Golf Course Updates, Chabad News, and the Delray Beach Headache

ocean breeze

Golf course sale

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“This is getting out of hand,” Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie said Tuesday night. Yes, and it’s been getting out of hand for months.

The issue was the city’s planned sale of the western golf course. It was added to the agenda only the day before. Deputy City Manager George Brown, who has been handling the negotiations, had to rush back from out of town, since the council seemed ready to choose from among Compson, GL Homes and Lennar.

If the goal was to let Councilman Mike Mullaugh have a say during his last meeting, it didn’t work out that way. Indeed, the evening ended with nothing resolved. The city still might get $70 million-plus for the course, but the celebrating seems far off.

Since the offers are all for $73 million or very close to it, the debate is over details of the various contracts. What contingencies, for example, would apply?

Two GL executives ripped Lennar’s contract as being filled with contingencies compared to GL’s clean deal. Mitch Kirschner, a lawyer for Lennar, countered that GL was referring to an outdated contract, and that Lennar’s new version was almost contingency-free.

Outrage built. GL implied that Lennar had raised its bid to match GL’s only because Lennar might sell the Ocean Breeze course—on which it has a contract—to the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Parks District for $24 million. Kirschner responded that it would be “foolish” to suggest that Lennar—a publicly traded company with a market value of nearly $12 billion—would need to secure $24 million to make a $73 million deal.

Neil Schiller, a lawyer for GL Homes, accused Kirschner of using “alternative facts.” Kevin Rattery, a GL vice-president, said his character had been impugned. Kirschner complained stridently when Schiller got five minutes to speak after GL had made its 10-minute presentation. Mayor Susan Haynie and the council agreed to this unusual free-for-all last fall, hoping that looser rules might cause the bids to rise, auction-like. That has happened. Compson and Lennar eventually matched GL, which offered $73 million at the start. Lennar stripped out a conveyance of Ocean Breeze, making the deal cleaner.

By prolonging things, however, the council still doesn’t have a credible comparison of the contracts. The short notice for Tuesday’s meeting—after a GL vice-president on Monday had asked the council to schedule the item—left some principals unprepared.

In a text message, Haynie said, “Staff will do a line-by-line comparison of the contracts and address the accusations that Lennar has contingencies, or not.” The timetable for such an analysis is “unknown at this time.” Brown also said the city could get more “revised offers.”

You get the sense that one or both losers will sue. Litigation could delay the sale by at least a year and perhaps two years beyond the usual due diligence period of several months that any buyer would have.

“In the end,” Haynie said, “the city will derive the greatest benefit from this less-than-pretty process.” If she’s right, the question is when.

Not so fast

I wrote recently that GL Homes didn’t involve itself in Boca Raton’s March 14 election. As they say in the National Football League, after further review I will have to reverse that call, if just a little.

According to campaign finance reports, GL didn’t donate through the company. But Mayor Haynie received $1,000 from the Arnstein & Lehr law firm that employs Schiller, one of the attorneys representing GL Homes. Haynie also received $500 from Schiller’s wife, Robyn, and $500 from Becker & Poliakoff. Ellyn Bogdanoff, the other lawyer representing GL Homes, works for that firm. Haynie got $500 from Wendy Larsen, a lawyer for GrayRobinson, which represents Lennar.

Councilman Scott Singer received $500 from Arnstein & Lehr, $500 from Neil Schiller and $500 from Becker & Poliakoff. He also got $500 from Larsen and $150 from Kirschner. Andrea O’Rourke, who takes office on Friday, also got $150 from Kirschner. Haynie and Singer also received money from individuals and entities associated with Compson.

And the other golf course issue

There also will be a delay in the other golf course issue before the Boca Raton City Council.

Lennar has offered to sell the Ocean Breeze course at Boca Teeca for $24 million. The city, however, would help to finance the sale and the cost of returning the course to playing condition. At its April 24 workshop meeting, the council was to hear a presentation from Art Koski, the district’s executive director, on the Lennar offer.

