Thursday, May 23, 2024

More on the Mayoral Race, Steele Leaves Old School Square, Midtown “Visions” and More

Here are a few more thoughts on BocaWatch Publisher Al Zucaro’s announcement that he will run against Scott Singer for mayor of Boca Raton.

Not surprisingly, Zucaro will use the same consultant—West Palm Beach-based Patriot Games—as Andrea O’Rourke last year and Monica Mayotte this year. BocaWatch backed both candidates. Expect Zucaro to proclaim himself the “resident-friendly” candidate, as O’Rourke and Mayotte did.

Sensing this anti-development appeal, Singer already sent out an email asking if voters believe “that residents deserve a seat at the table.” He added, “Just this past week, I’ve heard that some of Boca’s largest developers and their attorneys, who didn’t appreciate my votes against their projects, are lining up a candidate to run against me.”

Singer didn’t name any of these developers or lawyers. Zucaro certainly wouldn’t be the development candidate. And Singer has received contributions from several developers—whose projects he supported—and their representatives. He also has received $1,000 from Modernizing Medicine CEO Dan Cane.

Because this will be a special election at the end of summer—Aug. 28—the usual rules may not apply. Singer would figure to do well in the northwest while Zucaro’s strength will be in the Golden Triangle and other areas near downtown. But Singer may need to get absentee ballots to those northwest voters. Many are snowbirds.

The Boca Raton vote will appear on the statewide primary ballot. Turnout thus should be higher than that for a March city election, but perhaps not that much higher, based on recent primary turnouts. Smaller turnout tends to favor with the most committed voters. Zucaro will have the O’Rourke and Mayotte voters, who sense that they could get a council majority. Singer has raised $73,000 since October, but he will need his own energized electorate.

And just to remind everyone, if Susan Haynie is reinstated, she would serve until March 2020.

Midtown public “visioning”

City Commissioner Andrea O'Rourke
Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke

On Wednesday night, Boca Raton will hold what the city calls a “Public Visioning Session” for Midtown. It will have an air of the unreal.

The key event regarding Midtown—the area between Town Center Mall, Glades Road and Boca Center—occurred last January. The city council refused to negotiate with Midtown’s property owners and instead asked the Development Services Department to create a “small area master plan.”

That term, which city planners never had used, came from Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke. She made the motion to ask for the document.

As a result, Crocker Partners sued the city under the Bert Harris Act. Cypress Realty, which owns Strikes at Boca and the former Nippers bar, also may sue. Trademark, which owns Glades Plaza, has backed off from the holistic Midtown redevelopment for which Crocker had been the lead advocate. Trademark now is focused on redeveloping just its property. Town Center Mall, the other main player, also is working on its own with the city.

Yet at the council’s direction, city staff members are trying to talk up the Wednesday meeting, which will take place from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Spanish River Library. Two consultants will take “ideas for a dramatic revitalization of the area.”

“Attendees are encouraged to share their vision for opportunities and challenges in Midtown.”

Yet the opportunity had been before the council for two years. In walking away, O’Rourke, Jeremy Rodgers and Scott Singer—the three remaining members from that 4-1 January vote—gave up tens of millions worth of infrastructure improvements that the landowners had agreed to pay for. They gave up coordinated redevelopment in favor of piecemeal redevelopment. Critics even knocked the idea of a new Tri-Rail station. So the city got a $130 million lawsuit.

I’ve heard complaints that Crocker Partners Managing Partner Angelo Bianco spent more time meeting with homeowner association presidents than homeowners. Even if that’s true, the landowners had begun to make concessions, some of them significant.

They had agreed to come down significantly from the opening bid of 2,500 residential units (current rules don’t allow housing in Midtown). They had agreed to finance the improvements. Crocker was prepared to donate land for the Tri-Rail station. There was talk of extending Butts Road past Town Center Road to Military Trail as a bypass to take traffic off the stretch of Military Trail that forms the spine of Midtown.

In January, however, all that stopped. Participants at Wednesday’s meeting will discuss “urban design concepts, open space, parking and mix of uses.” The city should now be discussing those topics with the landowners. Boca Raton declared Midtown a Planned Mobility District eight year ago and was obligated to write rules a long time ago.

Perhaps litigation will force the city to negotiate. Bianco won’t attend Wednesday because the “small area master plan” forms the basis for Crocker’s lawsuit. Critics claim that residents deserve more say, but the effort is largely symbolic without the landowners.

BocaWatch vs. Midtown

BocaWatch has led the fight against Midtown. Publisher Al Zucaro is now an announced candidate for mayor. BocaWatch and its followers accused the city of trying to sneak a 2016 Planning and Zoning Board hearing on Midtown past residents by scheduling it just before Christmas.

Yet last Friday, Zucaro wrote on BocaWatch that perhaps it was time for a compromise on Midtown. Perhaps the “small area master plan” had shrunk Midtown too much. Why the change of heart?

Zucaro told me that Jack McWalter—he of the fact-challenged, Glenn Beck-like videos on BocaWatch—has been more of a Midtown antagonist than he has. Zucaro, though, also acknowledged that he is “responsible for content” on the website.

With the mall and Trademark out, Zucaro said, he merely was asking if the issue demands a new look. Perhaps Zucaro wanted to look more moderate and seek to claim a sort of victory if litigation forces that compromise. Whatever the reason, BocaWatch gets a large share of the blame for that litigation by encouraging—no matter who provided the material— confrontation over negotiation.

Steele out at OSS

Rob Steele resigned last week as executive director of Old School Square in Delray Beach. He gave no notice.

City Commissioner Ryan Boylston told me that the Old School Square board executive committee met without Steele, who heard that he had been excluded. Boylston said Steele left his keys, credit card and a resignation letter on his desk.

“I’m disappointed,” Commissioner Bill Bathurst said. “I thought he would have done a great job.”

The board hired Steele in August 2015, after a community redevelopment agency consultant had proposed a massive makeover of Delray Beach’s most important civic space. After criticism from the commission, Old School Square scaled back its master plan. I’ll have more as this develops.

Weinroth racks up the cash

Robert Weinroth continues his strong fundraising in the race for Steven Abrams’ seat on the Palm Beach County Commission.

The former Boca Raton city council member had his best month in April, raising nearly $24,000 and bringing his total to $81,000. It was the third straight month in which Weinroth has raised at least $20,000, which is what consultants consider a good benchmark.

Weinroth’s most recent contributions include $3,000 from the Dunay Miskel Backman land-use law firm that previously had supported Susan Haynie. She withdrew after being charged with those seven counts of public corruption, to which she has pleaded not guilty.

Another $1,000 contribution came from the Weiss Handler law firm that is representing Crocker Partners in that Midtown lawsuit against Boca Raton. Developer Jamie Danburg gave $1,000, as did Palm Beach Kennel Club.

William Vale, the Republican candidate, reported raising roughly $3,500 in April, which was his first full month. Vale also has loaned his campaign $500.

Quiet zones

brightlineTrain horns will stop in Boca Raton next week.

The city announced on its website that the quiet zone would take effect on May 30. In a quirk of federal law, though, the Florida East Coast Railway corridor will go silent just before midnight on that date. So if you hear horns that day, be patient for a few more hours.

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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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