Mizner Trail precedent?
Photo from supportmiznertrail.com
It might seem that a circuit court ruling just before Christmas bodes well for residents of Boca Del Mar trying to overturn Palm Beach County’s approval of housing on the former Mizner Trail Golf Course. In fact, there are key differences between the two cases.
Residents of West Palm Beach challenged the city commission’s approval last January of a condo tower on what had been First Baptist Church’s Chapel-by-the Lake, on the Intracoastal Waterway south of the Royal Park Bridge. In December, the three-judge panel that heard the appeal ruled for the plaintiffs. The Boca Del Mar plaintiffs want a similar panel to rule that the county commission acted wrongly last June in allowing 253 units on what had been the south golf course of Boca Del Mar, at Camino Real and Military Trail, west of the Boca Raton city line.
With the West Palm Beach project, the issue was procedural. Though the tower does not exceed density requirements for the 3-plus-acre site, it does exceed setback requirements. For the requested Residential Planned Development—the tower would include 98 units selling for perhaps an average of $5 million—the city requires 10 acres. Opponents say the project would overwhelm the area and that only a smaller development is legal.
The city commission can, and did approve a waiver to the setback requirement, but the planning board did not. In mid-2013, the board rejected the first version of the project, which had featured two towers. The commission finally approved the fourth version, but it had not gone back before the planning board. The court said that must happen before the developer can start construction because the board is not just advisory.
With Mizner Trail, however, the plaintiffs don’t concede that any development is allowed on the 128 overgrown acres. Their attorneys contend that county approval of Boca Del Mar in the early 1970s required a certain amount of open space, some of which the golf course provided. Citing a 2008 court ruling against a prior project for the property, the Boca Del Mar residents claim that the county commission violated policy.
Attorney Michael Burman represents the Chapel-by-the-Lake developers and the Mizner Trail developers—Boca Raton-based Compson Associates. When I asked him Monday if the first case bears on the second, Burman said,
“I honestly don’t think so.”
The court, Burman added, rejected all the West Palm Beach plaintiffs’ other arguments to focus on that missing approval step. The Mizner Trail case is more complicated, even if the central argument is over policy, not procedure.
Interestingly, it took less than a year for Chapel-by-the Lake to go from government approval to lawsuit to judicial ruling. With Mizner Trail, the court did accept the case and asked for written arguments, but neither side has any idea when the court will rule. Even then, things may not be final. The losing side can go to the 4th District Court of Appeal, which West Palm Beach has done.
Robert Rivas, an attorney for the Mizner Trail plaintiffs, said in an email, “I don’t think there’s any connection” between the West Palm Beach case and his. If the cases are different, though, both are important—the Mizner Trail one more so—in a region where development remains the biggest issue. The outcomes will matter a lot.
And the personal side
There are the legal arguments over Mizner Trail, and then there is the personal argument.
In November, attorneys for the developer and the plaintiffs disagreed over whether the developer offered to settle the case—which would have allowed construction to proceed— by paying the plaintiffs’ legal fees. Representing the plaintiffs is the Boca Raton firm of Sachs Sax Caplan. The firm’s managing director is Peter Sachs.
In their plan that the county approved, the developers included a six-bed group home for the Jewish Association for Residential Care (JARC), which operates several such group homes for “adults with developmental disabilities.” Sachs is a former president of the association’s board, and his daughter is a JARC client.
In a Nov. 12 letter to Martin Perry, one of the attorneys who has represented Compson, Sachs accused the developer of making a settlement offer designed to force him to resign from the JARC board “after 25 years of service to that wonderful organization.” Being on the board and representing clients challenging a project that involves JARC would be a conflict.
Sachs added, “I can’t think of any other party in over 40 years of practice, who goes at the children, developmentally delayed no less, to achieve economic gain. In sum, I find your client to be nothing more than a bully and influence peddler. . .” In a phone conversation with me, Sachs affirmed his sentiment, saying, “They are prepared to do anything to get this done.”
The developer added the group home after the county in March delayed a vote on an earlier version of the project. I spoke Monday with Perry, who said he has “no knowledge” of any link between the Mizner Trail group home and the approval/legal case.
Al AWOL again
On Dec. 22, Delray Beach City Commissioner Al Jacquet emailed the city manager’s office to say that he would be “out of the country” from Jan. 5 until Jan. 20. Jacquet thus missed last week’s commission meeting, reinforcing his reputation as the commissioner whose chair is most often empty.
Jacquet has missed five meetings in the roughly nine months since the organization of the current commission after the election of Jordana Jarjura. According to city records, Jacquet missed meetings on April 1, May 20, Aug. 19 and Nov. 7 before being absent for the one last week. He also left early on Oct. 21.
The Nov. 7 meeting was the most important of the year, since the commission was picking the next city manager. Jacquet was not present for that meeting or for the commission’s interviews with the candidates. Adam Frankel also missed the selection meeting—saying he had a trip he couldn’t cancel and blaming scheduling changes—but he did interview the candidates. Jacquet offered no good explanation for that absence and got annoyed when I asked him about it. In his email last month, Jacquet did not explain why he had to be “out of the country” now.
Jacquet’s record stands out especially when compared to his commission colleagues other than Frankel. Mayor Cary Glickstein and Commissioner Shelly Petrolia have missed no meetings of the current commission. Jarjura has missed just one.
Frankel is term-limited in March of this year. Jacquet, however, won a second three-year term in March 2014, defeating Chris Davey by just 265 votes in a three-way race. That was slightly less than all the votes received by a third candidate, Richard Burgess. Deceptive anti-Davey mailers from a Tallahassee political action committee helped to give Jacquet his victory.
In three decades of covering Palm Beach County politics, I cannot recall another elected official of a major city missing meetings so regularly. Jacquet is a lawyer, but so are Jarjura and Frankel. Petrolia is a Realtor. Glickstein runs a development company. They, too, have busy professional lives.
For non-retirees, serving on the commission is demanding. In addition to every-other-week regular meetings, there are workshop meetings and executive sessions on legal and labor issues. But candidates know that when they run; Jacquet surely knows it after nearly four years. Yet he is becoming known in Delray Beach as The Man Who Wasn’t There.
You can email Randy Schultz at email@example.com
For more City Watch blogs, click here.About the Author
Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.