Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Martin Manor Goes to Council for Approval & Cohn Resigns from DDA

Two-and-a-half years after controversy over it began, the demolition and rebuilding of Dixie Manor goes to the Boca Raton City Council tonight for approval.

Discussion of the project at meetings has put council members in an awkward position. They have heard criticism and questions directed at them from residents of the city’s historic public housing complex, even though the renamed Martin Manor is not a city project. It is a collaboration between the city’s housing authority, whose members the council appoints, and the developer—Atlantic Pacific Communities.

Now, though, the council will decide the proposal to demolish the 95 units and build 95 new ones on the property near Glades Road and North Dixie Highway. Three, three-story buildings would replace the existing one-story apartments on the north side of the roughly 10 acres, leaving room for another 95 units on the south side if the authority can obtain financing.

Most of the controversy has concerned what some residents contend is poor communication by the authority about what will happen during construction. Where will residents go? Can they return to the new complex? If they don’t want to return, where will they live?

Those issues, though, are not in play tonight. The council must decide whether to approve a change in the land-use map for the site, a rezoning, a conditional use to allow a nursery and after-school program, two variances, two technical deviations and the site plan itself.

When the proposal went to the planning and zoning board, which unanimously recommended approval, speakers raised issues. City planners have responded to those questions in their memo that also recommends approval, with conditions.

Rendering of Martin Manor project

Critics noted that the developer wanted fewer parking spaces than rules stipulate. After discussion with the city, the number of spaces has gone from 124 to 147, still under the usual requirement. There would be 20 spaces for electric vehicles, also fewer than required.

Some residents wanted elevators. The staff noted that code does not require them for buildings of this size. Similarly, code does not require trash chutes on every floor. But the staff is asking a developer to have an employee on site to help anyone put trash in the dumpsters.

Because parts of Dixie Manor date to the 1940s, there was sentiment to preserve part of one building. The staff said no historic designation exists and that only a “small number of residents” asked for the preservation.

Discussions with staff led to a larger playground. Two banyan trees will be preserved. The developer wants to tear down the wall along Dixie Highway, but the council could require a fence to augment trees that will provide a buffer. Discussion about the wall along Lincoln Court can come later.

Residents had requested traffic calming on Dixie Highway and asked about an entrance on the south side from Glades Road. The memo notes that the city does not control either road. The staff rejected the idea of a bus stop on Glades Road because no bus routes use it.

As I have written, it’s rare to see Black speakers at council meetings. Many, though, have shown up to talk about Dixie Manor—residents and those from outside the city speaking on their behalf. I read the memo as Boca Raton’s way of telling residents that the city has heard them.

Ele Zachariades represents Atlantic Pacific and the authority. Meetings with all residents, she said, have determined that 47 tenants want to stay and will be able to return. Some can stay on the south side until the new units open. Approval would mean that construction, which should take about 18 months, could start in January.

Referring to the residents, Zachariades said, “We are aware that this is a deeply personal issue. This is their home.”

Cohn resigns from DDA board

delray

At 5 p.m. today, the Delray Beach City Commission will hold a workshop meeting. The first item is “Discussion with the Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority Board.”

What timing.

On Friday, Damara Cohn resigned from the DDA board. The commission chose Cohn just seven days ago. She replaced Rick Burgess, whom the commission removed on April 16 for allegedly claiming a virtual business address within the district when he applied last year, not a brick-and-mortar address.

Apparently, though, Cohn had the same issue. On Thursday, City Attorney Lynn Gelin had asked to speak with Cohn “about your recent appointment.” City Commissioner Rob Long told me Gelin had been notified about a potential problem with the address Cohn listed—55 SE Second Ave.—for her self-owned business, Mangrove Realty.

That is the address of Office55, which advertises itself as a location for “virtual” and “hybrid” offices. Like Burgess, Cohn was supposed to have an actual office within the DDA district.

And who flagged Cohn’s problem? Burgess. He told me Monday that he “communicated” with Gelin after the commission chose Cohn. Burgess said, “[The commission] didn’t check out her address. I did.” He also contends that nothing in the DDA ordinance requires such an address.

Here’s more irony: Commissioners complained last week that the application forms provide too little information on which to make an informed choice.

Burgess files suit to rescind removal from DDA board

As his attorney threatened during the April 16 hearing, Burgess has filed suit asking a panel of circuit court judges to rescind his removal. Burgess also wants the court to stay any move to replace him until the lawsuit is resolved. Cohn’s departure could factor into the litigation.

Burgess alleges that DDA Executive Director Laura Simon tried to “interfere” with his application last year to keep him off the board. Simon, Burgess claims, “attempted to influence the city clerk to remove [him] from consideration.”

Behind that move, Burgess alleges, was former DDA Board Chair Mavis Benson, whom he calls a “close friend” of Simon. Benson is an ally of former Mayor Shelly Petrolia. The four commissioners who appointed Burgess and three others were not Petrolia allies in this struggle for control of the DDA board.

The four commissioners who voted to remove Burgess cited a letter of reprimand to Burgess from the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics. The commission was responding to a complaint against Burgess that Benson filed.

Though the letter said he “intentionally” used a false address on his application, Burgess claims that he and the commission “agreed that this would not be allowed as evidence of any form of guilt.”

Burgess accuses City Commissioner Juli Casale—a Petrolia ally—of leading a “witch hunt” against him. During the March 28 organizational meeting after the election that returned her to office, Casale used the usually ceremonial event to ask for a review of Burgess’ appointment. Casale ran with two other Petrolia-allied candidates as a slate.

“There is no actual evidence,” Burgess claims, for his removal. The city has not responded to the lawsuit.

Only one other person applied for the DDA position. The next regular commission meeting is May 21.

This dispute could not come at a worse time.

The agenda says one topic for today’s meeting is a “shared discussion” of Old School Square, which the DDA has been operating since February 2023. The agency’s contract ends Sept. 30, and the DDA and city must negotiate a new one.

I’ll have more after the meeting.

Delray to discuss parks bond

The other item on today’s agenda is discussion of the $20 million parks bond that voters approved last year. Some new commissioners want a say in how the city spends the money.

The Glass House opens sales office in Boca

Rendering of Glass House in Boca Raton (Courtesy of wearevisuals)

There’s the regional housing affordability crisis, and there’s real estate in Boca Raton.

This month, the Glass House opened its sales office. The 28 units at 280 E. Palmetto Park Road will sell for between $2.5 million and $6.9 million. The developer, a Baltimore-based entity, bought the 0.6-acre site last year for nearly $10 million. Owners will have what the developer calls the city’s only “rooftop oasis” and limited memberships at The Boca Raton.

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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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