Friday, October 22, 2021

iPic gets approval, details on Boca Waterfront campaign, and more

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The campaign against Boca Raton’s waterfront ordinance just got more money.

I reported previously that Protecting Coastal Communities — the political action committee that is financing the campaign — had received $60,000 from ForBoca and $50,000 from Hillstone Restaurant Group, which wants to open an eponymous restaurant on the Wildflower property. In the last two weeks of October, the PAC got nearly $35,000 more.

The largest donation came from Dunay, Miskel and Backman, the law firm that represents Hillstone. Another $10,000 came from Investments Limited, the largest downtown Boca Raton property owner. ForBoca contributed an additional $4,500, and $200 came from longtime Boca Raton political activist Mark Guzzetta.

Those are the only contributions to Protecting Coastal Communities that seem related to the Boca Raton ordinance, which is designed to prevent the city from leasing the Wildflower property to Hillstone and bringing the city millions in lease payments. The PAC got recent contributions from another committee called Changing Florida’s Future, but the sources of that money are groups involved with a development project in Broward County.

At this point, donations to the campaign against the ordinance total roughly $150,000. For perspective, that’s about what Mayor Susan Haynie raised during her campaign in 2014.


A surprise from the firefighters union

A surprise mailer came this week in the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District election.

In the mailer, the county firefighters union—Local 2928 of the International Association of Firefighters—endorsed incumbents Dennis Frisch and Earl Starkoff. The endorsement surprised challengers Craig Ehrnst and Erin Wright and the Boca Raton firefighters union—Local 1560.

Matt Welhaf, president of the local union, told me Wednesday that the county union had said it would take no position in the general election. The campaign consultant for Ehrnst and Wright said he had heard the same thing. According to the consultant, Ehrnst then got a letter last month saying that the union was endorsing Frisch. Wright, the consultant said, was told that there would be no screening and thus she didn’t need to come.

For an outside union to spring such an endorsement on a local, Welhaf said, is “unheard of.” As of Wednesday, he had not spoken to officials of the county local, but he hopes to do so in a couple of weeks.

The Boca union has supported Ehrnst and Wright. She is married to a firefighter, but Welhaf said the main reason is what the local union considered statements by Frisch and Starkoff that suggested a willingness to consider privatizing some district services, which the union opposes because it could hurt unionized city employees.

So what’s up?

When Ehrnst and Wright got firefighter contributions for the primary, Boca Raton was discussing annexation of seven neighborhoods on the city’s northwest border. Frisch and Starkoff suggested that motive was annexation, which they opposed, because it would require more firefighters and thus more union members. Frisch and Starkoff said annexation would be problematic because the new residents wouldn’t live in the beach and park district.

Since the county now serves those neighborhoods, the county union might worry about lost jobs. The idea had been for an annexation vote in December. For now, however, the city has pulled back on annexation.

Another, perhaps related, theory is that Anthony Majhess influenced the decision. Majhess is a county firefighter and a former city council member. He ran unsuccessfully against Haynie in 2014.

According to Ehrnst and the consultant, Majhess served on the union’s screening committee that decided whom to endorse. During the screening for the primary, Ehrnst said, he spent “two hours talking to Anthony Majhess discussing annexation.”

Majhess just gave an interview to BocaWatch, which supports Frisch and Starkoff. The subject of the interview was the Wildflower property. BocaWatch supports the restrictive ordinance. So do Frisch and Starkoff, even though the district has nothing to do with the Wildflower property. The mailer praises Frisch and Starkoff not for anything related to fire-rescue but for their support of “greenspace (sic.)”

The president of the county local did not return my call seeking an explanation for the mailer. The previous facts, however, probably provide explanation enough.


iPic closes on its land purchase

On Tuesday night, the Delray Beach City Commission approved the agreements that will allow iPic to close on its purchase of land from the Community Redevelopment Agency, obtain permits and start construction. At last.

Interim City Attorney Janice Rustin said the months-long delay is “testament to how complicated” the agreement is between the city, the CRA and iPic. Rustin reviewed the main points, some of which I reviewed in my Tuesday post.

One point I omitted was valet parking. Commissioners and residents want to avoid valet-related backups on Southeast Fourth Avenue that could choke traffic. Rustin explained that if there were backups twice in one night, the police department could shut down the valet operation for the rest of the night and direct all vehicles into the parking garage. If such a shutdown happened twice within 90 days, iPic would have to change the valet plan. If the problem still persisted, the “huge remedy,” Rustin said, would be the city going after iPic’s business tax receipts.

Under the agreement, iPic would have to move its headquarters for at least five years. Commissioner Mitch Katz asked what the city’s remedy would be if that didn’t happen. Later in the meeting, the company’s development director pledged that iPic would move.

Shelly Petrolia wondered what would happen if the project didn’t get built. Mayor Cary Glickstein acknowledged that it as “a legitimate point,” but said the city could restart negotiations with any new owner. As for iPic flipping the project, Glickstein said, “I don’t see how that could ever happen.” Rustin noted that the city “can take back the whole site” and that iPic couldn’t transfer the development rights. Jordana Jarjura said Petrolia’s caution was “dismissive of all contract law.”

Once again, the debate showed the differing perspectives of the lawyers – Glickstein, Jarjura and Al Jacquet – and the non-lawyers – Katz and Petrolia. Petrolia voted against both agreements. Katz voted against one. The lawyers supported both.

