Boca Raton may be about to settle a lawsuit. Doing so could head off more litigation.
On Wednesday, the city council will meet in executive session—closed to the public—as the community redevelopment agency to discuss the legal challenge to the CRA’s rejection in July of a downtown adult senior living center called The Concierge. Mayor Scott Singer and council members Monica Mayotte and Andrea O’Rourke voted “no” even though the staff and two advisory boards had recommended approval.
Councilman Jeremy Rodgers voted yes. Andy Thomson had not joined the council.
The developer, Group P6-D, asked the Palm Beach County Circuit Court to overturn the CRA’s decision. According to the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting, the CRA will discuss options “including, without limitation, settlement opportunities.”
A settlement would be appropriate and practical. In other cases, developers and the council have discussed and agreed on changes during the meeting. With the concierge, however, Group P6-D representatives heard that it could take nine months to process an amended plan. Having spent nearly two years at that point, they asked for a vote instead of a postponement.
In addition, a settlement that allowed the project to proceed likely would obviate a related lawsuit from the same council discussion.
Though they mentioned such concerns as parking, emergency services and compatibility, Mayotte and O’Rourke also implied that downtown didn’t need any more old people. Their comments prompted the landowner, Boca Raton resident Robert Buehl, to issue a news release saying that he would file a Bert Harris claim that the city had wrongly devalued his property. Buehl bought the 0.6-acre site in 2015 for $2.6 million.
Last week, Buehl said he couldn’t comment on any settlement discussion. As for the Bert Harris claim, “I am continuing to assess all my legal options.” But sale of the land—and thus Buehl’s return on his investment— presumably would obviate the Bert Harris claim because there would be no damage.
Moreover, the city probably would lose the P6-D lawsuit. Barely a year ago, the CRA approved a larger adult living facility downtown—193 units to The Concierge’s 110 units. Mayotte worried about The Concierge overwhelming Southeast Sixth Street, but the other facility—Penn-Florida is the developer—will be on a similarly quiet stretch of Royal Palm Road. O’Rourke voted for that project. Mayotte had not joined the council.
With the council also having recently approved a senior facility in northwest Boca Raton, there’s a legitimate issue of increased costs for emergency services. Senior living centers generate more calls that traditional multi-family projects. Fire Chief Tom Wood said Boca Raton is “in desperate need” of additional emergency vehicles and personnel.
During discussion of Penn-Florida’s facility, the idea of a “regulatory scheme” arose. Operators might pay a fee to help cover the costs of the calls. As with other ideas, though, there’s been no follow up.
Boca Raton already is dealing with one Bert Harris lawsuit by Crocker Partners over the city’s failure to approved redevelopment rules for Midtown. That lawsuit seeks nearly $140 million in damages. Group P6-D has other projects in Boca Raton, likely envisions more and has reason to work with the city. Conditions seem right for a settlement on The Concierge.
Delray lawsuit update
Speaking of lawsuits, I reported last week on productive negotiations toward resolving Delray Beach’s lawsuit against the owner/promoter of the city’s annual pro tennis tournament. The city commission will meet in executive session today to discuss the recent mediation session and how to proceed.
Pining for wheels in Delray
Last week was Delray Beach’s first one without any form of downtown public transportation. City Commissioner Ryan Boylston said that he has received email complaints and has been “stopped in the street.”
Boylston said the commission is “100 percent” responsible. He and his colleagues “didn’t move forward” on either a new contract to operate the city-financed trolley or a subsidy for the private Downtowner service, which left for Tampa—and a big subsidy.
Nor is there any money in the new budget for downtown transportation. The commission could amend the budget to add the money and restart service, but first the commissioners must decide what they want. In that, they are like their counterparts in Boca Raton who had hoped for a self-supporting private service. When that didn’t happen—and there was no reason to think that it would—the city council returned to the idea of seeking bids.
At last week’s meeting, Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia indicated that she wanted to renew discussion and that the commission had made a mistake. The commission’s decision has hurt residents who want a ride to the Tri-Rail station and downtown employees who want to avoid parking issues.
