Friday, May 27, 2022

Is an MRI Coming to Mizner Park? And More News From Boca and Delray

Can you imagine a medical office in Mizner Park? On Monday, a majority of the Boca Raton City Council could—and allowed one.

Canadian-based Renovo got approval to open a magnetic resonance imaging facility in part of the former International Museum of Cartoon Art. Mayor Scott Singer and council members Monica Mayotte and Andy Thomson voted in favor. Yvette Ducker and Andrea O’Rourke opposed the project. So did City Manager Leif Ahnell.

Approval required a change in the lease that the Mizner Park Cultural Arts Center has for the city-owned property. In his memo to the council, Ahnell said expanding the lease “would not be consistent with the cultural aspects and supportive retail uses intended for the center.” It did not matter, Ahnell said, that Prenuvo touted itself as an industry leader.

The facility would take up roughly 20 percent of the former museum space. It’s been vacant since the museum closed two decades ago. Brookfield Properties, which manages Mizner Park, claimed that it had made “reasonable attempts” to lease the site for its permitted use—a bookstore—without success.

After so much time, Mayotte told me, she believed that having something in the space was better than it remaining empty. Brookfield has agreed to make improvements—stairwell painting, utility upgrades—that could make the property more attractive.

In addition, Mayotte said, the lease amendment allows medical office use only in the roughly 5,000 square feet that Prenuvo will occupy. The site is roughly 24,000 square feet on two floors. And if Prenuvo does not begin construction within one year of obtaining permits, the approval will be rescinded.

Still, a future council could eliminate that restriction and allow other non-cultural facilities. Drucker and O’Rourke argued that approval meant that Boca Raton essentially had surrendered.

“I’m not ready to give up on culture,” O’Rourke said. “This is the heart of our city.” Drucker worried that approval could make an irreversible drift from the original concept for Mizner Park.

In terms of culture, the south end has been the problem. The north end has the Boca Raton Museum of Art and the amphitheater, which would get a significant upgrade if it became part of the proposed performing arts center on the adjoining vacant property.

Prenuvo’s facility would be tucked behind the popular Yard House restaurant. The company plans to schedule only 30 appointments per day, to reduce traffic at the already crowded parking garages.

Supporters of the MRI facility pointed out that in 2017 Boca Raton approved a day spa in part of the former museum. It never got built.

Under the amended lease, Prenuvo must build something that “provides first-class service to the community, is highly specialized, and is limited in quantity and not commonly found throughout the country.” Actually, it’s not commonly found at Mizner Park. But that soon may change.

Palm Beach County Day

delray

Adam Frankel missed Tuesday’s Delray Beach City Commission meeting because he was in Tallahassee for Palm Beach County Day. Ryan Boylston attended remotely because he also was headed to the capital.

City and county officials use the event to lobby legislators for local projects. In this election year, with the state flush with cash from the American Rescue Plan and higher tax revenues, Gov. DeSantis basically told local officials that if they don’t bring home money this year, they never will.

Like all cities, Delray Beach has a list. Most notably, the city seeks about $1 million for improvements to Pompey Park and roughly the same amount for a new pumping station to prevent tidal flooding.

To get that money, Delray Beach will need help from Rep. Mike Caruso and Sen. Lori Berman, who represent the city. Given what happened at the Dec. 4 meeting, it’s probably good that Boylston and Frankel are the commissioners who made the trip.

Last month, Caruso and Berman addressed the commission on the recent special session and previewed the regular session, which began Tuesday. Normally, these presentations are more chat than substance. The city’s lobbyist gets into more detail.

After Caruso finished, however, Casale criticized him for voting in favor of bills she didn’t like because they served “narrow special interests.” Example: Protecting sugar growers from lawsuits over cane burning.

Though Caruso called himself “a proponent of home rule,” Casale cited a vote to limit how much local governments can charge developers to help pay services their projects generate. She mentioned Caruso’s vote for legislation that limits how much cities and counties can do to promote renewable energy.

When Casale finished, Frankel jumped in. Acknowledging that he “may disagree” with some votes—Caruso is a Republican; Frankel is a Democrat—Frankel said, “I respect how much time you spend” working for the city. Boylston said, “I would like to second that.”

Then Mayor Shelly Petrolia asked Caruso for “a list” of projects for which he had obtained state money. Caruso said he didn’t have one. Petrolia said of Caruso’s work, “It’s not ‘the ask.’ It’s ‘the get.’”

