Saturday, October 16, 2021

Haynie Faces Ethics Charges, Updates on Medical Marijuana, Midtown and More

Former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie’s legal troubles continue.

Last week, the Florida Commission on Ethics found probable cause to proceed with eight allegations against Haynie. All relate to Haynie’s and her husband’s financial relationships with property owners James and Marta Batmasian of Investments Limited.

According to the news release that the commission issued Wednesday, five allegations are that Haynie filed inaccurate financial disclosure forms from 2012 through 2016. The commission also found probable cause that Haynie “misused her position to conceal a business relationship with the Batmasians and acted to benefit her and her husband’s businesses and the businesses of the Batmasians.”

In addition, the commission found probable cause that Haynie “voted on matters she knew would inure to the special private gain or loss of herself, her husband, or business associates and principals.” The last allegation centers on “a conflicting contractual relationship because of her business relationship with the Batmasians and their companies while they or their representatives appeared before the city council.”

Haynie already faces seven criminal charges stemming from that relationship with the Batmasians. Though the ethics charges are civil, they will further harm Haynie’s reputation and run up her already high legal bills.

The medical marijuana tangle

We saw again Monday in Boca Raton the mess that the legislature has made of the constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana in Florida.

Seventy-one percent of voters approved the amendment. Because the legislature didn’t put the question on the ballot, however, Tallahassee has shown its usual resistance to what the public wants if it conflicts with what the legislature wants—or doesn’t want.

Legislators wrote very restrictive rules for the medical marijuana program. Those rules have drawn lawsuits. One challenges the state’s ban on smokeable marijuana for patients who are eligible to receive prescriptions.

Still another rule gives cities and counties an all-or-nothing choice. They can allow marijuana dispensaries anywhere pharmacies can operate, or they can ban them.

Boca Raton and Delray Beach issued those bans a year ago, after both cities had approved moratoriums while waiting to see what else emerged from Tallahassee. Nothing did. The all-or-nothing remained.

When the Boca Raton City Council passed the ban, however, members asked to take another look in a year. So at Monday’s workshop meeting, city staff updated the council on the issue.

You could sense the frustration. Council members appreciate that residents would like a dispensary within the city, but they worry about the city’s lack of control.

“Could we just do one?” Andrea O’Rourke asked. “Could we change the rules?”

To the first question, no. To the second, City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser said the council would have to change the rules for all pharmacies. Boynton Beach did that.

So did Lake Worth. As the staff memo noted, though, the city then banned marijuana dispensaries after two had opened. The city worried about “adverse impacts,” such as “offensive odors, trespassing, robberies, increased crimes in and around the dispensing facilities, negative impacts on nearby businesses, and nuisance problems.” The two dispensaries can remain.

Three patients told the council that they would like the convenience of a store within the city, even though a dispensary is just across the border into Deerfield Beach. Dispensaries also deliver.

Though one of the patients said the council should “get your head out of the sand,” there is no “Reefer Madness” mindset among the members. They’re trying to deal with Tallahassee’s mishandling of this issue. No flexibility is likely to come soon, since Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders intend to appeal last month’s ruling by a Leon County judge that the 2017 law is unconstitutional.

“We need more information,” Councilman Andy Thomson said.

“We need to figure out a creative way to make this work,” Councilwoman Monica Mayotte said.

Staff likely will make a follow-up presentation to see if there’s “a creative way.”

And Delray’s status

Delray Beach did not revisit the topic of medical marijuana dispensaries in late September, a year after the city commission banned them.

City Manager Mark Lauzier said in an email, “There is no current discussion or thought process that I am aware of associated with changing our current situation. If there is no specific law or motion requiring a revisiting of the topic, it will need to be made an issue by members of the current city commission.”

Midtown update

The Boca Raton City Council finally passed two ordinances related to Midtown.

Neither deals with the issues that prompted Crocker Partners, which owns Boca Center and other Midtown properties, to sue the city over the council’s failure to approve development rules. These ordinances, however, will help to shape whatever happens in Midtown.

One purpose is to update regulations that remain from when the 300 acres of Midtown were in Palm Beach County. The city annexed the land in 2003. Neighbors had been concerned that uses such as adult entertainment might be possible. That won’t happen. Similarly, the ordinances prohibit amplified music like the kind at Blue Martini that bothered residents of nearby neighborhoods.

Town Center Mall’s owner also wanted relief from what Simon Property Group claimed were overly restrictive parking rules. Simon attorney Bonnie Miskel told the council that even a request to add “two outdoor seats” at a restaurant required a new parking study even though there’s a “sea of open spaces” almost every day.

The exceptions are Black Friday, when customers jam stores to buy items, and right after Christmas, when customers jam stores to return items. The discussion got very deep, with many planning acronyms and terms like “similar previously approved special exceptions.”

After a recess to work on the proposed changes, however, the council approved the ordinances unanimously. As for what happens with Midtown on a broader scale, see my next item.

Bert Harris arrives

Crocker Partners has filed a second lawsuit against Boca Raton over Midtown.

