Thursday, April 18, 2024

Drive times, Garlic Fest appeal & more news and notes

Traffic counts & downtown development

Speakers at Boca Raton City Council meetings regularly complain about travel on Palmetto Park Road through downtown. In making their complaints, they spare no hyperbole. Example: “I spent 45 minutes the other day driving from the beach to I-95.”

A new study, however, puts numbers on how long it should take to make that drive.

According to the consulting firm Kimley-Horn, the 3.1-mile trip from I-95 to A1A would take six and a half minutes at 30 miles per hour if you made all seven traffic lights and didn’t have to stop for a train crossing or a bridge opening. Maybe that happens at 1 a.m., but it doesn’t happen when most people are driving.

Hitting all seven red lights would add five minutes. Having to stop at the Florida East Coast Railway crossing would add five minutes. Having to wait for the Intracoastal Waterway bridge to open would add eight minutes.

So Kimley-Horn concludes that driving through downtown on Palmetto Park Road should take 11 minutes in “good conditions” but can take as long as 22.5 minutes. The company conducted its study on a Wednesday in late May, making 20 trips between noon and 5 p.m. The study found that the average trip took 13.2 minutes.

The study, however, does not confirm the conclusions of those speakers at council meetings that the main cause of downtown traffic is downtown development. In fact, the study points out that traffic counts all along Palmetto Park Road remain far under projections in the Development of Regional Impact document that governs downtown.

Bigger factors than development are train crossings, bridge openings and drivers from outside Boca Raton going north and south through the city. The traffic count on Dixie Highway south of Palmetto Park Road is 32 percent above the DDRI projection. Dixie Highway has become the downtown bypass the city envisioned that it would be—and then some.

To make downtown driving easier, Kimley-Horn does not recommend a building moratorium. The company does recommend that Boca Raton find ways to reduce train and bridge delays. The train issue is especially timely, with All Abroad Florida set to start running 32 passengers trains a day in 2017. Transportation planners also hope to see commuter trains on the FEC once All Abroad Florida has finished the double-tracking for its new service.

According to Kimley-Horn, the gates are down between two and 10 minutes for freight trains and will be down 60 seconds for All Aboard Florida trains. The bridge opens for eight minutes on the half hour. Kimley-Horn suggests ways that new traffic signal patterns could better clear grade crossings before trains arrive. Fewer bridge openings would help drivers, but such a change likely would require approval from the Florida Inland Navigation District and the Coast Guard, which worry about boaters.

Those are among the cheaper, short-term ideas. The city council already has asked staff to restore turn lanes at Northeast/Southeast Fifth Avenue and Palmetto Park Road and to improve the signal pattern.

Longer-term, the options get more ambitious and more expensive. The city could widen Northeast Second Street from City Hall to Fifth Avenue. The city could widen Northwest Fourth Avenue from Camino Real to Spanish River Boulevard. The city could widen Palmetto Park Road to six lanes between I-95 and Dixie Highway. The city could widen Dixie Highway to six lanes and even build overpasses or underpasses at key points.

Those ambitious, expensive options would be controversial, which explains why Mayor Susan Haynie noted that the council hasn’t begun even to discuss them. Naturally, Kimley-Horn also recommends more study.

Regarding development, Kimley-Horn does recommend that builders minimize traffic disruption during construction. But the study makes clear that while development does bring traffic, downtown development isn’t the primary cause of downtown driving problems.

One more thought on Wildflower

Here’s one more thought for now on Boca Raton’s effort to put a restaurant on the Wildflower property.

I wrote recently that James Hendrey, who said he led the effort to gather signatures for a petition referendum against the restaurant—without mentioning the restaurant— threatened a lawsuit from what he predicted would be noise floating across the Intracoastal Waterway and north to his home on Spanish Trail. Hendrey said others in the Riviera neighborhood also would be plaintiffs.

Any such lawsuit, however, would not serve to block the restaurant if the petition fails in November. Plaintiffs could not claim damage before the restaurant opened. They also would have to document any “damage” over a sustained period.

Riviera’s HOA chairman, who lives just north of Hendrey, also suggested that the wafting smell of grease would annoy him and his neighbors. Hmm. I’ve been to the Houston’s restaurants that Hillstone Restaurant Group operates in Boca and Pompano Beach, and I couldn’t smell anything on the outside, offensive or otherwise. Good luck documenting that “damage” from restaurant on the Wildflower property.

Garlic Fest appeal

On Tuesday night, the Delray Beach City Commission either rejected the appeal on a date for Garlic Fest 2017 or will wait until the next meeting to do so.

