Friday, July 12, 2024

Glades Interchange To Open Early & Weinroth’s School Board Run

The interchange at Interstate 95 and Glades Road in Boca Raton will open fully next Monday, five weeks early.

Florida Department of Transportation officials announced the updated schedule last week. An FDOT spokeswoman told me Monday that the state believes that it can conclude the work early by completely closing the interchange from 11 p.m. on Friday until 5 a.m. on Monday.

Cramming the remaining work into one weekend, the spokeswoman said, will be “more efficient” than nightly closings. Obviously, the schedule will be disruptive for a short time, but relief for drivers could come much sooner.

Since the partial opening of the project, getting onto and off I-95 has been less of a problem than getting eastbound and westbound. Only three of four lanes in each direction have been open. Add the adjustment to the new configuration—going left instead of right as you cross the highway—and you can see why drivers have vented on social media.

Assuming the new schedule holds, all four lanes in each direction will be open. Though the roadwork would be done, some construction would remain on the drainage pond. This weekend, drivers will be detoured to Palmetto Park Road and Butts Road. FDOT advises that detours also could be in effect next weekend “if needed.”

FDOT’s goal, the spokeswoman said, has been to deliver “a better product.” If the state wasn’t adding toll lanes on I-95 north to Linton Boulevard, the new interchange may not have happened. But Glades and I-95 has been a bottleneck for years. Soon, we’ll see if the new product really is better.

Weinroth files for School Board run—as a Republican

Robert Weinroth

Robert Weinroth has been a Boca Raton City Council member and a county commissioner. Now, he’s running for the Palm Beach County School Board.

And he’s now a Republican.

Weinroth filed his paperwork last Friday. He is seeking the District 5 seat held by Frank Barbieri, who is not seeking a new term. The district includes Boca Raton and West Boca.

It is not a race Weinroth would have wanted to make several months ago. Last summer, he was a few days away from getting a second term as a Democrat on the county commission with no opposition. Then Republican Marci Woodward filed, and in November she defeated Weinroth, thanks in large part to very low Democratic turnout.

Weinroth told me Monday that he changed parties because, while neither party has “resonated” with him, the GOP in Florida is “closer to my thinking” on business issues.

Yet during our conversation, Weinroth said he opposes much of the controversial legislation Republicans have enacted—or are trying to enact—regarding public schools.

Weinroth opposes universal vouchers for use at private schools. He opposes the proposed constitutional amendment that would make school board races partisan. He opposes what critics call the “don’t say gay” law about discussion of sex and sexual orientation. He wants to provide “a moderate voice.”

Weinroth did say that he opposes such discussion from kindergarten through third grade, which the law bans. The law’s supporters, however, have cited no evidence that such discussions were taking place. State rules on “age-appropriate” discussions above third grade are vague.

Though school board races remain nonpartisan, Gov. DeSantis last year endorsed candidates around the state—all of whom were Republicans. Weinroth said his new affiliation could help him in Republican-leaning Boca Raton and hurt him in Democratic-leaning West Boca.

During his eight years on the council and commission, Weinroth never dealt with public school issues. He could not tell me what the “required local effort” is. That’s the amount of property taxes the Legislature tells counties they must provide toward the education budget. It’s one of the basics of public education financing.

No other candidate has filed for the seat.

Simon Property Group wins Boca’s mall war

Town Center Mall

The legal battle between two heavyweights at Town Center Mall has gone to the mall’s owner, Simon Property Group.

Last week, Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer ruled in favor of Indianapolis-based Simon, which owns Town Center. Simon had sued Seritage Growth Properties, which owns the 18 acres of the 141-acre mall property that once was a Sears store.

Seritage would like to redevelop that site into what it calls The Collection at Town Center. The proposal includes 17 buildings with 240,000 square feet of restaurant, restaurant and retail space and 1,000 parking spaces. Despite the name, Seritage essentially wants to separate its project from the mall.

Four years ago, Simon sued, claiming that under the agreement between the parties it has the right to buy those 18 acres if Seritage tries to use them for anything but retail. Doing so, Simon said, would damage Town Center. It’s the most valuable property in Palm Beach County. Seritage argues that Simon just wants to buy the property on the cheap.

In December, both sides filed motions seeking summary judgment. Each side basically claimed that it had proved its case without the need for a trial. Feuer granted Simon’s motion and denied Seritage’s motion.

Feuer wrote that she was “unpersuaded” by Seritage’s 13 defenses. Example: Seritage claimed that all of its project would continue use of the property for retail purposes. Feuer cited case law that the definition applies only to the direct sale of goods. Restaurant and entertainment need not apply. Seritage had previously dropped the idea of a hotel.

In December, the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board recommended 4-3 that the city council deny the site plan amendment that the project would require. No date for a council appearance has been set. Feuer’s ruling seemingly would bolster the case against the project.

Work continues on Palmetto Park Road bridge project

Though there’s good news about one major road construction project in Boca Raton, there’s bad news about another.

That would be completion of a new bridge over the El Rio Canal on Palmetto Park Road just west of downtown. While the work continues, there’s just one lane for traffic in each direction.

Originally, the project was supposed to be finished by now. The revised completion date was July. A news release from Woodward’s office—this is a county project, not a city project—says the work will be done in September.

According to the county, issues with utilities, sidewalks and crosswalks explain the added delay. Drivers whom the work has inconvenienced for so long will be skeptical of the new estimate.

Boca’s spotty audit results

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) found in its audit of Boca Raton that the city lacked adequate controls in the use of credit cards by employees. In its report, the office made several recommendations that the city has adopted.

Though the OIG’s best-known role is to receive complaints, it regularly reviews city operations to provide an outside look. The office chose Boca Raton because the city had not been the subject of an audit since 2013.

Investigators found roughly $17,000 in “questioned costs”—spending that didn’t follow proper procedures. Some purchases, for example, were split to get around the limit of $999 for a single purchase. In other cases, receipts did not fully explain what the purchase was for.

According to the report, city officials will provide updated training and other remedies. The changes will be in place, the city said, by June.

FAU goes to the Sweet Sixteen

fau
Photo by Alex Dolce

“Still Dancing,” reads the website of Florida Atlantic University. That’s because FAU’s men’s basketball team for the first time survived the opening weekend of the annual NCAA tournament known as “The Big Dance.”

The Owls beat Memphis and Fairleigh Dickinson to reach the Sweet Sixteen. On Thursday, the ninth-seeded Owls play Tennessee. FAU got more tournament wins in one weekend than it had in the team’s history.

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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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