Irma Updates (Including Debris Pick-Up), the Downtown Boca Campus and More

Pieces of roofing on the curb at Briny Breezes have yet to be removed. Photo by Marie Speed.

Debris removal

Just as Florida Power & Light asked customers to be patient while the company restored electricity, officials in Boca Raton and Delray Beach want residents to be patient while trucks pick up debris from Hurricane Irma.

During Wednesday night’s budget workshop meeting, Delray Beach Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus predicted that it would take “several months” to remove all the vegetation and building material. A city spokeswoman would not venture a definition of “several.”

Delray Beach’s contractor is using 10 trucks. The city’s two trucks are doing pickup in city facilities. De Jesus noted, correctly, that the contractor’s trucks couldn’t start until the city inspected and certified them. That’s also the case in Boca Raton. Failure to inspect and certify could jeopardize reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Cities also must document how much debris the trucks collect.

De Jesus said the priorities in Delray Beach have been major roadways and city facilities, to get traffic moving and life within the city as close to normal as possible. Another priority is to remove debris where the risk of fire is greatest. Thompson Consulting Services, the spokeswoman said, submits daily progress reports.

Progress will depend on whether residents put out more waste after the first pickup and how well they separate their waste. Residents also cannot put trash bags with branches and other vegetation.

A Boca Raton spokeswoman said the city’s contractor, AshBritt, has been collecting between 6,000 and 8,000 cubic yards of waste each day, with an expected maximum of 10,000 cubic yards. AshBritt is supplying 29 trucks and the city has its usual six. The trucks are working 12 hours each day, including weekends, and will make three passes through each neighborhood, prioritizing the cleanup on conditions in each area of the city.

Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein said, “We have 10 trucks, and most streets in the city could fill all 10 trucks a few times over, and we have a lot of streets. There are finite resources, with many Florida cities requiring the same equipment, some of which went to Texas. From experience, we know people continue to trim and cut trees weeks after storm such that the piles continue.”

The reality of debris pickup is one more reason to hope that no storms follow Irma.

Other Irma news

Other post-Irma updates:

  • De Jesus estimated Delray Beach’s costs at $10 million, with $1.5 million of that damage to city facilities. Most likely, cities will recover 75 percent of their cleanup and repair costs. Irma arrived three weeks before cities approve their budgets. DeJesus said the storm caused a $1.5 million shortfall for 2017-18 that required late adjustments.
  • As of Monday afternoon, Boca Raton’s western golf course remained without power. Spanish River Park, which sustained major vegetation damage, got power back on Wednesday but remains closed.
  • In my Tuesday post, I quoted Glickstein as saying that many Comcast customers in Delray Beach still lacked telecommunications services. He followed up to say that his information may have been “anecdotal.” Comcast and ATT don’t provide the sort of city-by-city reports that FPL does. Glickstein added, however, “While uncertain if my assessment about restoration was accurate, (Comcast’s) external communication has been awful.”
  • De Jesus summarized the awful performance of Delray Beach’s emergency operations center: leaks, power failure, technology breakdown. There is no plan for a permanent facility, but the city has $1 million in next year’s budget to harden the main golf course, which de Jesus said could serve as a better, temporary center.

Downtown campus

Mizner Park Amphitheater. Photo provided by the City of Boca Raton.
Mizner Park Amphitheater is the subject of Related Group’s interest. It would like to put up housing where the amphitheater now stands as part of a downtown government campus deal. Photo provided by the City of Boca Raton.

As I reported Tuesday, Boca Raton has postponed until Oct. 10 the update by Song & Associates on a downtown government campus. It will be on the agenda for the city council workshop. The workshop and community redevelopment agency meeting normally take place on Monday, but Oct. 9 is the Columbus Day holiday. The regular city council meeting will take place on Oct. 11, which is a Wednesday.

