The Facts About Midtown and Tri-Rail, Remembering Carol Hanson

The Boca Raton Tri-Rail station. (Photo by Aaron Bristol)

Midtown in perspective

There are meetings today and Wednesday about a second Tri-Rail station for Boca Raton. Discussion of the station likely will lead to a discussion of Midtown. So let’s base the discussion on facts.

Begin with the history.

In 2009, the city council designated five parts of the city for Planned Mobility Development (PMD). Within those zones, development would be geared toward reducing the impact from traffic.

The five zones were: the Arvida Park of Commerce, which has been renamed the Park at Broken Sound; Boca Raton Regional Hospital; the then-vacant 80 acres on Spanish River Boulevard near Interstate 95; the former Levitz shopping center on North Federal Highway; and Midtown, the roughly 300 acres between Town Center Mall and Boca Center and Glades Road.

At The Park at Broken Sound, the new residential development allowed under the PMD designation complements the region’s many employment centers. The Levitz center became the Broadstone apartment complex. Boca Regional is moving on its makeover. The city council approved the mixed-use University Village project for those 80 acres.

Which leaves Midtown. Under state law, the city is seven years late on setting the rules for development within Midtown. Because of the recession, the delay didn’t matter for a while. Now, it matters.

Four property owners dominate Midtown. Simon Property Group, which owns the mall, obviously has been there all along. Cypress Realty, however, bought the Strikes bowling center and the building on Military Trail that housed Nippers in 2011. Texas-based Trademark Property Group bought Glades Plaza in 2012. Crocker Partners bought its four properties, one of which is Boca Center, in 2014. Tom Crocker built it, and then sold it.

Crocker and the others obviously made those deals based on the PMD designation, which allows residential development. None exists now because of rules that were in place when the city annexed the area from the county 14 years ago. Technically, those property owners already have a legal case against the city for failing to set the rules.

Angelo Bianco, the managing partner of Crocker Partners, has been the lead negotiator for the property owners. As proposed, the changes would allow 2,500 residential units distributed among the four owners. There would be a massive reinvestment, with new retail. “We want to create the next Mizner Park,” Bianco said Monday, “with the lessons of the first Mizner Park.”

Though the city council has discussed Midtown at two workshop meetings, most recently in July, city staff members have not responded to the traffic study the owners submitted in May. Mayor Susan Haynie told me Monday that the Development Services Department is “feverishly working” and should have a response by this week. The planning and zoning board will hold a special meeting on Sept. 14 to discuss Midtown.

Critics of Midtown, basically BocaWatch and some of its followers, have seized on this week’s Tri-Rail meetings. BocaWatch Publisher Al Zucaro calls the proposed station—which would be just north of Crocker Center—“a justification for permitting 2500 (sic) new residences in the immediate vicinity of the station’s location.”

In fact, the city’s wish for a Tri-Rail station in that area predates the current Midtown debate. Haynie said the original plan, nearly two decades ago, was to put the Boca station there. But the Blue Lake project, on what had been the IBM headquarters, was heating up. The city decided to put the station nearby on Yamato Road, where it could serve the businesses. That has happened. The station is the busiest on the line.

Haynie chairs the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization, which sets transportation priorities for the county. The MPO, Haynie said, has set aside $18 million in federal and state grants for construction of the second station. Even without Midtown, Haynie said, “The Tri-Rail station is a good idea.”

Zucaro’s opposition is curious. Running against Haynie this year, he regularly complained about traffic in Boca Raton. Tri-Rail stations take cars off the road. Tri-Rail and the city council favor the second station.

For his part, Bianco said the station had only a negligible impact on his traffic numbers. City council members, though, have presumed that Crocker would donate land for the station. That $18 million doesn’t include anything for land. Crocker’s contribution could depend on how many residential units the city allows.

Zucaro calls Midtown a “billion-dollar giveaway,” meaning what he says would be the cost of accompanying public services. It’s a headline number for which Zucaro provides no source. BocaWatch claims that school enrollment would rise, but Bianco said the market for the rentals would be single people and childless couples.

Boca Raton can make the case for a Midtown Tri-Rail station no matter what development rules the city sets. Using the station as a stalking horse against Midtown hurts the city. But Boca Raton does need to set those rules. Soon.

Tri-Rail meetings

Both of those Tri-Rail meetings will be at the Spanish River Library. The first, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. tonight, will be an open house. The second, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, will feature discussion by public officials about the benefits of the station.

Carol Hanson remembered

News of Carol Hanson’s death came quietly, in contrast to the public persona of Boca Raton’s former mayor and city council member.