Festival Management Group, which stages Garlic Fest, had challenged City Manager Don Cooper’s denial of the company’s wish to hold the event next February. Cooper said the city’s new special events policy doesn’t allow two major events downtown in the same month, and the annual pro tennis tournament is already scheduled for February.

Seeking to pressure the commission into granting her appeal, Festival Management Group’s Nancy Stewart- Franczak turned out non-profit groups that receive money from Garlic Fest. The Boy Scouts were there. The Eagle-ettes, Atlantic High School’s jazz dance team, were there. How could the cruel city commission kill Garlic Fest and thus hurt the city’s kids?

As all the commissioners made clear, the issue was not
“killing” Garlic Fest. The issue was the city’s new special events policy, which was more than a year in the making with the help of a panel that included Stewart-Franczak. Festival Management Group could choose a different month without a conflict or hold the event in February outside of downtown.

Especially with Commissioner Al Jacquet, Stewart-Franczak overplayed the charity angle. Jacquet said the assembled children had been told “a big lie” about the commission’s intent. Jacquet reminded the audience that the policy arose because residents complained that downtown events have become more hassle than benefit.

Shelly Petrolia made a motion to deny the appeal. Jacquet joined her in voting for it. Mitch Katz and Jordana Jarjura voted against. Mayor Carey Glickstein was absent.

Jarjura had sought a compromise—giving Garlic Fest its February date just for 2017 if Stewart-Franczak agreed not to ask for February after that. As City Attorney Noel Pfeffer noted, however, any such agreement would not be binding on a future commission.

Despite Jarjura telling her to “count your votes,” Stewart-Franczak didn’t seem interested in such a compromise anyway, asking, “What if I don’t find another location?” She and Jacquet, who was running the meeting in Glickstein’s absence, had a hostile exchange as patience dissipated and nerves frayed.

Despite Stewart-Franczak’s attitude, Katz proposed a motion on the Jarjura compromise. In an email Wednesday, Jarjura said the compromise had been her attempt to help the non-profits, which hadn’t been involved in setting the policy. That motion drew the same 2-2 vote. So it failed.

Eventually, the commission unanimously deferred the issue to the July 5 meeting. Pfeffer, though, said he is researching Robert’s Rules of Order. Petrolia contends that the first 2-2 vote killed the appeal, because it didn’t get a majority. It also was my understanding before the meeting that a tie would mean the appeal had failed, since Stewart-Franczak had sought it. Apparently, the question is whether the vote denied the appeal or amounted to no action, leaving the issue unresolved.

It may not matter either way. Glickstein has been as forceful as Petrolia in wishing to limit downtown events and not having the city subsidize them. He likely would have disliked the pressure tactics, too. If all five members are at the July 5 meeting, the commission probably will reject the appeal 3-2 unless Festival Management Group comes up with a more appealing compromise that wouldn’t cause the commission to undermine its own policy.

Rumor Control

Sometimes in reporting, reporters act as Rumor Control. Here’s an example:

Not long ago, Delray Beach Commissioner Mitch Katz asked if I had heard a rumor about Palm Beach County wanting to open a south-county homeless center. Katz and any other Delray official would be interested because their city is the geographic center of southern Palm Beach County, making it the logical location.

So I called County Commissioner Steven Abrams, who represents south county. “It’s more than a rumor,” he said. The county staff is studying the idea. As Abrams stressed, however, nothing will happen soon. It’s one of the county’s “long-range projects.”

For years, the county had no full-service homeless shelter. That changed in 2012, with the opening of the Phillip D. Lewis Shelter in West Palm Beach, named for the former Florida Senate president and advocate for the homeless. With that opening, however, has come a push for facilities in other parts of the county.

Which brings us to the south-county government center on Congress Avenue south of Atlantic Avenue. Abrams calls it a “very good location,” since it’s near an office of the county health department. The center offers some “in-client services,” as Abrams calls it, but anything permanent would be a “huge funding item.”

If voters approve a one-center increase in the sales tax this November, there would be money to modernize the Delray Beach complex and possibly offer homeless services on the first floor, after moving other offices. Even in that event, nothing would happen soon.

Interim city attorney

As expected, the Delray Beach City Commission made Janice Rustin the interim city attorney, effective after Pfeffer leaves on Friday. With the commission having failed to choose a successor or contracting with a private lawyer, the city manager had noted that Delray’s charter requires someone with the title.

Sadly, however, comments by commissioners at the end of Tuesday’s meeting indicated that the wide divide over the city attorney’s office remains.

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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