After Song sought public comment, the consultant reported strong interest for a performing arts center in the nearly 30 acres that include city hall, the police station, the community center and other properties. An entity of Related Group, one of the state’s largest residential developers, would like to build the center.

In return, Related would like to put up housing on the roughly 3.5 acres where the Mizner Park Amphitheater now stands. In a July 11 letter to Mayor Susan Haynie and City Manager Leif Ahnell, Related proposed “no less than 300 and no more than 400 multi-family units” and two restaurants on the ground floor. Related would apply for the project under Ordinance 4035 guidelines, so the buildings would be no more than 100 feet high.

Related previously had expressed interest in building the entire campus in return for land. Haynie and other officials, though, worried about losing control over what they consider a signature project. Related now proposes to build just the arts center, which would have 1,500 seats and cover 30,000 square feet.

Though the council authorized a meeting between Related and Ahnell, it would be premature to conclude that the city likes Related’s ideas. Haynie said, “We might as well evaluate all ideas.” Beyond that, though, she didn’t commit to anything.

In addition, the entertainment company AEG has spoken with the city about building a venue at de Hoernle Park on Spanish River Boulevard. The company clearly would like to exploit the new Interstate 95 interchange.

Partly for that reason, Councilman Robert Weinroth wants any arts center to be along Spanish River, not downtown. “It would be much more accessible,” he told me. The city also owns about seven acres east of the Spanish River Library—land remaining from what the city bought from the former Blue Lake project. Haynie met with AEG, but the discussion was informational only.

Based on what Song heard, the public strongly would like to retain a downtown amphitheater. There is no consensus on whether it should move west of Dixie Highway in what Song calls the City Hall Quarter.

Still another question is whether Related’s residential project would get in under the rule that limits downtown to 8 million square feet of office-equivalent development. Current projections envision no residential in the area around city hall and no added development in Mizner Park.

Admittedly, that 8 million number is flexible. Among other things, a rebuilt project actually could have less impact and thus reduce the overall total. Still, the number of units Related proposed would be significant.

The city has operated the amphitheater for seven years. It runs a deficit, but the city considers it an amenity, like a park. It is not a major drain on the budget.

A last complicating factor is that the Boca Raton Museum of Art, which leases the land west of the amphitheater, has expressed interest in the amphitheater site if the city ever moved the facility.

City hall got lots of angry calls on Wednesday after a Sun Sentinel article implied that the deal was mostly done. For residents, however, the takeaway at the moment is that Related has made an offer. That’s it. The city council will debate Related’s proposal during the wider debate about the downtown campus. There will be plenty of time to determine whether it makes sense for Boca Raton.

Workshop agenda

As I had forecast Tuesday, Boca Raton has cleared out as much as possible the agendas for next week’s meetings, to allow comment on Irma-related matters. In addition to the general budget and downtown assessment hearings on Monday, though, are these items on the city council’s workshop agenda:

  • Five proposals to streamline development approvals outside the downtown.
    • One would cut out an opinion from the planning and zoning board to the zoning board of adjustment. Staff estimates that this would save applicants one month. Another would eliminate the requirement that restaurants of more than 1,000 square feet obtain a conditional use permit. Staff estimates the savings at four months. Another would give the planning and zoning board more authority over site plans, with a projected savings of 1.5 months.
    • The other two would allow staff approval of “minor site amendments,” with a projected savings of four months. The final proposal would eliminate a step in site plan review if a change didn’t trigger a physical change. The estimated savings are six months. The council long has made streamlining of development applications a goal.
  • A presentation on the Wildflower property and Silver Palm Park. This comes at the request of Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke. She would not offer details except to say that she wants to start discussion of how the city might link the properties. The Wildflower has been one of O’Rourke’s priorities.
  • A proposal to move general public comments—known as public requests—earlier in council meetings. The conspiracy theory is that the council schedules the speaking time late so people will get discouraged and leave. Delray Beach schedules these comments for early in the meetings. Either way, speakers still would comment on agenda items only when the council debates them.