Last year, Caruso’s wife unsuccessfully challenged Petrolia, whose main commission ally is Casale. The mayor campaigned against Boylston and Frankel. Ten months after the election, the campaign goes on. We’ll see soon how well Delray Beach does with the 2022 Legislature.

Senate Bill 620

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Old and new capitol buildings in Tallahassee, Florida. (State Archives of Florida)

Speaking of the Legislature and home rule, I wrote Tuesday about Senate Bill 620. It would allow businesses to sue cities if they believed that local regulations cut at least 15 percent of their annual revenue. Cities and counties oppose the bill.

At that Dec. 4 meeting, Delray Beach’s lobbyist urged commissioners not to get alarmed about every piece of legislation. Some get watered down, he said. And not everything passes.

Then the lobbyist referenced SB 620. Sure, it seems bad, he acknowledged. But there’s a potential alternative: Senate Bill 280. It might be better.

Better how? Cities would have to create a ‘business impact statement” before voting on any regulation. In Delray Beach, that would have applied to the ban on single-use plastic straws.

The statement would have to detail the “scientific basis” for the regulation and the potential effect on business. The statement would have to appear on the city’s website. The law sets parameters under which companies can sue over the ordinance.

So the “better” version would make it so onerous and potentially litigious that cities likely wouldn’t bother approving any regulation. That’s more evidence of how special interests control Tallahassee.

Sherwood Golf Course

country club

At its Tuesday meeting, the Delray Beach Commission approved conversion of the closed Sherwood Golf Course to single-family housing.

Despite regular disagreements about development, commissioners were unanimous in support. Roughly 90 percent of the surrounding homeowners backed the deal for roughly 40 acres near Military Trail and Atlantic Avenue.

Boca qualifying period

Boca Raton has changed the qualifying period for city elections.

Previously, candidates had to qualify during the first seven days of December for the March ballot. According to county election officials, however, they need ballot names 95 days before the election. So the city has moved up the period to the first seven days in November.

Candidates now must present documents to show that they have lived in Boca Raton for at least a year. No elections are scheduled this year. In 2023, Singer and Thomson are up for new, three-year terms. O’Rourke is term-limited, so her seat will be open.

Hard feelings?

election
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Speaking of Boca Raton elections, hard feelings seemed to persist months after this year’s vote, as they apparently did in Delray Beach.

Mayotte won a second term in March by defeating Brian Stenberg. In August, Stenberg appeared before the council, seeking a seat on the housing authority board.

Mayotte noted that Stenberg had applied unsuccessfully for a spot on the parks and recreation board. He appeared to be “hopping from board to board,” Mayotte said, looking for an appointment.

The challenging tone was unusual for normally low-key board interviews. Although their campaign had been acrimonious at times, so had Thomson’s unsuccessful campaign in 2017 against O’Rourke. Yet not long afterward, O’Rourke voted without comment to put Thomson on the new education committee.

Though Stenberg was the only applicant, Mayotte’s comments nearly caused his appointment to die for lack of someone to second Thomson’s motion to approve. On Wednesday, I asked Mayotte about it.

“I thought it was a political move to apply,” Mayotte said. But Mayotte touted her service on the Green Living Advisory Board when she ran in 2018. “I had been on since 2009,” she responded. Stenberg, she said, could have applied well before running.

So if Stenberg wants to run in 2023, he will have had two years of board service. Barely.

Even harder feelings?

old school square
The Crest Theater at Old School Square, photo by Carl Dawson Photography courtesy of the Delray Beach DDA

On Friday, the Delray Beach City Commission will discuss Old School Square for the Arts’ offer to settle its lawsuit against the city. Given what happened at Tuesday’s meeting, the group’s critics don’t seem to be in a very compromising mood.

Margaret Blume addressed the commission. She donated money for renovations at the Crest Theater. City officials stopped work on the project. Blume wanted to know why she had heard nothing from the city after her requests for a meeting.

Mayor Shelly Petrolia, who voted to terminate Old School Square for the Arts’ lease, did not address Blume, citing the lawsuit. She spoke to City Attorney Lynn Gelin, who said the city stopped work because the contractor lacked a performance bond. The contractor denies that.

Other speakers asked the commission to meet with Old School Square and resolve the dispute. Petrolia then moved quickly to the next item. With Boylston and Frankel, who opposed termination, not present, Old School Square got no support from the dais.

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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