Sunday, August 14, 2022

Ag Reserve May Fall This Time Under GL Homes Proposal & Other News

Before Labor Day, the Palm Beach County Commission may determine the fate of the Agricultural Reserve Area.

In February, the commission voted 4-3 to initiate discussions with GL Homes—the largest homebuilder in and around the reserve—on a proposal that critics believe would kill the 23-year effort to preserve farming in the reserve. I believe that those critics are correct.

To review, GL wants to build 1,000 high-end homes north of Stonebridge Country Club near Clint Moore Road and State Road 7. That 683-acre site is at the southern end of the roughly 20,000-acre reserve, which is west of the Florida Turnpike and runs north to Lantana Road. Under current rules that cap residential development, GL couldn’t build those homes.

So GL wants to trade the county nearly 1,700 acres the company owns west of West Palm Beach. In return, the company would get to build those homes near Boca Raton. Under current rules, developers only can trade land within the reserve for permission to add homes.

This precedent, critics argue, would lead to many similar deals, eventually turning this coastal farm belt into more South Florida suburbia. That would undermine the intent of voters who in 1999 approved $100 million for land purchases to protect the reserve and the industry it supports.

The proposal is scheduled to go before the planning commission on Aug. 12. That is a 14-member panel, with each of the seven county commissioners getting two appointments. Though the panel’s recommendation is not binding, a vote to deny the proposal could be significant.

On the current schedule, the county commission would debate the proposal at its Aug. 31 meeting. If the swap got four votes, the county would transmit it to the state land planning agency. That must happen because the deal requires a change to the county’s comprehensive plan. The state almost certainly would approve that amendment.

County Commissioner Robert Weinroth represents Boca Raton and Delray Beach. He told me Monday that the key issue is what GL Homes would contribute toward the cost of environmental projects that would rely on the company’s northern land. The commission recently decided not to place on the November ballot a property tax for water projects.

County planners and administrators, Weinroth said, want to have something specific for that Aug. 12 meeting. “It might be nice to have all that land,” Weinroth said of the GL property, “but it won’t do us any good to just look at it.”

Weinroth voted in February to start those discussions. As he noted, however, two commissioners who joined him—Mack Bernard and Greg Weiss—indicated that they just wanted to hear details. They might not be firm votes to approve.

GL and its supporters point out that the company also would build 250 workforce housing units at a different location. The lack of affordable housing has become a crisis. Opponents respond that commissioners should not sacrifice the Agricultural Reserve Area to solve a problem of the county’s making.

GL very badly wants the deal. It reportedly has offered $7 million worth of incentives to Stonebridge Country Club for the members’ support. I’ll have more before that Aug. 12 meeting.

Delray proposes tax cut

Delray Beach is proposing a tiny cut in the city’s property tax rate.

At today’s meeting, the city commission must set the maximum rate for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. City Manager Terrence Moore proposes a limit of $6.72 for every $1,000 of assessed value. That number includes the main levy for operating expenses and the small levy for debt service.

Compared to the current rate, the new levy would represent a savings of roughly $62 for a home assessed at $500,000. Most owners would pay more overall, however, because property values in Delray Beach have risen almost 13.5 percent.

Commissioners could set the final rate lower. They just couldn’t exceed the limit they set today. Commissioners will hold a budget workshop meeting before today’s regular meeting. Two public hearings on the budget take place in September.

Delray Central appeals

Developers of the proposed Delray Central project have appealed the planning and zoning board’s denial.

G&C Arbors Investors own the two office buildings at 1615 and 1625 South Congress Avenue. They want to add a third building with 271 apartments and to create a mixed-use project involving all three structures on the roughly 12 acres.

The project would require four waivers. At its May 16 meeting, the planning and zoning board denied the master plan application and waivers, even though the developers had made changes after going before the board in April. The vote was 4-3.

In her letter notifying the city about the appeal, attorney Bonnie Miskel said the board considered “evidence that was not relevant” and made its decision “without competent evidence.” The appeal was scheduled to go before the city commission next week. Miskel has asked for a delay until Aug. 9 because she won’t be available until that meeting.

G&C Arbors Investors is a venture of Boca Raton-based Grover Curlew. The partners bought the land and buildings in 2015 for $20.15 million.

Delray trash problem emerges…again

Photo by Gary Chan

Delray Beach apparently still doesn’t have a long-term plan for trash collection.

On that crowded commission agenda is a proposal to increase monthly residential collection fees from $11.18 to $13.53. The increase would last from Oct. 1 until May 31 of next year.

Waste Management, with which the city contracts, has asked to end its contract. The city responded that the request was not valid. The two sides went to mediation, out of which this proposal emerged.

The company calls the current rate system “unsustainable,” according to the staff memo. If the commission approves the increase, Waste Management’s contract will end next May. That will leave Delray Beach without a trash hauler. Add that to the long list of city priorities.

Pour and Famous wants a new last call

pour and famous
Photo courtesy of Pour and Famous

Also on the agenda for today’s commission is a request by Pour and Famous to operate until 2 a.m. at its location on West Atlantic Avenue.

Because Pour and Famous is not in Delray Beach’s designated downtown entertainment zone and is near single-family neighborhoods, the restaurant must stop indoor service at midnight. In 2020, the city allowed Pour and Famous to have outdoor dining as late at 10 p.m. during the week and 11 p.m. on weekends. The current request applies only to indoor service.

As the staff report notes, the property first was home to a bar, the Clearview Club, in 1956. The current owners changed the building from a bar to a restaurant. The site is just east of property on which the community redevelopment agency envisions a mixed-use project featuring a grocery store.

In May, the planning and zoning board recommended approval by a vote of 6-1. The board, though, attached a condition that would allow Pour and Famous the later hours only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

According to the application, “The building design, landscaping and lighting will not create unwarranted distractions or block visibility as it pertains to traffic circulation. The existing building will not be substantively enlarged, nor does the applicant intend to install any additional landscaping or lighting that will impact West Atlantic Avenue, the adjacent street.”

UPDATE: Glades Road work cancelled

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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