That presentation now will happen at the May 8 workshop meeting. To accommodate Councilman Jeremy Rodgers, the council moved the April 24 workshop and April 25 regular meeting to April 18-19. In an email, Koski said, “Some issues with the revenue bonds to be issued by the city for Ocean Breeze needed added time to resolve.  May 8 was a date we could live with.”

Chabad update

Boca Raton has won its second victory in federal court against two residents who challenged the city council’s approval of Chabad East Boca.

Gerald Gagliardi and Katie MacDougall invented a conspiracy theory under which the city placated Golden Triangle residents who opposed the chabad’s effort to build a new synagogue east of Mizner Park by helping the congregation find a location near the beach on East Palmetto Park Road. The plaintiffs live nearby.

The council approved Chabad East Boca in 2015. The lawsuit came in February 2016. Five months later, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra granted the city’s motion to dismiss. The plaintiffs then filed an amended complaint. Each called himself and herself “a member of the Christian religion” whom the city had victimized by violating the First Amendment ban on government establishment of religion.

They also alleged that the chabad would increase flooding and make it hard for emergency vehicles to reach the area. We should note here that the chabad amounted to a less intense use than other uses allowed on the site—770 East Palmetto Park Road.

This week, Marra again granted the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, all but calling the action frivolous. He noted that the supposed “injuries” the plaintiffs cited “represent only a potential, hypothetical outcome that may result from building the chabad, not one that is imminent.”

As for the First Amendment issue, Marra wrote that the plaintiffs “have not alleged that they have been subject to unwelcome religious exercises, nor have (they) alleged that they have been forced to assume special burdens to avoid religious exercise, nor have Plaintiffs’ own religious practices been impacted by the City’s zoning decision.

“Indeed, Plaintiffs have not alleged any injury concerning religious activity—beyond noting that a party to the challenged zoning decision is a religious organization. Instead, plaintiffs’ alleged injuries relate to increased risk of flooding, increased traffic congestion, increased difficulty of emergency service access, and changes to the character of the plaintiffs’ neighborhood. These injuries are not within the zone of interests protected by the Establishment Clause.” The plaintiffs’ attorney said his clients would decide whether to appeal “most likely next week.”

This lawsuit essentially became moot after a successful challenge in state court. The judges ruled that the city wrongly allowed a museum as part of the project. The chabad appealed and lost, after which the rabbi said the chabad would seek a new site plan without the museum.

But more than a whiff of anti-Semitism came through during discussion of the project. You can smell it in this lawsuit. Symbolic victories usually don’t matter. For Boca Raton, however, this one does.

Public comment on waterfront coming up

As Boca Raton determines how to improve public access to the waterfront, residents on Monday will have their chance to speak up.

EDSA—the city’s consultant—will hear public comment on the waterfront plan from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the downtown library. According to a city news release, EDSA will present its inventory of public waterfront land and take questions and comments.

One major topic will be the Wildflower property. The city council envisioned a revenue-producing restaurant, but last November’s ordinance limited the site to just four public uses. Some council members and residents hope to link the Wildflower with Silver Palm Park.

Delray beach makeover

Work begins this weekend on a project that will test the patience of Delray Beach residents.

That would be the makeover of the public beach, a 1.3-mile project that the city first hoped would be done last fall. The goal now is to finish the work by next high season.

While the Beach Master Plan work goes on, there will be no public parking on A1A, though access to the beach will be available through the construction area. The city is arranging parking and transportation, including a trolley.

Groundbreaking took place on Wednesday. When the $3 million project is done, the promenade will have new fountains, showers, sidewalks, gazebos and smart parking meters. The city will move the memorial benches to a new portion of the promenade.

Construction will move from south to north. Mayor Cary Glickstein said that if the contractors perform, “We’ll be in good shape. In the meantime, parking and pedestrian access will be problematic, but folks need to be patient. It will be worth it.”


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