Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Boca vs. Midtown Lawsuits, Via Mizner Gets a Thumbs-Down and Delray Talks Contracts

This is a key week for one of the two lawsuits against Boca Raton over Midtown.

Today, attorneys for Crocker Partners will argue that they should be able to depose city council members. The city wants to restrict depositions to staff members.

That’s how it usually happens. When developers challenge rejections, they tend to first question those who prepared the material on which the elected policymakers presumably based their decision. Developers can take issue with calculations or assumptions.

With Midtown, however, the roles were reversed.

City planners had discussed redevelopment rules for Midtown, the area from Town Center Mall to Military Trail and south of Glades Road. One would cover residential development, which current rules do not allow. Crocker had proposed a maximum of 2,500 units over the roughly 300 acres. City staff had proposed 600, with no construction until completion of a Tri-Rail station, likely just north of Boca Center. Other issues included building height and traffic on Military Trail.

Last January, however, the city council ended negotiations by telling the staff to create a “small area master plan” for Midtown. That term came from Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke. Building Services Director Brandon Schaad—the city’s top planner—acknowledged that he hadn’t heard of it.

O’Rourke, who has no professional background in planning, had used the term before, seeking her colleagues’ support for it. This time, she prevailed.

Scott Singer—then a councilman, now the mayor—went along. So did Councilmen Jeremy Rodgers and Robert Weinroth, who did not seek reelection in March and is running for the county commission. Only Susan Haynie, then the mayor before Gov. Rick Scott removed her, dissented.

Even though the staff is now working on that “small area master plan,” the idea came from the council. That’s why Crocker’s lawyers want to depose the council first.

Then on Wednesday, also before Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Howard Coates, Crocker’s attorneys will seek to obtain more documents related to Midtown as part of their discovery. Crocker claims that the city has been delaying release of those documents.

Coates already rejected Boca Raton’s motion to dismiss this declaratory judgment lawsuit, which is separate from Crocker’s litigation seeking $137 million in damages from what the company alleges are lost profits. The lawsuit in court this week seeks to compel the city to approve development rules for Midtown.

By designating Midtown for Planned Mobility Developer in 2010, Crocker argues, Boca Raton obligated itself to set development rules and thus granted rights to the property owners. In its response, Boca Raton argues that the plan itself granted no such rights and that the council’s action did not amount to a building moratorium.

A key point in both lawsuits will be whether the city council acted arbitrarily eight months ago. Crocker says yes. The city says no. I will have an update after the hearings.

Requiem for Midtown

Whatever happens with the lawsuits, the original idea of comprehensive redevelopment in Midtown likely is dead, though Boca Raton continues to act otherwise.

Crocker had been working with two other landowners, Trademark (Glades Plaza) and Cypress Realty (Strikes of Boca and the former Nipper’s). Simon Property Group, which owns the mall, had been an interested party more than a day-to-day participant. The emerging plan had one set of rules for east of Butts Road and another to the west.

Now, however, Trademark and Cypress are working on plans just for their properties. Crocker, which owns Boca Center and three other properties, is focused on litigation. The city had envisioned Crocker donating land for the Tri-Rail station, but that hardly could happen with Crocker suing the city.

During a recent discussion, a staff member said the “small area master plan” depended on developers being “willing to participate.” They were at one time, but not now. Boca Raton may have blown a great opportunity.

P&Z Board: Thumbs down on Via Mizner

via mizner
Rendering of Via Mizner

The Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board voted last week 4-3 to recommend against approval of the revised plan for Phase 2 and Phase 3 of Via Mizner.

That rejection came despite Vice Chairman Richard Coffin praising the presentation from Penn-Florida Vice Chairman Al Piazza. He was polished, answered every question and offered to compromise on certain points. One is a bus station on Federal Highway. Penn-Florida agreed to it, but the county-run Palm Tran now doesn’t want it.

