Monday, April 15, 2024

FAU begins project on student-centric district and many other city notes


FAU begins project to attract new students

The long-awaited start of Boca Raton’s attempt to create a student-centric district near Florida Atlantic University begins today.

At the city’s request, staff members of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council will begin to interview people who have a stake in the decision. That would include not just city council members, city department heads and FAU representatives, but also property owners on and around 20th Street just east of FAU and residents of other neighborhoods that border FAU.

Kim Delaney, the council’s director of strategic development and policy, will oversee the project. In an interview this week, Delaney said the goal is to produce of “issues that are salient” and develop a “background paper in the next couple of weeks.” Ideally, she said, the planning council would have something for the city council to review and discuss in November.

The council staff began work over the summer by reading what Delaney calls “the background documents” and developing a list of questions. “There’s not a very consolidated vision at this point,” Delaney said, of how the area should develop.

Yet there are at least two important certainties. President John Kelly wants FAU to attract more students, and he wants any new buildings on campus to be classrooms, not dormitories. If Kelly’s long-range plan comes true, the need for off-campus housing and student-related amenities will grow.

My sense is that the city council would like those students to be clustered, not spread among single-family neighborhoods. (I examine this topic more fully in the November edition of the magazine.) Doing so, however, would increase the need for city services, especially police and fire-rescue. Mayor Susan Haynie wants the FAU Police Department to patrol any new student district.

The result could be what planners call an overlay zone for that portion of 20th Street, to help student-centric projects fit within the area. Because the city has discussed this idea for about two years, Delaney correctly notes that the biggest issue is “lack of predictability.”

Potential investors and property owners want to know what Boca Raton envisions, what the city intends to allow and how far the rules would apply. Haynie, for example, has said any changes should not affect more than the 20thStreet and perhaps a block to the north and south. A developer, however, wants to build a project six blocks away on Northwest Fifth Avenue that could be home to about 2,500 students. That project would need a “university housing” designation to get the higher density required.

Fortunately, the planning council intends to interview a wide range of people. Delaney said staffers will speak with FAU students who are majoring in architecture and planning and designed their own ideas for the area.

“Our job,” Delaney said, “is to frame the questions.” It’s past time for some answers.


An auction for Boca’s western golf course?

At its meeting Tuesday night, the city council tried to ensure that there won’t be what Mayor Haynie called “an auction” for Boca Raton’s western golf course.

A day earlier, the council had decided to accept “best and final” offers for the roughly 200 acres until Nov. 22. On Tuesday, the council pushed that date for supposedly final offers to Oct. 21, leaving a month for staff to review the offers before council discussion on Nov. 22.

Ellyn Bogdanoff, a former state senator and lawyer who represents GL Homes, told the council that allowing companies to change their offers as late as Nov. 22 could make for chaos. GL is not among the 11 developers to have submitted offers, but with the city now formally shopping the site, the list could get much longer. The course is in the county, but undeveloped sites of this size are rare.

Haynie said an auctioneer actually had contacted her. So the council settled on Oct. 21, but City Attorney Diana Grubb Frieser noted that neither the council nor the bidders would be bound by that date. Because this isn’t a Request For Proposal, there is no “cone of silence” – a deadline after which the council can’t discuss the bids publicly.

As Councilman Robert Weinroth said, “The world can change.” Given all the potential facets of the deal – including the Ocean Breeze course that Boca Teeca residents want preserved from development – things almost certainly will change between now and then.


Date in sight for Park District meeting

Scheduling a meeting between the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District board members and the city council has been more difficult than scheduling a meeting between two heads of state. Finally, a date may be in sight.

Tuesday night, district chairman Robert Rollins addressed the council during public comment to propose Jan. 30, which to council members seemed doable. Rollins told me Wednesday that he is “quite confident” that the meeting will happen.

Though the city and the district recently concluded a 10-year deal on beach renourishment and inlet dredging, the tough issue remains a master agreement on parks. Even if that Jan. 30 meeting comes off, Rollins said, the city and the district need to work out a framework in advance.

