Hillstone delays, the Chabad lawsuits & tattoos in the Village By The Sea

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More delays for Hillstone?

Tonight begins what could be a schedule for the Boca Raton City Council to approve a Hillstone restaurant on the Wildflower property by the end of July.

Or not.

The planning and zoning board has Wildflower on its agenda for this evening. The board’s recommendation would reach the city council for its Tuesday meeting.

Mayor Susan Haynie, however, told me that she will not introduce the Wildflower ordinances at that meeting. We spoke after she delivered the State of the City address to the Federation of Boca Raton Homeowner Associations. Haynie told the group that the council “would not rush” review of the Hillstone proposal with the city facing a possible referendum on use of public waterfront land.

Haynie wants to “let things play out” before deciding on the five issues related to the Hillstone proposal. Any other council member could introduce the three related ordinances. With luck, someone will. Negotiations with Hillstone are into their third year. If Haynie follows through, however, her action would be very symbolic.

It would be equally frustrating. If the organizers obtain the necessary signatures, the petition referendum might not get to voters until at least November. If review of Hillstone had to start then, the year-end holiday schedule could delay it further.

At Tuesday’s meeting, opponents of the restaurant surely will urge delay. They might threaten a lawsuit if the council introduces the ordinances, though a lawsuit might come even if the referendum makes the ballot and fails, and the council then approves the Hillstone deal.

There seems no good reason why the council couldn’t continue review of Hillstone and make approval contingent upon the results of the referendum if it makes the ballot. Given the long-standing council priority of developing the Wildflower site, the council at least should reassure Hillstone that the city supports the deal, despite a possible wait of another six months or longer.

Hillstone General Counsel Glenn Viers, who will appear before the planning and zoning board, told me Wednesday, “I’m not at all happy” about the prospect of added delay. He had heard about Haynie’s comment at the federation meeting. “It’s frustrating.”

City Manager Leif Ahnell recommends that the council introduce “and thereafter approve” all three Hillstone ordinances. Perhaps those who oppose the restaurant will explain tonight and Tuesday night how they would replace the potential $33 million in revenue Boca Raton might receive from Hillstone.

Lawsuit results

Though Boca Raton prevailed in one lawsuit against Chabad East Boca, the city this week lost the other.

A three-judge panel of the Palm Beach County Circuit Court ruled unanimously that the city council violated zoning rules by approving a museum in a B-1 district as part of the Chabad project near the beach on Palmetto Park Road. The project also includes a synagogue and a social hall. Permitted uses in B-1 areas include public assembly, which the planning and zoning board and the council interpreted to include a museum. The judges disagreed.

On Tuesday, the council will meet in executive—closed—session with the city’s legal staff to discuss the ruling and decide whether to appeal. Based on the ruling, I’d argue against appealing.

First, the ruling applies to a tiny portion of the city’s code. How many other applications could Boca Raton expect for museums in such areas? Second, the ruling wasn’t just unanimous, which by itself lowers the chance of a successful appeal. The three judges also are solid. Meanu Sasser especially knows government law. She issued the summary judgment for Delray Beach in its lawsuit against the city’s trash hauler.

The chabad could challenge the ruling through the land trust that owns the site and was named as a defendant with the city. Or Chabad East Boca could submit a new plan that eliminates the “My Israel” exhibit hall/museum that generated so much of the controversy about the project. Neighbors feared large tourist buses bringing visitors.

A new project would mean a new application, and the city recently changed zoning rules in B-1 areas east of the Intracoastal Waterway to preclude the option for 10 extra feet above the 30-foot limit. The council granted Chabad East Boca that added height, and the city won the lawsuit over that issue.

Chabad East Boca’s architect, however, said the congregation needed the added height only to accommodate infrastructure for the museum. If there’s no museum, there’s no need for another 10 feet.

One lawsuit remains: the federal challenge alleging that Boca Raton violated the First Amendment ban on establishment of religion by favoring Chabad East Boca over its prospective Christian neighbors. If the city loses that case, however stretched the argument seems to be, it’s a much bigger deal than the loss in state court.

Camino Square

I wrote last week about the new version of the Mizner 200 project proposed for north of Townsend Place. A smaller project for downtown Boca also is under review.

