Monday, September 25, 2023

More Building in Boca and a Delray Project Comes Before City

BREAKING: Former Boca Raton Mayor and city council member Susan Whelchel died Friday at 77. Ms. Whelchel was mayor from 2008 until 2014 and served previously on the council. She also was a longtime volunteer with the Junior League of Boca Raton. Ms. Whelchel had suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease and in recent years had curtailed her public life. I’ll have a personal remembrance of Ms. Whelchel in my Aug. 18 post.

There’s an unusual twist to the proposed large residential project for downtown Boca Raton.

Dunay Miskel Backman has become the go-to land-use firm in the city. So it’s not surprising that the firm represents the developer seeking to build The Residences of Boca Raton. In this case, however, the firm has a direct financial interest.

That’s because Dunay Miskel Backman owns three of the four properties on Southeast Fourth Street that would make up the 190-unit luxury residential project. The other, a block north on Third Street, is owned by developer Compson Associates.

Bonnie Miskel told me Monday that investors have approached the firm “more times than I can remember” about selling. “They a great future in downtown Boca Raton. But we didn’t want to move.”

Rendering of The Residences of Boca Raton

The staff, however, has more than doubled in the decade since the firm bought the property where its office is. The firm bought the other two parcels later. With remote work lessening at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, Miskel said the firm needs more space.

As for the project, it would be 136 feet tall, with 12 stories. The design would be Mizneresque and Mediterranean, like much of downtown Boca Raton. The developer, West Palm Beach based-Wexford, proposes what the application calls an “extensive sidewalk and pedestrian area” in the northwest portion. City council members regularly talk about creating a more “walkable” downtown.

Miskel said the project has been before the community appearance board to discuss landscaping and will make a second appearance before going to the planning and zoning board. “We’re actually pretty far along,” Miskel said. She expects the project to go before the council, acting as the community redevelopment agency, this year.

The project would represent a major change for that low-rise section of downtown. It also could represent a major upgrade, bringing more residents and modernizing the area. The buildings are old, and Miskel said city officials want to improve the public infrastructure if the council approves the project.

Dunay Miskel Backman spent nearly $5 million on those three properties. Compson bought its site for $1.15 million. All sales to Wexford are contingent on city approval.

Royal Palm Place Hotel re-emerges               

Not far from where The Residences of Boca Raton would go, the idea of hotel at Royal Palm Place is back.

Investments Limited, which owns the retail/residential/restaurant complex, proposed a hotel several years ago. The location for this project again is roughly one acre at South Federal Highway between Southeast Second Street and Southeast Third Street. Investments Limited wants to build a 144-room “extended stay” hotel and add roughly 11,000 square feet of retail, most of it for restaurants.

Like The Residences of Boca Raton, the hotel seeks approval under design guidelines that would allow it to exceed the 10-story downtown height limit. The hotel would be 12 stories tall and be designed to mesh with the complex.

The staff recommends approval with conditions that city planners have laid out. Also like The Residences of Boca Raton, the hotel would need approval from the council acting as the community redevelopment agency.

Conversion therapy update

As expected, the Boca Raton City Council on Friday unanimously approved an emergency ordinance that temporarily rescinds the ban on conversion therapy.

Supporters of the ban, which the city enacted in 2017, had asked the council to take the action after Boca Raton lost its attempt to have the full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hear the case. A three-panel of the court had overturned the trial court’s finding that the ban was constitutional.

One other appellate court has ruled similarly. Two others, however, have upheld similar prohibitions on the debunked practice that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation. When lower courts disagree, the case often goes to the U.S. Supreme Court.

With this court, however, the ban would lose. That’s why supporters asked Boca Raton to stand down. “It doesn’t make me happy,” Councilwoman Monica Mayotte said. “It’s a sad thing to have to approve,” Andrea O’Rourke said. But they agreed with City Attorney Diana Frieser, who proposed the ordinance, that the action made sense.

A second vote at the Aug. 23 meeting will permanently rescind the ban. At that time, the council likely also will pass a resolution disagreeing with the 11th Circuit ruling.

Planners are thumbs-down on Ag Reserve plan

ag reserve
PBC Agricultural Reserve Area

Palm Beach County planners oppose the proposed land swap that critics say would kill efforts to preserve farming in the Agricultural Reserve Area.

GL Homes wants to donate roughly 4,600 acres outside the reserve for permission to build 1,200 homes inside the reserve that current rules don’t allow. Current rules also prohibit swaps of land outside the reserve.

Of those 1,200 homes, GL would build 1,000 of them north of Stonebridge Country Club in West Boca. The site is at the southern end of the reserve area. Another 200 would be workforce housing at a still unspecified location.

According to reporting in The Palm Beach Post, GL has offered roughly $7 million in amenities to secure the support of Stonebridge members. All conservation groups oppose the swap, calling it a precedent that would lead to more swaps and suburbia eventually displacing agriculture.

On Friday, the proposal goes to the county’s planning commission, a 14-member advisory panel. The staff recommends denial. According to the analysis:

“The increase of residential development and the reduction in preserve acreage would alter the fundamental policy concepts to preserve agriculture. . .This amendment would reduce acreage available for agricultural preservation in the tier and significantly compromise (emphasis mine) basic concepts of the comprehensive plan.”

Under the current timetable, the proposal would go to the county commission on Aug. 31. I’ll have more after the commission meets.

Delray Central faces commission


The Delray Central project goes before the city commission at today’s meeting. It should be quite the discussion.

The project would add nearly 300 residential units to an office complex on South Congress Avenue, turning all three buildings into a mixed-use project on about 12 acres.

Delray Beach has made redevelopment of that area a priority since Office Depot moved its headquarters to Boca Raton. A large residential project is underway on the old Office Depot site. Delray Central’s developer, an entity of Boca Raton-based Grover Corlew, argues that its project also would help revival of that area.

The planning and zoning board recommended denial, but the vote was just 4-3. City political factions aligned with Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Commissioner Juli Casale agreed with that recommendation. Today’s vote could see Petrolia and Casale opposed with Ryan Boylston and Adam Frankel in support, leaving Shirley Johnson again as the swing vote.

Moore evaluation                        

Terrence Moore, photo courtesy of the City of Delray Beach

Also on today’s meeting agenda is the commission’s evaluation of City Manager Terrence Moore. Commissioners will rank Moore from Outstanding to Unsatisfactory across 16 categories and list two things they would like the manager to both keep doing and stop doing.

In addition, the commission will indemnify Moore in the federal lawsuit filed against the city by former water department employee Christine Ferrigan. She alleges that the city fired her for reporting problems at the department.

The lawsuit names Moore as an individual defendant. Delray Beach, like most cities, indemnifies employees who face lawsuits resulting from performance of their duties. Ferrigan claims that Moore harassed her over two years, even though Moore has been with the city for just one year.

And a private OSS lawsuit discussion                

old school square
Cornell Art Museum in Old School Square; photo courtesy of the Delray Beach DDA

Before that regular meeting, commissioners will meet in closed session to discuss the lawsuit against Delray Beach by Old School Square for the Arts.

The group claims that Petrolia, Casale and Johnson wrongfully terminated its lease of Old School Square. Petrolia, Casale and Johnson previously refused to discuss the group’s settlement offer. Nothing in recent court filings indicates what the topic of the meeting might be.

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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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