Marijuana Dispensaries on Tap? And a Proposed Oceanfront Duplex Gets a Vote Tonight

Boca Raton got closer on Monday to allowing medical marijuana dispensaries.

After a presentation from a dispensary company and pleas from residents who use medical marijuana, the council asked City Manager Leif Ahnell to begin work on an ordinance. It would overturn the dispensary ban the city imposed after voters in November 2016 approved the constitutional amendment that legalizes marijuana for certain medical conditions.

Previous council had held off because of how the Legislature wrote rules to implement the amendment. Cities and counties must allow them anywhere they allow pharmacies or ban them. Though state regulations apply to dispensaries—they can’t be within 500 feet of a school—local governments can’t add their own rules.

Since the last discussion, though, there are new council members. Council members Monica Mayotte and Andrea O’Rourke said they had visited dispensaries nearby—Deerfield Beach allows them—to confirm that they are clean, well-lighted places.

“We don’t sell bongs. These are not head shops,” said a representative of MedMen. It’s one of 14 licensed distributors in Florida.

None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who has followed this issue. That “Cheech and Chong” stigma—as one resident put it—doesn’t apply to marijuana dispensaries, at least not those in Florida. As a lawyer for MedMen noted, the state has a “robust” set of regulations. The Legislature didn’t like the amendment and so has tried to make implementation as difficult as possible.

The simple solution would be for pharmacies to dispense medical marijuana like other prescriptions. Under federal law, however, marijuana remains illegal, so that can’t happen. Nor can licensed financial institutions process payments for medical marijuana, which remains a cash business.

Yet marijuana politics within Florida is shifting. The Legislature banned smokeable marijuana, but Gov. Ron DeSantis has given legislators a March 15 deadline for a bill to allow it. New Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried agrees with those who addressed the council that every patient who qualifies for medical marijuana has a unique profile, so the state should allow all treatments.

Council members Mayotte and Andy Thomson were the most supportive of an ordinance for consideration.

“The residents want this,” Mayotte said.

Councilman Jeremy Rodgers wanted to wait until conclusion of the legislative session that ends in May. Andrea O’Rourke went along, but said of dispensaries, “I don’t want to see them everywhere.”

Mayor Scott Singer’s aligned himself closer with Mayotte and Thomson.

Delray Beach, because of the city’s opioid/sober home crisis, has a different perspective than Boca Raton. That difference underscores the frustration local officials have with Tallahassee’s restrictions.

As speakers noted Monday, though, roughly 70 percent of voters in Boca Raton approved that 2016 ordinance. So the city will consider whether to convert that support into policy.

Oceanfront duplex

Developers who want to build a four-story duplex on the ocean in Boca Raton face near-impossible odds at tonight’s city council meeting.

Last month, the Environmental Advisory Board unanimously recommended denial of the application for a 49-foot high, 14,720-square-foot structure at 2600 N. Ocean Blvd. The staff report also recommends denial—in very strong terms.

To build the duplex, the developers need a variance from the council because the structure would be seaward of the Coastal Construction Control Line. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state established the line to “protect the coastal system from improperly sited and designed structures which can destabilize or destroy the beach and dune system.”

For the council to grant the variance, the applicants must show that they meet six standards to justify “special and unique conditions.” Those standards range from whether the “special and unique conditions” are beyond the applicant’s control to whether approval would conflict with the goals of Boca Raton’s comprehensive plan.

According to the staff report, the project fails all six standards. The duplex would cause “substantial negative environmental impacts.” Three species of sea turtles—loggerhead, green and leatherback—nest in the area. A glass front on the duplex would face the ocean, and the reflection would confuse nesting turtles.

The report also predicts damage to habitat in general and to the dune. Construction would leave the dune, which protects the coastline, “devoid of vegetation.”

The developers claim that they have “satisfied” the Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. City planners, however, say the developers have produced no letters of approval from either agency.

Because of a conflict, I couldn’t attend the Jan. 10 hearing before the Environmental Advisory Board. I asked EAB Chairman Steve Alley what argument the developers had made.