The first seeks to have the city adopt redevelopment rules regarding residential units, building heights and other items. The one Crocker filed this week seeks $137.6 million for the city’s failure to adopt those rules.

In April, Crocker notified the city of its intent to file this claim under the Bert Harris Act, alleging that the city has deprived Crocker of property rights. During the 150-day period for negotiations before such lawsuits can be filed, the city did not contact Crocker.

“Due to the fact that the city has taken an obstructionist, non-cooperative approach, we are left with no choice but to move forward (with the lawsuit),” Crocker Managing Partner Angelo Bianco said in a news release. “We are saddened that the city has forced our hand in this matter and is endangering the financial health of our community and placing a tremendous burden on its citizens and our neighbors.”

Current rules don’t allow residential development in Midtown. That’s another holdover from before annexation. In 2010, however, the city designated Midtown a Planned Mobility Development (PMD) district—one of five in Boca Raton. The city wanted housing that would align with mass transit and other options to reduce traffic.

Rather than set those rules, the city council last January asked staff to create a “small area plan” for Midtown. Crocker alleges that the action was arbitrary, since the council hasn’t asked for a “small area plan” anywhere else in the city. The lawsuit notes that the city didn’t ask for one before approving development rules for University Village on 80 acres along Spanish River Boulevard. That land also has a PMD designation.

Crocker believes that PMD rules allow for nearly 1,300 residential units in Midtown. Because the city has refused to approve those rules, the lawsuit claims, Crocker’s properties—notably Boca Center—have lost $137,600,000 in potential value.

Only former Mayor Susan Haynie dissented nine months ago when the council indefinitely delayed a decision on Midtown. Andrea O’Rourke, Jeremy Rodgers and Scott Singer—now mayor—made up the 4-1 majority with Robert Weinroth, now running for the Palm Beach County Commission.

Monica Mayotte and Andy Thomson have since joined the council. Though they weren’t part of the vote, the lawsuit and the potential whopping judgment are now also their problems.

Firearms lawsuit

The same Tallahassee judge who struck down the medical marijuana also has said that a lawsuit against the legislature over firearms can proceed.

In 1987, the legislature made firearms regulation a state matter. In 2011, at the urging of the National Rifle Association, the legislature imposed penalties of fines and removal from office for local officials whom the NRA or any other group believed were trying to approve regulations despite that state preemption.

Since the deadly Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting eight months ago, city officials again began to consider regulations. Thirty cities—including Boca Raton and Delray Beach—challenged that 2011 law. Their lawsuit argues that “regardless of how confident city or county officials are that they have the authority to take the proposed actions and that these actions would not violate the preemption law, they nevertheless have been prevented from pursuing them any further due to their fear that defendants or private parties may interpret their actions as violating the preemption law.”

This week, Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson rejected Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit. Firearms regulation is the only state preemption that carries such penalties.

Boca Middle School crowding

New numbers show that Boca Raton Middle School remains as crowded as ever.

According to the official count for the new academic year, the school built to hold 1,432 students has 1,550. To get those numbers down, the Palm Beach County School District might implement an address-check policy like that for Boca Raton High School.

Longer-term relief should come in the next two to three years after construction of the new Addison Mizner and Verde elementary schools. Each will add middle school grades. A proposed new elementary school in Boca Raton, which would be on 15 city-owned acres next to Don Estridge Middle just west of the Spanish River Library, also might include a middle school for even more relief.

For now, however, the district is still waiting for approval for that unnamed school from the Florida Board of Education. Tuesday night, the city council set in motion a plan to lease that land. At the very least, it will house Addison Mizner students during that school’s rebuilding.

PBC schools get top grades

The school district announced this week that 53 schools in Palm Beach County have been named Florida “Schools of Excellence.” The distinction goes to schools that maintain an A or B on the state ranking system and are in the top 80 percent of their peers statewide for two of the last three years.

Nearly all the schools in Boca Raton made the list. They included Addison Mizner, Calusa and Verde elementary schools, Estridge and Omni middle schools and Boca Raton and Spanish River high schools. West Boca Raton High also made the list.

Tri-Rail land crush

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

Three developers have made unsolicited offers for the 6.6-acre site just east of the Tri-Rail station on Yamato Road in Boca Raton.

The Tri-Rail board will discuss the offers during a closed-door meeting on Friday. An agency spokeswoman said one offer is from Coconut Creek-based Butters Construction. Among other projects, the company built the Clive Daniel store in Boca Raton.

The spokeswoman could not recall any similar offers for Tri-Rail land, mainly because the agency owns very little aside from where the stations are. All three offers are for transit-oriented development, which would be tied to the Yamato station.

If Tri-Rail sold the site, the city would have to review any development application.

Also at Friday’s Tri-Rail meeting, the board will approve an extension of the agreement that provides shuttle service from the Boca Raton station to Boca Center and the Midtown jobs hub.

Boca Raton’s is the busiest Tri-Rail station. The agency wants to build a second station in Midtown.

GreenMarket time!

The season’s first real cool front is expected this weekend. Another sign of fall is the reopening Saturday of the Boca Raton Green Market at Royal Palm Place. It will be open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday until May 11.

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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