Midtown and Brightline Updates, Tragedy Hits Delray’s Law Enforcement Community

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Officer Bernendea Marc, left, and Officer Christine Braswell. Photo provided by the Delray Beach Police Department,

Midtown update

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Proposed changes to Boca Raton’s Midtown area will go before the planning and zoning board on April 20.

At issue, among other things, is allowing residential development where only commercial and retail are permitted. The city has designated the area, which Boca Raton annexed in 2003, for Planned Mobility Development. Approving rules for residential development is part of that process.

The proposal came to the planning and zoning board last December, but the board took no action. Though board members generally seemed receptive to the concept, some residents of the nearby Paradise Palms neighborhood objected. With the election coming in March, the four property owners—notably Crocker Partners—pulled back to conduct more community outreach.

Four neighborhoods surround Midtown: Paradise Palms, Fairfield, Boca Bath & Tennis and Via Verde, by far the largest community. All had concerns about the number of proposed residential units—2,500—and the size of those units. As of Monday, I had not determined whether the proposal still calls for 2,500 units, which would be distributed among Crocker Partners, Glades Plaza, Cypress Realty, which owns the Strikes bowling lanes, and Simon Property Group, which owns Town Center Mall.

Adam Beighley is a lawyer who represents Via Verde. In an email, he said, “There have been no recent meetings or communication between Via Verde and the developers.” Via Verde’s focus, Beighley said, is not on density but on “the establishment of reasonable rules to avoid detrimental impact to its members.” Under the first proposal, some uses—notably restaurants and hotels—no longer would have to go before the planning and zoning board and the council “to determine compatibility. . .” I hope to have more on the new proposal for my Thursday post.

Brightline quiet zone

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During her successful re-election campaign, Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie touted the “quiet zone” that would end the blowing of train whistles along the Florida East Coast Railway corridor. Making that a reality depends on public agencies and a private company successfully coordinating between now and July, when the Brightline passenger service is scheduled to start operating.

One agency is the Federal Railroad Administration. It must certify that sufficient safety improvements have been made at the FEC crossings to prevent drivers from getting around the gates. Boca Raton, Delray Beach and the other five cities—West Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Lantana, Hypoluxo and Boynton Beach—have submitted their Notice of Intent to establish a quiet zone. Once the improvements are complete, each city will file a Notice of Establishment of a quiet zone.

Another agency is the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization, which sets countywide transportation policy and oversees major projects. The MPO wants to make sure that the quiet zones extend from West Palm Beach to the Boca Raton-Deerfield Beach line and take effect at the same time. So the MPO has asked the cities to file their Notice of Establishment when crossing work is finished in all cities, not just individual cities.

That brings us to All Aboard Florida, which will operate Brightline and is a subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries, which owns the corridor. All Aboard Florida is in charge of those safety upgrades. Ali Soule, an All Aboard Florida spokeswoman, said in an email, “There is additional construction that is pending completion.” She would not say which projects remain unfinished. Soule said the company is “coordinating” with government agencies “regarding our schedule so cities and counties can take the appropriate next steps in the quiet zone process.”

Another of those agencies is the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, which helped Delray Beach update its downtown development rules and now is helping Boca Raton plan for a college student district near Florida Atlantic University. Staff member Kim Delaney said the council and the MPO have been helping cities “with their reviews of conditions, meeting with (the Federal Railroad Administration), local meetings, compliance with federal code and the overall process.”

Delaney said one issue affecting the construction schedule has been the need for Florida East Coast Industries to “synchronize” signaling for freight trains and the new passenger trains. The company has added a second track to accommodate Brightline.

So for those keeping score of the acronyms, we have the FRA, the MPO, the TCRPC and FECI and AAF, working with cities that need to file NOIs and NOEs. Once a city files that NOE, there’s a 21-day waiting period before implementation of the quiet zone. Haynie told me that the plan is for the zone from West Palm Beach to Lantana to go first, with the Lantana-Boca Raton section following. Therefore, horns could be sounding in Boca and Delray for 42 days after the Brightline trains—16 per day in each direction—start running.

My sense is that everyone really wants the quiet zone to come off on time. Still, those are a lot of acronyms, and no entity is fully in charge. Haynie, who chairs the MPO, said she will “ask for an update” on the quiet zone at the agency’s meeting next Thursday. Good thought.