From here, the CRA, which is selling the site, must approve a small change in one of the agreements. Then the CRA and iPic must close on the purchase by Jan. 31, and the company and the city can finalize the permits. “After which, the ball is in (iPic’s) court subject to the performance milestones in the purchase agreement.”

Despite early controversy over the iPic project, Glickstein noted that no member of the public spoke against the project Tuesday night. Though construction will cause “headaches,” Glickstein said, “an overwhelming majority of people I interact with, which is a very diverse and broad representation of the city, want this project and they want it now.”

After Tuesday’s vote, Glickstein tried to strike an optimistic tone. Referring to iPic President Hamid Hashemi, Glickstein said, “We don’t always do the red carpet well, but his business is welcome here. Let’s hope that one day we all see each other at the theater and are glad we’re there.”


Delray city attorney difficulties

Apparently, nothing comes easily with the choice of a city attorney for Delray Beach.

Formalizing an agreement Tuesday night with Lohman Law Group seemed non-controversial. Glickstein and the commissioners had been happily unified in their praise for Max Lohman, who would serve as city attorney.

Instead, the firm’s projected annual bill that had looked like $300,000 when the commission chose Lohman suddenly looked more like $426,000, which left Commissioner Jarjura “less than thrilled.”

City Manager Don Cooper accepted blame for the confusion. He prepared an agreement with a “not exceed,” highest-cost scenario amount. Mayor Glickstein said such an amount would be double what the city would spend on a top candidate to be an in-house city attorney. “This number has got to come down,” Glickstein said. “My colleagues thought that we were saving money by hiring you.”

Lohman all but guaranteed that the actual number would be much less – unless things got really complicated. “I can guarantee that,” Commissioner Petrolia cracked.

From there, discussion about the Lohman-Delray relationship veered into wedding metaphors. Lohman said, “This is marriage,” and, “If you want a pre-nup (pre-nuptial agreement), you’re marrying the wrong guy.” Proposing a sort of tryout period, Glickstein said, “Maybe we should sleep together before we get married.”

And that’s what will happen. Lohman will start work on Monday, billing at an hourly rate through February. Then he will come back to the commission with an assessment of what work the three in-house lawyers should do – they’re already on the payroll – how much he and any other members of the firm must perform and how much his monthly bill might be.

Lohman will replace Rustin on the dais at meetings. She got deserved praise for leading an understaffed department through some turbulent months after the departure of City Attorney Noel Pfeffer and chief assistant Michael Dutko. With any luck, the vows between the commission and Lohman will take place in the spring.


New president and CEO for Arts Garage

Incoming Arts Garage Chairman Chuck Halberg announced this week that Marjorie Waldo will be the group’s new president and CEO. Waldo spent 12 years at Tomorrow’s Promise Community School in Delray Beach, which served a mostly minority student body. Given the city commission’s insistence that Arts Garage – which leases city space – expand its programming to reach a more diverse audience, the hiring of Waldo aligns well.


Make Delray great again?

Glickstein began last night’s meeting on humor. He came wearing a Donald Trump wig and a red cap, and vowed to “make Delray great again” by building a wall on the border with Boca Raton. “And Boca will pay for it.”

Be careful. Some in Boca might take him up on that.


Mizner 200 meeting postponed

Mizner 200 now will not be on the agenda for tonight’s meeting of the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board.

The developer asked for a postponement after the project went before the Community Appearance Board on Tuesday night. Attorney Bonnie Miskel, who represents Mizner 200, said the project “got feedback and input,” and she hopes that it will go back to the CAB in two weeks for an informal hearing and two weeks after that for the formal hearing. Miskel said, however, that city staff may ask for more time to do a follow-up review.

Architect Peter Stromberg said board members asked for more “interaction” on Mizner Boulevard between the project and the street, with some condos perhaps at street level. Also, he said, board members wanted more of a “Mizneresque” look. Stromberg called the suggestions from the board “achievable.”


From Blockbuster to urgent care?

Still on tonight’s Planning and Zoning Board agenda is a request from Boca Raton Regional Hospital for a land-use change to convert the former Blockbuster Video store downtown into an urgent care center.

Dan Sacco, Boca Regional’s vice president for strategic affairs, told me Wednesday that the hospital had been discussing such a facility for about a year. Though the center would be barely two miles from the hospital campus on Meadows Road, Sacco said many seasonal residents who live near the coast would like someplace close that could treat minor emergencies – “sprains and strains.” In addition, the hospital anticipates demand from new downtown residents.

 Sacco said Boca Regional’s emergency room business has grown so much that the hospital needs a facility that could handle acute but not life-threatening problems. The center would be Boca Regional’s third, and the second to be owned and operated. Sacco said the hospital has an “affiliation” with the doctors at the center at Lyons and Glades roads. The hospital envisions seven exam rooms that at first would be open for 12 hours a day Monday through Saturday and several hours on Sunday.

 The space, on the southeast corner of Palmetto Park Road and Dixie Highway, has been vacant since the Blockbuster closed. In addition to the medical office, Sacco said the hospital would open a store selling fitness/health related items. An Orangetheory fitness center is scheduled to open in the same building. Sacco describes the hospital facility as “more of a wellness center.”

Boca Regional requested and received a speeded-up hearing before the Planning and Zoning Board because of a lease issue with the property. If the board finds no major issues – the staff recommendation is for approval — the application could go to the city council acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency at its Nov. 21 meeting. If CRA approval proceeds as he hopes, Sacco said, the center could open in March.

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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