Kimco wants to build a residential/retail project called Camino Square on the roughly nine-acre shopping center the company owns north of Camino Real next to the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. The key tenant had been Winn-Dixie, but the company closed that store years ago.

Camino Square would include an eight-story apartment complex with 246 units and a 42,000-square-foot supermarket. Among the nearly 100 comments by city staff was this big one: Move the residential, planned for along the railroad tracks, to the north and west—where the shuttered Winn-Dixie sits—and put the supermarket along the tracks. Among other things, the staff said, the switch would minimize loading and unloading at the store.

Another question would be which supermarket might fill the space. A Fresh Market is on the other side of Camino Real, and Publix and Trader Joe’s are just to the east. Kimco’s attorney told me that the company hasn’t responded to the staff comments.

Delray’s tattoo debut

Did you know that 21 percent of Americans have tattoos? That was one of many fun facts about body art that came out of Tuesday night’s Delray Beach City Commission approval of the city’s first tattoo parlor.

We also learned that the city apparently could not have wished for a better first tattoo parlor operator: Rebecca Loveless of Tradition Tattoo. A wide range of fans venerated Loveless. Among them was a retired New York City cop who said tattoos provided therapy after 40 surgeries from being injured in the line of duty. “Many of youse,” he told the audience, might get tattooed one day.

Those who might have worried about crime heard that the only police call during Loveless’ four years of operating in Boca Raton was for a broken alarm. For those concerned about the business drawing a sketchy, late-night crowd, Loveless said she intended to close at 7 p.m. If she stays open later, Loveless said, “I don’t get the type of clients I want.”

Nancy Loveless noted that her daughter obtained a degree in visual arts from the University of Florida. Rebecca Loveless not only agreed to every proposed condition, she offered others. In fact, no one spoke against the commission’s unanimous vote for Loveless.

Tradition Tattoo will operate just east of Federal Highway near the Boca Raton city limit. Others who want to open tattoo parlors will have to apply under a “zoning in progress” as the city debates what regulations will cover such businesses. Mayor Cary Glickstein noted correctly that, given the nature of the business, bad operators could exploit customers and harm neighborhoods. There seems nothing to fear and everything to like about Rebecca Loveless. Delray Beach got lucky.

Changing colors

I had to include this note because it’s so wonderfully Delray, the city with the soul of a town.

On Wednesday night’s Site Plan Review and Appearance Board agenda was a request from the Seagate Towers condo complex near the beach. They want to change their exterior paint colors from Abingdon Putty, Lancaster Whitewash and Louisburg Green to Putnam Gray and Dune White. There’s nothing like Delray Beach.

New Delray city attorney

On a far more serious note, the Delray Beach City Commission could have a new city attorney by late Friday afternoon. If that happens, however, the commission should be in full agreement.

Ideally, Noel Pfeffer would not be leaving. But after two years of regular sniping—including an ethics complaint that he didn’t return a resident’s email promptly—Pfeffer will depart on June 24 for a private practice job. Given what he endured, the commission should agree on one of the five candidates or seek another option.

Though there is more disagreement on the Delray commission than the Boca council, the commissioners have come together on most big issues. The city attorney’s office is an exception. The biggest divide has been between Mayor Cary Glickstein and Commissioner Jordana Jarjura, both of whom are lawyers, and Mitch Katz and Shelly Petrolia, who aren’t. Al Jacquet is also a lawyer.

Glickstein and Jarjura tend to favor a city attorney who works full-time for Delray Beach. Katz and Petrolia tend to favor an outside lawyer who holds that role as one of the jobs the lawyer would do for a private firm. Full-timer or contractor, the person would supervise the other four members of the city’s legal staff.

Pfeffer drew criticism for the right reason—he told the commissioners and the residents what he believed they needed to hear, which wasn’t always what they wanted to hear. No quality matters more. The attorney’s job is to protect the city—and thus the taxpayers—from bad decisions and exposure to liability.

Katz and Petrolia may have hurt the search by declaring that they couldn’t accept any of the recruiter’s choices. Asking for more names if the commission is stalemated, however, likely won’t produce a superior candidate. The commission should interview all the finalists with an open mind. Face-to-face sessions can yield surprising results. Delray Beach needs a city attorney who is competent, honest and unafraid to venture an opinion.

 

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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.