I-95 Improvements or More Division in Delray Beach?

(Courtesy Florida Department of Transportation)

If Swinton Avenue once was the unofficial divide between the east (white) and west (black) sections of Delray Beach, Interstate 95 has become the new divide. Those who want to join east and west are unhappy about what the Florida Department of Transportation calls “improvements” to the Atlantic Avenue interchange.

Work has begun on what the state called “turbo lanes,” which will make it easier for drivers to get onto I-95. The scope of the $5.2 million project stretches about a mile, from 12th Avenue east of the interchange to Congress Avenue on the west side. The state estimates that the work will last until next spring.

The state showed the focus of the project in a release last August before an “open house” in the city. The project includes a wider northbound entrance ramp, a dedicated lane from Atlantic for drivers going north and south, northbound and southbound turn lanes onto Congress, surveillance cameras and drainage upgrades. At the end of the announcement was this afterthought, “Pavement markings for bike lanes will be included.”

When the details became clear, Human Powered Delray expressed concerns to the state that its plan to help drivers would increase the danger for pedestrians—such as students walking to and from Atlantic High School—and bicyclists. City officials worried that the “improvements” would hurt efforts to link new destinations west of I-95— such as Saltwater Brewery—with residents on the east side.

Last October, Human Powered Delray’s vice chairman wrote to administrators at the FDOT’s regional office in Fort Lauderdale, following up on correspondence from two months earlier. Jason Bregman said the project design “is completely vehicular centric and fails to address the safety concerns and desires of our community.”

Among other things, Bregman asked for a “shared bicycle and pedestrian pathway.” He asked for “flexibility and creativity” and noted that Human Powered Delray had been raising these points since 2015. Bregman called the interchange project “the main impediment” to Delray Beach’s attempt to connect the two sides of the city.

Bregman contrasted the Atlantic Avenue work with the new Spanish River Boulevard interchange in Boca Raton. City and Florida Atlantic University officials asked for the project—which cost 12 times more—to serve “a growing university and a new (football) stadium” and got everything they wanted. Delray Beach, Bregman said, wanted something much more modest—“a thriving, walkable community”—and couldn’t get it.

Commissioner Bill Bathurst

City Commissioner Bill Bathurst, one of Human Powered Delray’s board members, attempted to mediate. He also had sent a letter to the state.

Five weeks later, however, FDOT’s project manager wrote back to Bregman, claiming that the state had “exhausted all opportunities to implement the suggestions” from the city and Human Powered Delray. Thuc Le said the state had “acted in good faith” and considered all the ideas. A Jan. 8 letter from a higher-ranking FDOT official to Human Powered Delray Chairman Bruce Bastian said the agency “incorporated several design elements thanks to the feedback” from “stakeholders.”

But former City Commissioner Jim Chard, who also serves on Human Powered Delray’s board, called the changes “minor concessions.” The project, he said, will “separate Delray east and west” just as the west-of-I-95 section begins to take off.

North of Saltwater Brewery is the new Delray Station apartment complex. The city wants to renovate the historic train depot near Saltwater into a business incubator. In December, the city commission approved the redevelopment plan for the old Office Depot site.

Bathurst acknowledged this week that Delray Beach didn’t get its top request—the protected bike/walk path. The unhappiness with the FDOT over Atlantic Avenue follows unhappiness over early plans for improving Swinton Avenue. Bathurst said, “There’s a problem in the process” of applying for transportation grants and finding out how the state intends to spend the money.

“We’re trying to get better,” Bathurst said of the commission. Chard said six years can pass from when the city seeks the money and it arrives. By that point, the commission and even the manager may have changed.

Bathurst suggested that the city hire a consultant to review projects “before signing off.” He wants the commission to discuss the issue. He may want to move quickly. The next project is the Linton Boulevard interchange. Chard said the “preliminary designs” already have been drawn.

Delray goal-setting?

Such FDOT projects would be one of many issues up for discussion during Delray Beach’s annual goal-setting session. The city had scheduled the daylong meeting for April 26 before the commission fired former City Manager Mark Lauzier.

Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus told me Wednesday that while “no final determination has been made,” the commission may delay goal-setting until the new manager arrives. He or she might not start work for three months, but a postponement would make sense. Why compile an agenda without the person whom the commission will ask to carry it out?

West Atlantic status report

(Rendering by BH3)

Fortunately, the absence of a permanent city manager doesn’t mean Delray Beach will have to delay a decision on West Atlantic Avenue.

The city commission—acting as the community redevelopment agency, with two appointed members—will decide on April 8 whether to approve a contract with BH3 for the three blocks east of the Fairfield Inn. BH3’s attorney, Neil Schiller, said the latest meeting between the company and the CRA lasted four hours. With a deadline of March 29 to complete the contract, Schiller said the two sides just have “a couple of issues to resolve. Very happy with the progress made today.”

Alina groundbreaking

Alina rendering

Friday is the groundbreaking in Boca Raton for Alina, previously known as Mizner 200 and the Monarch.

El-Ad National Properties expects the first phase of the project, with condos starting at about $1 million and rising to more than $6 million, to open late next year. This phase will have 121 units. Phase 2 would have 244.

The project began in mid-2014 as four towers that would have averaged 30 stories in height. The allowed height for that location, along Northeast Mizner Boulevard across from Royal Palm Place, is 10 stories. The city approved the current version in 2017 after several hours of debate. El-Ad had to overcome opposition from Townsend Place, on the south side, and Royal Palm Place. All sides praised the compromise.

According to city staff, Alina would generate $2.2 million in tax revenue annually if fully built. El-Ad has since moved its regional office to Boca Raton.

New fire station at Clint Moore

On tonight’s Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board agenda is a proposal from the city to demolish the fire station at Clint Moore Road and Military Trail and replace it with a new facility.

The project requires a site plan amendment. When the city built the station 31 years ago, the rest of the site was undeveloped. Now the site includes a drugstore and an office building.

According to city staff, the new, two-story facility would more than double the size of the one-story, 5,000-square feet station and add staff. Response times thus would improve.

Old Town Hall improvements

At its Monday workshop meeting, the Boca Raton City Council will discuss a request from the city’s historical society for help with improvements to the group’s headquarters at the old town hall.

Executive Director Mary Csar said the society is putting in roughly $1.2 million and is asking the city for about $500,000. Csar first made the request in December, at which time the council asked for a phasing plan. Csar told me she will tell the council Monday that the work should take about six months.

Csar also said the request is time-sensitive. The society is adding exhibits, which are being built and will be stored until the improvements are done. The society wants to upgrade the 90-year-old plumbing and the building’s inadequate air conditioning. The plan also is to add space by extending the building onto a patio. Csar said the city, which owns the building, has money in this year’s capital budget for roof work.

More talk about plastic straws

(Photo by Meghan Rodgers)

Also on Monday, the Boca council will discuss a ban on single-use plastic straws.

Delray Beach just approved a ban, which the city will phase in. Boca Raton has started a program to discourage the use of such straws, which are a significant cause of ocean pollution.

Other cities also have banned the straws, prompting a bill in the Legislature that would prohibit them. Councilwoman Monica Mayotte asked for the discussion.

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