“That’s a good question,” Alley responded. Their argument, he said, essentially was that the city “couldn’t prove” that the project would hurt the environment and tried to discredit the city’s consultant. Last August, an engineering firm the city had hired recommended denial of the duplex, based on seven problematic issues.

Property rights surely will come up. The developers may argue that other private buildings are on Boca Raton’s beach. The staff memo points out that 19 the 27 structures—most of them condos—predate the Coastal Construction Control Line. Most of the others complied with the line as it existed at the time. Previous variances have covered only structures such as dune crossovers—which don’t harm the beach—or minor improvements to existing structures.

Concern over oceanfront development in Boca Raton arose in 2015, when the city council granted a variance that could allow a single-family home on the lot at 2500 N. Ocean Blvd. No city review is scheduled for that application, which also must get a variance regarding the Coastal Construction Control Line.

In response, the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District sought appraisals of remaining vacant oceanfront parcels. One idea was that the district might buy them.

So the team that wants to develop 2600 North Ocean could be planning to sue the city over what seems like an expected denial and push for a settlement in which the public buys the property. The appraisal put the value of the 0.4-acre site at $7.2 million.

The appraiser, however, noted that the figure is “based on the Extraordinary Assumption that the necessary

variances are achievable.” So whatever happens tonight likely won’t end debate over the property.

Delray bike lanes

Now that Delray Beach has rejected an ambitious plan for bike lanes on Swinton Avenue, how did the plan seemingly surprise city officials and residents?

The Florida Department of Transportation had proposed a $2.6 million makeover along 14 blocks of Swinton north and south of Atlantic Avenue. Delray Beach had asked for the money several years ago.

When the state showed the plans, however, residents were angry that construction would have removed many trees to make way for the lanes. Residents jammed a city commission meeting to protest.

So the state backed off. Under the new plan, the state will smooth and resurface that stretch of Swinton and add sharrows on each side. Those are the narrow lanes with inverted V-shapes to show where cyclists should ride on roads that they share with vehicles. The city also wants better connection of sidewalks on the west side of Swinton where right-of-way allows. An FDOT spokesman said the state estimates that the work will be done in January.

City Manager Mark Lauzier said design was less than half-done when the city raised objections and that Delray Beach would have had input at about the same point.

“Where it went off the rails,” Lauzier said, “was having policy guidance on the historic nature of the street.”

There was a “disconnect,” Lauzier said, between project managers at the FDOT “and our love of everything green/trees.” The state had faulty assumptions about what the city wanted.

“Our biggest area of challenge in the city,” Lauzier added, “is staff continuity and city commission policy guidance on transportation, parking and mobility including setting of expectations.” With Swinton, “We never got to the point of clarity and adopting of what’s right for our community so we are trying to make policy decisions without an adopted framework.”

Few issues annoy elected officials more than unpleasant surprises. They look clueless before angry residents, however misleading that appearance may be. So at Delray Beach’s goal-setting session in April, Lauzier said, staff and commissioners will discuss ways to improve communication within and without.

Pickleball

Boca Raton will add four pickleball courts when the city opens Phase 2 of Hillsboro/El Rio Park. To pickleball addicts, however, that’s not enough.

One of those super fans told the city council at its Monday workshop meeting that Delray Beach is adding 12 lighted courts at Veterans Park. Why couldn’t Boca Raton do that?

Pickleballers aren’t as numerous as the residents who regularly criticize overdevelopment, but they’re getting closer. And, for the record, the city expects to complete the Hillsboro/El Rio expansion in the fall.

Technical Rule change

Meeting Monday as the community redevelopment agency, the Boca Raton City Council made a technical change to downtown development rules that would head off problems like the one that occurred in December.

Many residents had shown up for a scheduled hearing on Camino Square, the apartment project proposed for the former Winn-Dixie shopping center near downtown. Instead, the council had to postpone the hearing.

One issue concerned public notice of the hearing. It referred to the transfer of developable space—in square feet—between from one section of downtown to another. The ordinance that governs downtown sets an overall limit on development and limits in each section.

Camino Square would require such a shift. The calculation in the public notice was off by a small amount of square footage. From here on, the notice will be legal if the calculation is “approximate.” Call it close enough for government work.

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