into a toll road is about to begin in Boca Raton and Delray Beach. The Florida Department of Transportation wants to tell everyone about during an open house from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Boca Raton’s Spanish River Library.

All construction visible now is for the stretch from Southwest 10th Street to south of Glades Road. The next will run to Linton Boulevard in Delray Beach. Each project will add a lane in each direction and create toll lanes in the two left lanes. The state calls them “express lanes” because drivers supposedly will pay for a quicker trip in lanes with less traffic. FDOT estimates completion of the $102 million SW 10th-Glades section by the spring of 2022.

According to an FDOT news release, the Glades-Linton stretch also will include sound barriers along I-95 from Clint Moore Road to Linton Boulevard and on Yamato Road near the University Heights neighborhood. The bridge over Clint Moore Road will be widened.

Aside from the new lanes, the key feature will be an expanded, revamped Glades Road interchange, designed to make traffic flow better at one of the county’s biggest chokepoints. State officials already have made presentations before the city council. A separate project is updating and expanding the Atlantic Avenue interchange.

The Glades-Linton section will cost about $150 million. FDOT estimates that the work will be done by the end of 2023.

Downtown improvements

Mizner Park

Meeting as the community redevelopment agency, the Boca Raton City Council on Monday heard about a new round of improvements to help visitors find their way around downtown. They talked about upcoming events, most of them at Mizner Park.

The city also recently announced additions to Sanborn Square, the sometimes-overlooked park across Federal Highway from Old Town Hall. There are new tables, chairs and lighting, along with cornhole sets. In a news release, Downtown Manager Ruby Childers said the city also would add a ping-pong table. The goal, Childers said, is to make Sanborn Square  “an inviting, interactive destination.”

Naming Wildflower Park

wildflower park
Wildflower park rendering (Courtesy of City of Boca Raton)

Speaking of parks, the still-unbuilt Wildflower/Silver Palm Park in Boca Raton will be called—wait for it—Wildflower/Silver Palm Park unless a very generous person pays for the naming rights.

Roughly 300 residents answered a survey on potential names. About half wanted no change. The name arises because the north side is the home of the former Wildflower nightclub. The city bought the land in 2009. Silver Palm, south of Palmetto Park Road on the Intracoastal Waterway, is the city’s marina.

The city will develop the two parcels as a combined park. There is no date for groundbreaking.

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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