I asked Boylston why the trolley got so little love. He wondered whether people disliked the diesel engines. “But if people don’t like it, we need to figure out what the replacement is. Is it using propane as fuel?” That would mean buying new vehicles.
City Manager Mark Lauzier said the city is “waiting for” the community redevelopment agency to recommend a program and a price tag. CRA Executive Director Jeff Costello will make a presentation at this afternoon’s meeting. The CRA board is the commission and two appointed members, so the commissioners essentially will be “waiting for” themselves to decide and then how to apportion the expense between the city budget and the CRA budget. The trolley program cost about $1 million.
Petrolia said the city’s abrupt cancellation “maybe was not the best” approach. But she added that commissioners need “more data” and intend to get it. “We want to make this better.”
Sober home intervention
At its meeting next week, the Delray Beach City Commission will decide whether to intervene in a lawsuit against the sober home industry trade group.
City Attorney Max Lohman supports the city’s involvement. I had reported on Lohman’s worry that a successful lawsuit could neuter Delray Beach’s sober home regulations that depend on certification by the Florida Association of Recovery Residences (FARR). State law also forbids treatment centers from referring patients to uncertified sober homes.
During last week’s meeting, Lohman said he wanted former Interim City Attorney Terrill Pyburn—now in private practice—to help FARR’s counsel because of her expertise on this issue. Mayor Shelly Petrolia asked about cost. Lohman responded that the city might have to pay $200,000, but only if the lawsuit “got crazy.”
Petrolia and City Commissioner Bill Bathurst said the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office should get involved. State Attorney Dave Aronberg created the Sober Homes Task Force, which has made arrests arising out of new state laws. Commissioner Shirley Johnson said the state itself—meaning Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office—should help out. The Legislature has designated FARR as the agency to which homes apply.
They have a point, and Lohman said he would “reach out.” By his tone, though, Lohman implied that he still would recommend that Delray Beach intervene even if the city is the cavalry. Aronberg has been fairly aggressive, but Bondi has been little help on opioids in general and she leaves office in January.
Boca Comprehensive Plan update
At their workshop meeting today, Boca Raton City Council members will hear from the staff about updates to the city’s comprehensive plan. State law requires cities and counties to regularly update their plans.
As part of the review, city planners must provide growth predictions. Based on new numbers from the state, Boca Raton estimates that the city’s population will top 100,000 between 2030 and 2035. Roughly 92,000 people now live in Boca Raton. The city’s population was 84,392 as of 2010. Growth has picked up since the recession.
Garage sale permits
Apparently, some Boca Raton residents take the issue of garage sales too far.
On Wednesday night’s city council meeting agenda is an ordinance that would regulate garage/yard sales in residential neighborhoods. Residents would need to obtain a permit. They could not have sales more than four days a year and no more than two days in a row, only between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
A city spokeswoman had told me that neighbors of one home had complained that the owners were having sales almost every weekend and basically operating a business. According to the staff memo, the city would make it easy to obtain a permit, either by getting one at City Hall or securing it online.
Red Tide update
Boca Raton offices were closed on Monday, but the beaches remained open. Red tide alerts were still posted.
According to a city spokeswoman, water samples will be tested Tuesday—with results posted Thursday—and Thursday—with results posted Monday. The most recent readings showed moderate levels of the bacterium that caused red tide.
Commission says yes to the dress
If you need money and have a good story, hit up the Delray Beach City Commission.
Last week, the story came from Rodney Dobard, who coaches the boys’ basketball team at Atlantic High School. Dobard wanted a $5,000 stipend toward such expenses as uniforms.
Dobard, who played at Florida State, is a local legend and most people understand how sports can keep at-risk students interested in school. But as some commissioners said, what would stop any coach from coming for money? The school district already has to ask voters next month for a property tax increase to comply with safety rules and to give teachers raises.
Obviously, the city has no money in the budget for such stipends. Commissioners expressed much concern about the precedent.
And then they voted for it.
Just this once.