Atlantic Crossing settlement

Atlantic-Crossing

 

Delray Beach City Commission Mitch Katz said Monday that the settlement agreement before the commission at Wednesday’s special meeting “could be the last hurdle” in resolving the Atlantic Crossing lawsuit.

Last month, the commission approved a second settlement proposal. Edwards Companies, the developer of Atlantic Crossing, accepted the terms but suggested an addendum of five items. Katz will vote to accept the addendum. Indeed, one assumes that the item wouldn’t be on the agenda unless the commission had accepted it during the recent executive session meeting on the lawsuit, in which Atlantic Crossing seeks $40 million for the city’s alleged delay in approving permits.

One addendum item would free Atlantic Crossing from any delay if the city did not receive permits from the Florida Department of Transportation. Edwards might have taken notice of the delay of Fourth and Fifth Delray while iPic awaits a permit from the state.

Two other items would require the city, not Edwards, to actually make traffic calming and signal improvements related to Atlantic Crossing. The developer would reimburse the city. “They don’t want to be road builders,” Katz said. Another would set the expiration date for the development approval as Sept. 9, 2021.

That date could get later if the state declares a public emergency. Apparently, the Zika and Hurricane Matthew emergencies each extended all development applications in the affected areas by six months. Finally, two other items would apply the city’s 2013 development rules to Atlantic Crossing and create a new development agreement.

If the commission approves the addendum, a third-party challenge would give Atlantic Crossing the option of trying to void the settlement. Until any resolution, the lawsuit continues.

Ocean Palm takes a time out

The developer of the proposed Ocean Palm condo has asked to withdraw the project from the Boca Raton City Council’s April 19 agenda.

Since the project got a unanimous recommendation from the planning and zoning board and seemed headed for easy council approval, the decision is surprising. I’m told that the developer intends to submit a revised application, but the city had received nothing as of Monday.

Florida Constitution revision

Friday morning brought a packed house to the Delray Acura Club at Florida Atlantic University Stadium. The event, however, had nothing to do with sports.

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission was holding a public hearing. Ours is the only state with such a body. It gathers every two years, and can put proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot without having to go through the Legislature or obtain 600,000-plus signatures. The 37 members thus have much potential power, even if 60 percent of voters would need to approve the amendments.

Ideally, the commission would confine itself to topics related to the structure of state government. In 1998, for example, the commission proposed—and voters agreed—to abolish the elected education and insurance commissioners. That commission also proposed—and voters agreed—to expand ballot access for presidential candidates. That change led to the crowded 2000 ballot, and the decision by then-Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore to create the “butterfly ballot” that cost Al Gore enough votes here to give George W. Bush the presidency.

Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, however, said they would appoint members with the idea of using the commission to make policy changes. On Friday, two issues drew the most speakers.

Abortion opponents want the commission to propose an amendment that would overturn a 1989 Florida Supreme Court ruling that relied on the state’s privacy clause in the constitution to allow minors to have abortions without obtaining parental consent. Advocates, among them Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher, of the state automatically restoring the civil rights of ex-felons asked the commission for an amendment that would overturn the draconian system Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet imposed in early 2011. Facing the speakers was commissioner/Attorney General Pam Bondi, who helped to orchestrate that rollback of changes that under Gov. Charlie Crist had earned bipartisan approval.

Boca Raton City Councilman Scott Singer joined others in asking the commission to preserve local governments’ prerogative to set their own rules. Home rule is under attack from the Florida House. Twenty-two of the 37 members must agree to put an amendment on the ballot.

Christine Braswell

Officer Bernendea Marc, left, and Officer Christine Braswell. Photo provided by the Delray Beach Police Department,
Officer Bernendea Marc, left, and Officer Christine Braswell. Photo provided by the Delray Beach Police Department,

With sober homes and overdoses, Delray Beach has many public safety challenges. Sadly, the city now has another, in a very personal way.

Police officer Christine Braswell was killed Saturday while riding a motor scooter in Key West. Sharing the scooter was fellow officer Bernendea Marc. A department spokeswoman said Marc is recovering from serious injuries. Chief Jeffrey Goldman called Ms. Braswell “masterful at her job and dedicated to her community.