As I wrote last week, however, the issue was going to be parking. Via Mizner’s first plan, which the city council—acting as the community redevelopment agency board—approved almost three years ago had no valet parking. This one has four valet stations. More important to some board members, this plan relies on a shared parking system among all three garages—for the apartment/retail building, the Mandarin Oriental hotel and a condo.

To me, Piazza made a persuasive case that such a system could work. But he failed to persuade board members Larry Cellon, Kerry Koen, Janice Rustin and Larry Snowden.

Cellon was the most vocal. He complained that Penn-Florida’s plan would “mess up” what Cellon said has been a good parking plan for Phase 1—the apartment building. He also didn’t like the mix of self-parking and tandem parking—two cars in one space—for the valet.

Piazza pointed out that Penn-Florida wants to concentrate the tandem parking in the hotel building, where valet use would be highest. Cellon worried that approval would “send the wrong message” that such shared parking “would be the new normal in Boca Raton.”

Normally, Via Mizner 2 and 3 would go to the city council next month. The planning and zoning board vote, though, could give the some council members grounds to reject the new plan. Penn-Florida could proceed or change the plan and seek a rehearing before the board in hopes of getting a favorable recommendation.

I asked a Penn-Florida representative about the company’s response. I did not hear back by deadline for this post. I will report the response when I get it.

Delray CRA extends deadline

Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia

The Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency has extended the deadline for developers seeking to buy three blocks of land on West Atlantic Avenue.

After the city commission abolished the independent CRA board last spring, Mayor Shelly Petrolia rushed to close a new deal with the developer who failed in his first attempt to put a mixed-use project on the site east of the Fairfield Inn. When Petrolia failed, the CRA sent out a new Request for Proposal.

To allow as much time and maximize the number of applicants, the new deadline is Oct. 5. According to a Sept. 11 memo from CRA Director Jeff Costello, a selection committee will rank the bidders by Nov. 6. If the CRA wants to hear presentations, that would happen a week later. The CRA would choose a bidder in December.

Will the commissioners get a raise?

Delray Beach City Manager Mark Lauzier has produced a two-phase plan to raise compensation for the city commission. He will present it at tonight’s meeting.

Lauzier previously had noted that Delray Beach compensation ranked far below that in neighboring cities. Lake Worth, which has roughly half the population, pays about $25,000. In Delray Beach, the mayor makes $12,000 and commissioners make $8,300.

Under the plan, commissioners would vote themselves a $500-per-month car allowance. That could take effect immediately. Commissioners can approve raises, but they can’t take effect until after the next scheduled election. That will be in March 2020.

The second phase would come in late 2019, with the commission setting new salaries. Lauzier recommends a range of between $23,564 and $25,704 for the mayor and $19,637 and $22,272 for commissioners. Lauzier, however, also recommends that the commission discuss compensation during goal-setting next spring.

No ugly poles for iPic

Issues arose in Delray Beach when Florida Power & Light put up stronger but unsightly—in the eyes of some residents—poles near Atlantic Crossing. That problem likely won’t happen with the iPic project.

On the agenda for tonight’s city commission meeting is approval of an agreement with FPL to use public easements to bury “all above-ground electric, telephone, cable, and data distribution facilities.” IPic would pay for all the work. The project, which includes a theater offering food service, the company’s corporate headquarters and other office space, is between Southeast Fourth and Fifth avenues just off Atlantic Avenue.

Delray police contracts

Just in time for the budget year, which begins Monday, the Delray Beach City Commission will vote tonight on new police contracts. The commission also will hold its second hearing on the budget.

According to a staff memo, the contract with the officers and sergeants would cost an additional $1.6 million next year and $2.8 million through the three years of the agreement. The contract for lieutenants would add $120,000 next year and $210,000 over three years. City Manager Mark Lauzier kept $2 million for next year in a contingency fund, presuming ratification of the contracts.

After the last contract, the memo says, the police department had the “largest turnover in recent memory.” According to the memo, this contract gives the city a “competitive wage” with nearby agencies.

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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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