Obituaries in Sunday’s South Florida Sun Sentinel and Palm Beach Post reported that Ms. Hanson died a week ago. Born in Utica, N.Y., a blue-collar town far from the glitz of Manhattan, Ms. Hanson grew up in Miami. After moving to Boca Raton in 1960, Ms. Hanson served on the planning and zoning board. From that platform, she went on to serve 12 years on the council—six of them as mayor—and 12 years representing the city in the Florida House.

When Ms. Hanson announced her retirement from politics in 2003, a Palm Beach Post reporter described her as a “gravelly voiced naysayer.” Spot on. The gravel came from years of smoking. The naysaying came from years of opposing growth in almost every form.

Ms. Hanson was among those who backed Boca Raton’s attempt to cap development at 40,000 units. Though the U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled against the city, the lawsuit effectively allowed Boca to control growth, making the city more attractive.

Ironically, though Ms. Hanson never lost an election she also never built a coalition on the council. Ms. Hanson had occasional allies, such as Esther Dance, but she was not one to cultivate relationships.

Current Mayor Susan Haynie, who on Monday praised Ms. Hanson’s “amazing passion,” recalled a vintage Hanson moment. As a planning and zoning board member in 1999, Haynie had joined the majority in approving the Blue Lake project. Haynie recalled how the board understood that the council favored the project, so the board sought to make it better, by adding 99 conditions.

Ms. Hanson, who opposed Blue Lake, “was livid” with Haynie, despite the conditions. Like Haynie, Ms. Hanson had come up through the Greater Boca Federation of Homeowner Associations. Ms. Hanson expected Haynie to join her opposition to Blue Lake. Ms. Hanson backed another candidate in the 2000 council race that Haynie won. Similarly, Hanson supported Dave Freudenberg for the council, and then turned against him.

Ms. Hanson’s retirement announcement 14 years ago was typically acerbic and revealing: “I know the ‘in-crowd’ will dance with joy at my decision. When you have colleagues who don’t like you and actively work against you, as has been so evident in my case, no matter how much I want Boca protected, I can get nothing done.”

Yet Ms. Hanson earned respect even from her opponents. Mark Guzzetta, one of the Blue Lake partners, said Monday that even when she criticized the project from the dais, “We always had a dialogue going. And unlike some of the grenade-throwers in the city today, she never changed her position for political expediency. She had a vision for the city. She believed in something.”

And there was a moment when Boca Raton needed a naysayer like Ms. Hanson. In 1996, the board of then-Boca Raton Community Hospital came close to selling the hospital in a deal that the board tried to keep secret. There were allegations that some board members stood to gain from formation of a foundation that would have been financed with the proceeds from the sale.

Though opposition to the deal arose from the federation, Ms. Hanson criticized the sale more strongly than any other council member. She got Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth involved. The board canceled the sale. The bad memory remains strong enough that current CEO Jerry Fedele made sure to announce early and very publicly the hospital’s search for partners and that the search does not mean the hospital is for sale.

Finally, I recall the many calls I got from Ms. Hanson as editorial page editor of the Palm Beach Post. Whether she was calling to praise or rip, Ms. Hanson invariably began with a gravelly, “Hey, sweetie.”

Rest in peace.

Losing golf in Boca?

During the Boca Raton City Council’s discussion of rules for companies bidding to buy the western golf course, the subject arose of the council’s resolution to keep golf in the city. The presumption among some residents—especially those in Boca Teeca—has been that the council would sell the western course and join with the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District to buy the Ocean Breeze course at Boca Teeca.

As I recently reported, however, the council remains skeptical of the $24 million price for Boca Teeca and the district’s October date for closing. So perhaps selling the western course wouldn’t mean keeping golf in Boca?

Mayor Susan Haynie then noted that in such a scenario, Boca Raton actually would still have golf—the executive course at Red Reef Park. Councilman Scott Singer further pointed out that the council appropriated $10,000 for a putting green at Mizner Park.

Yes, he was kidding about the putting green being “golf in Boca.” On a serious note, however, a resolution is not a guarantee. With the golf course, you can be sure that the council understands the difference.

Delray sober home news

In its fight against the proliferation of sober homes, Delray Beach is about to push for yet another rule change.

Mayor Cary Glickstein told me that city officials will discuss, with Delray Beach’s lobbyist, legislation that would require state certification of sober homes. The state must certify drug treatment centers but not sober homes.

Delray Beach already changed policy to require that all group homes reapply each year. Only the state, however, could set standards that might force bad sober home operators out of business. The city is basing its latest campaign on the study done by attorney Daniel Lauber. I will have more as the idea progresses.

CORRECTION

Last week I reported incorrectly that Boca Raton Police Chief Dan Alexander had supported the proposed ordinance to ban private displays at Sanborn Square. A police department spokesman said the chief was not asked to provide any statement on the ordinance, which failed unanimously after every speaker criticized it.

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