Saturday, February 4, 2023

Kushner Targets Ag Reserve and Lake Wyman Begins Overhaul

A new county commissioner represents the Agricultural Reserve Area, but the perceived threats to the reserve remain.

In November, former State Sen. Maria Sachs succeeded Mary Lou Berger, who had been term-limited. The District 5 seat includes almost all of the roughly 20,000-acre reserve, which runs from Clint Moore Road to Lantana Road west of Florida’s Turnpike.

Those who want to preserve farming and limit added development face two new issues. One is the project we will discuss today. The other is a land swap involving the Lake Worth Drainage District and GL Homes, the largest developer in the reserve. We will discuss that later.

Kushner Companies wants to build a one million-square-foot distribution warehouse on 51 acres just west of the turnpike on the north side of Atlantic Avenue. That’s Kushner Companies as in Charles Kushner, father of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Morningstar Nursery owns the land, which is just east of the Delray Marketplace. Kushner seeks a rezoning from agricultural to industrial. A representative of Urban Design Studio, Kushner’s agent, said the company is “working out a few matters on the site plan/zoning.” He does not know when the project might go before the county planning commission, the advisory review board.

Critics—and there will be many—will argue that allowing an Amazon-like facility would go against the wishes of voters who in 1999 approved $100 million in bonds to retain as much farming as possible. No one from the county sought this change. The request comes from Kushner and Morningstar.

In addition, critics will argue that the warehouse would be the latest in a series of changes that threaten to tip the reserve inexorably toward suburban development. Proponents have called each change a small one, yet the effect has been significant.

Indeed, Kushner’s application notes this history. Since the adoption of the reserve’s master plan, the company states, “a number of amendments have been made to allow for planned residential development, multiple use planned development, and traditional marketplace developments. These amendments have resulted in a significant increase in the number of people living and working within the Ag Reserve.”

Kushner also notes that planners envisioned industrial use within the reserve. Mostly, though, Kushner says that its project would be compatible because of all the other exceptions the county commission has allowed.

Planners did always envision some residential development and two centers of commercial development, one of which is Delray Marketplace. They assumed, though, that any industrial projects would be farm-related. Perhaps that’s why planners didn’t put a cap on industrial development within the reserve.

According to its website, Kushner Companies is involved with other projects in South Florida, though Star Key is the only industrial development. Michelle Damone is Sachs’ chief of staff. On Monday, she said the office had received “about 200 emails” opposing the project.

In addition, the Delray Alliance–composed of homeowner associations in West Delray–said the group could not support the project as currently designed. On March 18, the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations sent a letter to Sachs and her colleagues opposing the warehouse.

The project, COBWRA wrote, “is contrary to the very rules designed to protect (the Agricultural Reserve Area) and ensure its preservation for generations to come.” COBWRA President Beth Rappaport told me, “No one is clamoring for industrial warehouses in the reserve. We strongly oppose the project.”

Lake Wyman makeover

The makeover of Boca Raton’s Lake Wyman/Rutherford Park finally is about to start.

Many residents of a certain age—such as me—recall taking their children on canoe trips through Rutherford Park’s mangroves and strolling the boardwalk along the Intracoastal Waterway across from Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. You felt far from urbanized South Florida even though it was nearby.

Over time, however, the canoe trails silted and the boardwalk fell into disrepair. The Great Recession further delayed plans to restore this unique place. And it’s a complicated project. The Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) owns eight of Lake Wyman/Rutherford’s 50 acres, at the south end. The city needs permits from the state agency, and that can take time.

Fortunately, the city has obtained those permits as part of the restoration project’s first phase, which also included engineering and design. Phase 2 will be the construction. It will be extensive.

Plans call for new walking paths and shade structures, a new boardwalk, new kayak/canoe launching areas, one restored pavilion and another new one, a new observation pier and a new bathroom. In addition, the city will create a coastal hammock on that south side, complementing removal of exotic species, new native plants and mangrove restoration throughout the park.

The city estimates that construction will cost $5.4 million and hopes to split the cost with FIND. The agency has awarded the city a grant to cover roughly half of the state share, and the city council just approved the application for the balance.

A city spokeswoman said construction could start in late fall. The work will take a year. Even if the city doesn’t get that second grant, work will begin.

Boca Raton is financing the project through the 2016 sales tax surcharge. Without the grant, city officials would “move some things around to supplement” those costs. Officials are optimistic about getting the money, the spokeswoman said. “FIND didn’t award the full amount of the first grant to us simply because of the increased number of projects they already had going on.”

When the new Lake Wyman/Rutherford opens, it will be an amenity that few other South Florida cities can match. Those of us with old memories look forward to creating new ones there with our grandchildren.

New miniature golf in Delray?                      

At today’s meeting, the Delray Beach City Commission will vote on two miniature golf courses that the developer wants to make clear are not the usual putt-putt courses with windmills and waterfalls.

PopStroke calls itself “an experiential golf and casual drinking concept merging a dynamic, technologically-advanced competitive golf environment with food and beverage.” The company is based in Jupiter and is a venture of golf legend Tiger Woods. The company already has a location in Port St. Lucie.

The project would include two 18-hole putting courses, a 4,500-square-foot restaurant, a children’s play area and a “scoreboard kiosk.” City rules allow a restaurant at that location in the 1300 block of North Federal Highway, but the overall concept would require a conditional use approval.

The site actually consists of five vacant parcels between Old Dixie Highway and Federal Highway just east of the Florida East Coast Railway. The parcels are vacant, and city planners in recent years have urged development along what Delray Beach calls the Railroad Corridor. Farther south along the corridor, Delray Beach Market will open this week.

One concern will be what the staff memo calls the “jumbotron” aspect of that “kiosk.” The memo points out that “lighting” and “outdoor noise” could be problems for nearby homeowners. PopStroke proposes to operate from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and from 10 a.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday.

But the memo also says the project “has the potential to continue to bring interest for adaptive reuse or redevelopment along the corridor.” This could be a hard project for the commission to reject.

Delray Golf Course contract

Speaking of golf, the commission tonight will consider extending the city’s contract with BJCE to manage the Delray Beach Golf Course and Lakeview Golf Course. The health department recently cited the main course for several food violations.

Highland Beach fire rescue

The Highland Beach Town Commission will hold new discussions today about the fire-rescue contract with Delray Beach. Based on the meeting materials, the commission is going after the contract on multiple fronts.

As I reported, each of the five commissioners took on an aspect of the contract review. One is working with the town attorney to “identify areas in the contract where the Delray Beach Fire Rescue are (sic) not living up to those areas in the agreements.” Another is examining “medical charges for hospital transports and comparison of charges, collection levels, and remittances to the town.

Still another wants to “quantify any potential over- and/or under-payments,” with an eye on personnel costs provisions (sic) within the contract.” One is working with the town’s consultant “to develop a list of provisions and terms that should be in the contract that are not in the existing contract.”

Finally, the mayor is working with the town manager and finance director to get a better idea of how much it would cost Highland Beach to start its own fire department. I’ll have an update after the meeting.

Dan Alexander gets SDPBC post

Former Boca Raton Police Chief Dan Alexander is the new chief of the Palm Beach County School District Police Department.

Alexander had been deputy chief. He got the promotion Monday, three days after the resignation of Frank Kitzerow. Alexander resigned in October 2019 after 13 years as chief in Boca Raton.

The district department has grown larger and taken on more responsibilities since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in February 2018. The district likely hired Alexander with the idea that he would get the top job.

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Randy Schultz
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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