The latest on the city/park district dust-up, the Mayor talks height, Delray’s iPic update & more

boca-raton-beach001008.jpg

Boca vs. Boca Beach & Park District

After tonight, the argument between Boca Raton and the Boca Raton Beach and Park District may not be over, but the two sides may know what they’re arguing about.

District Board Chairman Robert Rollins told me last week that he hopes for approval at the board’s meeting tonight on a letter to the city. The letter would specify the district’s concerns about a proposed new agreement between the two government entities. Rollins believes that the city is asking the district to violate the state legislation that created the district in 1974. The city disagrees.

When Rollins appeared before the city council recently, Mayor Susan Haynie asked him to lay out those concerns. “I hope that we can continue the dialogue,” said Rollins, who also met with Haynie and City Manager Leif Ahnell. “I’m doing my best to mend fences. We’re all pragmatic individuals.”

Yet for nearly a year the district and city have made little progress toward reconciliation, despite their mutual goal of creating and maintaining a terrific system of beaches and parks. It’s a seeming mismatch; the district has just two employees, and the city does most of the maintenance work on district facilities.

The district’s leverage, however, is the nearly $1 per $1,000 of assessed value tax it levies on properties within Boca and west of the city to the Florida Turnpike. That separation allows Boca Raton to keep its property tax rate lower than if the two agencies combined, which would happen if the city ever annexed all that western land.

Haynie and others contend that relations began to sour when Arthur Koski, the district’s contracted lawyer, also began serving as executive director. Rollins denied any “personality issue,” but acknowledged that his board “could consider” promoting Briann Harms from assistant director and ending Koski’s interim, dual role. Complicating matters is that Koski represents residents who are suing the city over approval of Chabad East Boca. (See next item.)

Agreement is urgent. In addition to settling matters related to park expansion, the city and district need a joint policy on beach restoration and possibly purchasing oceanfront property, to keep it from being developed. If the two sides can better understand their disagreement, they should be closer to ending it.

Chabad update

Boca Raton has prevailed in the first of three lawsuits challenging the city council’s approval last year of Chabad East Boca.

Last week, a panel of three Palm Beach County Circuit Court judges unanimously rejected a challenge of the granting of extra height for the project. Two nearby residents had brought the lawsuit. The added height, to about 40 feet, was permissible as a conditional use.

Two other challenges remain undecided. A second case in state court challenges the site plan for the synagogue/exhibit hall. A case in federal court claims that Boca Raton violated the First Amendment ban on government establishment of religion by favoring the Jewish congregation over Christian residents.

Normally, projects that receive development approvals have two years to obtain permits and begin construction. Because of the lawsuits, however, the clock isn’t running on Chabad East Boca. In a previous post, I may have implied that opponents could kill the project by stalling it in court. That isn’t so.

Another look at height issues

On a related note, the Boca Raton City Council at tonight’s meeting likely will approve development changes to properties—like the one where Chabad East Boca would be built—that abut residential neighborhoods.

The changes apply to height. They have been in the works for about a year. Mayor Susan Haynie proposed the staff review after the Chabad East Boca approval. She noted that a decade ago the city had asked the Riviera and Por la Mar neighborhoods if they wanted changes to the zoning for such properties. The neighborhoods declined.

If the council, as expected, adopts the ordinance, it would be harder to get extra height on the properties at issue. Two areas would be ineligible for extra height: the Northwest Second Avenue corridor and Palmetto Park Road east of the Intracoastal Waterway. The site of Chabad East Boca is in that latter section.

And more on the open space debate

The Great Boca Raton Downtown Open Space Non-Controversy didn’t end Monday afternoon.

The issue mostly ended last month, with the staff report that since 1988 the city in every circumstance but one had correctly followed rules for downtown projects. On Monday, the city council—acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency—was being asked to codify City Manager Leif Ahnell’s recommendations for updating a 2003 staff memo on how to interpret the rule that 40 percent of downtown projects contain open space to make projects pleasing to the eye and pedestrian-friendly.

Ahnell’s proposed update would have mostly retained the definition of open space—no parking lots or bank drive-throughs—and the method for applying the rule to buildings on multiple sites. The proposal, however, stated that open space “shall be adjacent to the public realm,” meaning along the street. Presumably, the thought was to get public space closer to the public.

At the meeting, however, architects and others who work for developers cautioned that such language could be unhelpfully restrictive. Interior public courtyards, one speaker said, can make a project more welcoming than something near the street. Land-use lawyer Charles Siemon said the language could render non-compliant many downtown buildings now in compliance.

So the council voted unanimously to table the issue until the CRA’s July 25 meeting. Mayor Susan Haynie said she is participating in a June 8 discussion at which architects will talk about downtown design. Some of those comments could help the city constructively update the policy. Scott Singer summed up the sentiment when he spoke of wanting to avoid a “broad bush” change.

It was a productive exchange. The tone was the opposite of the meeting late last year, when a few council critics reacted as if the 2003 memo was Boca’s equivalent of Richard Nixon’s White House taping system. Perhaps something good still can out of what devolved from routine housekeeping into a months-long distraction.

iPic update

In March, the Delray Beach City Commission gave final approval to the site plan for Fourth and Fifth Delray, which most people call the iPic project. The company, though, still has much to do before starting construction.

One early step is completion of a Parking Facilities and Management Agreement between iPic and the city. The agreement would codify issues attached to the city commission’s approval.

In an email, City Attorney Noel Pfeffer said those issues include: a minimum commitment for moving the company’s headquarters from Boca Raton to Delray Beach and what would happen if iPic left early; city control of public parking spaces iPic would provide in the project’s garage; the city’s “ability to provide for and be compensated for traffic control” if the project creates congestion at Atlantic Avenue and Southeast Fourth Avenue; rules for what happens if the project’s valet service “is not functioning effectively”; rules for use of the public terrace and “general enforcement tools available to the city.”

Pfeffer said the company’s first draft of the agreement was “not acceptable and needed a lot of work.” Pfeffer said iPic had promised him a revised draft last week. As of Monday, Pfeffer said, that new version had not arrived. He hopes to get the agreement on a commission agenda before he leaves for a job in private practice. Pfeffer departs at the end of June.

Jacquet still MIA

In writing last week about the evaluation of Delray Beach City Manager Don Cooper, I noted that four members of the city commission had done written evaluations of Cooper before Tuesday night’s meeting. Mitch Katz even asked Cooper to do a self-evaluation, which the manager completed.

According to the city’s Human Resources Department, Commission Al Jacquet did not fill out a written evaluation. Jacquet did participate in the oral evaluation at the commission meeting.

Perhaps Jacquet’s failure was fitting. He was absent from the November 2014 meeting at which the commission hired Cooper. Jacquet has the worst attendance record of any commissioner, and now he’s running for the Florida House. He was late to a commission meeting in March because he was working on the campaign of Christina Romelus, who was elected to the Boynton Beach City Commission. Jacquet might help his chances of getting that next job if he put more time into his current job.

Delray Place expansion still under review

I wrote recently about growing neighborhood opposition to the second phase of Delray Place, at Linton Boulevard and Federal Highway. The expansion would push the project farther south on Federal.

Planning and Development Director Tim Stillings told me that the city has not set a date for the project to go before the Site Plan Review and Appearance Board. Delray Place South “is still undergoing technical review,” Stillings said, “and we are waiting on a resubmittal/response.”

Missed the last City Watch?

Visit our City Watch page and also sign up for our City Watch e-newsletter, where you’ll get the latest column delivered directly to your inbox.

Previous articleThe Week Ahead: May 24 to 30
Next articleCulinary Tours, Food Festivals and More
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.