He’s right. I would compare this to a special session of the Legislature. Nothing gets done unless there’s general agreement before the session starts. Council members and board members, Rollins said, “can’t try to settle every issue” at the meeting.

One complicating factor could be that the district board now might not be the district board in January. Incumbents Dennis Frisch and Earl Starkoff face re-election challenges on Nov. 8. Also, the district’s assistant director, Briann Harms, is set to become the permanent director in January. Art Koski has had the job on an interim basis for more than four years.


Ehrnst and Wright campaigning

Those challengers to Frisch and Starkoff – Craig Ehrnst and Erin Wright – were campaigning at Monday’s city council workshop.

Ehrnst and Wright spoke in favor of purchasing the Ocean Breeze golf course. Many Boca Teeca residents were in the audience, and most residents seem to want the course back in operation. Wells Fargo, an entity of which bought the course in January, closed Ocean Breeze in July. There are a lot of votes in Boca Teeca.


To fee or not to fee?

One of those tough issues for the city and the district is the fee non-residents of Boca Raton pay for their children to play sports in city leagues. There was discussion during Monday night’s final hearing on the budget, and both sides made valid arguments.

Before the council was the question of whether to raise non-resident fees from $55 per child, per sport to $75. Several coaches spoke passionately about how the increase could force some children out of one or more sports. Jody Forstot, a co-founder of Boca Hoops, said he heard city officials express the sentiment that “if they don’t pay, they don’t play. That is wrong.”

According to city officials, the fee affects about 2,000 boys and girls. Some of their parents, though, may live within the beach and park district and use facilities that are jointly operated.

Councilman Jeremy Rodgers, however, pointed out that Boca Raton residents have complained in recent years about not being able to use the parks they pay for. Rodgers said that while non-resident families might face higher fees, they don’t pay city property taxes that would be an even greater expense.

Mayor Haynie proposed keeping the fee at $55. Rodgers, Weinroth and Mike Mullaugh outvoted her and Scott Singer. Weinroth than proposed raising the fee to just $65. That passed, with Mullaugh and Rodgers again joining Weinroth. The increase to $55 a year ago also had been a compromise.

Residents should get breaks on such user fees. A family membership at the downtown tennis center, for example, costs $319 for residents and $825 for non-residents. Recreation Services Director Mickey Gomez said of the non-resident sports fee, “We’re covering our costs.” Yet non-resident fees should be reasonable.

At the council’s request, Gomez will examine whether the city could offer a non-resident family discount. As one coach said, an added $20 could mean nearly $200 for a family of three children who all played three sports. Board Chairman Rollins said the city needs to “look at the what the definition of a non-resident is.” All the more reason to work out that master agreement.


Singer presents “visioning summit”

Also on Tuesday night, Councilman Scott Singer made a presentation on his “visioning summit” last week regarding the Wildflower site and Silver Palm Park. He noted that the participants came up with “100 ideas” for the two locations, far more than could be possible.

But even if the city decided to somehow combine the two sites, and even if the city decided to move the boat ramp at Silver Palm Park as part of that combination, maximizing that potential would depend on having flexibility and a way to attract people. The proposed waterfront ordinance – 5653, on the November ballot – would greatly restrict use of city-owned waterfront land. If the ordinance passes, those great ideas never may happen.


Welcome to the world, Flynn Andrew Rodgers

Jeremy Rodgers missed Tuesday night’s council meeting, but he had an even better excuse than the one he had conveyed to Mayor Haynie.

According to the mayor, Rodgers first said he would be late because of a water line break at his house. During the meeting, however, Rodgers texted to say that his wife was in labor, due to deliver their fourth child. To which Haynie quipped that there had been different water break.

A healthy Flynn Andrew Rodgers arrived at 9:42 p.m. “Mom and Baby,” Rodgers texed, “are doing great!”


The long road is over

The last road closing in Delray Beach for work on All Aboard Florida’s passenger train service happens next week.

Lindell Boulevard will be closed starting Monday at 7 a.m. If the work goes on schedule, the road will reopen at 6 p.m. next Friday.

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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