Friday, October 22, 2021

Midtown Proposals Will Change, Dark Money in Boca, and More

Boca Center. Photo provided by Andrea Knibbs.

The proposals for Midtown that go before the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board next Thursday will be different from what the board saw last December.

Angelo Bianco of Crocker Partners, one of Midtown’s largest property owners, told me Wednesday that his company and others have worked with the city “to address concerns” of the four neighborhoods that adjoin Midtown—Boca Bath & Tennis to the north, Fairfield and Paradise Palms to the south and Via Verde to the west. Bianco said, “There have been several revisions.”

The city—not the property owners—is seeking the proposals. Deputy City Manager George Brown will make the presentation to the planning and zoning board. Specifics won’t be available until the backup material is released on Friday. At that December meeting, however, board members raised questions about parking, setbacks and a shuttle service that would link large employment sites—such as Town Center Mall—retail and residential projects, which zoning in Midtown now prohibits. The December proposal called for 2,500 residential units.

Neighbors also had questions. So Crocker held a town hall-type meeting on Feb. 2. Since then, Bianco said, he has organized “topic-specific” meetings—traffic, transit-oriented development—of “about 40” residents, notably those “who have shown interest,” favorable or unfavorable. The latest is scheduled for 6 p.m. tonight at the Boca Center Marriott. The topic will be multi-family development, the type of housing envisioned for Midtown.

Boca Raton has designated Midtown for Planned Mobility Development, designed to reduce traffic by greater use of transit. The city wants a second Tri-Rail station just north of Crocker-owned Boca Center. The hope was to have the city council approve the Midtown changes by March,the deadline for federal and state grants to build the station and buy trains.

The plan is still for that second station. (The station at Yamato Road is Tri-Rail’s busiest because it serves so many employers in the Park at Broken Sound.) Bianco said the city could seek money for Tri-Rail next year. Presumably, if the council approves the Midtown proposals, the city and Crocker and Tri-Rail would identify property for the station. Bianco said the acreage would be small, with parking for “very few cars,” because most people would get to and from the station on the shuttle.

For my Tuesday post, I will have a detailed look at the new proposals.

Also regarding Midtown

On Tuesday, I quoted a lawyer who represents Via Verde as expressing the community’s concern that Boca Raton might automatically allow in Midtown some land uses that now require council approval. Based on the backup material from that December planning and zoning board meeting, I used restaurants and hotels as examples.

I’m told that some Via Verde residents objected, believing that the comment portrayed them as NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) critics of Midtown. Though noise is an issue at the moment, the community’s main concern is that what are now conditional uses—subject to review—would become permitted uses. Blue Martini, the club on the south side of Town Center Mall that can stay open until 5 a.m. has drawn many noise complaints from nearby Via Verde residents. To avoid future nuisances, they want assurances that future development will remain under city scrutiny.

Next Wednesday, one day before the planning and zoning board meets, the city council will hold a public hearing on Mayor Susan Haynie’s ordinance under which Blue Martini and Nippers, on Military Trail, would have to observe the citywide closing time of 2 a.m. When the city annexed Midtown in 2003, Blue Martini and Nippers kept the later closing time because it was (and remains) legal in the unincorporated county.

Since Nippers’ landlord wants to redevelop that site, the only practical effect of the ordinance would be on Blue Martini. Via Verde wants assurances that if the ordinance rolls back Blue Martini’s closing time, the Midtown rules couldn’t replace one noise problem with another.

State response to opioid epidemic

On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi finally announced a state response to the opioid overdose epidemic that has bedeviled so many Florida cities, especially Delray Beach. The city had 51 heroin overdoses in February, six of them fatal.

I found their comments underwhelming. The state will give local law enforcement agencies statewide $4 million, but there will be no new money for treatment. The governor also did not declare a public health emergency, which the Palm Beach County Commission and the county’s chief judge asked Scott to do.

Bondi did say of sober homes, “We’re going to regulate them out of business.” She supports legislation that would increase penalties for those who sell fentanyl, the synthetic that can make heroin even deadlier. And she announced a deal that will make Narcan cheaper for fire and police departments. Narcan can save lives by reversing the effects of an overdose. Finally, Palm Beach County will be the site of a workshop on the opioid crisis.

Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein had a different reaction: “I think their comments, and where they made them, represent a dramatic and positive shift in Tallahassee’s understanding of what’s really going on in the ‘recovery’ industry and that this is not just a South Florida problem. I especially appreciate their comments linking the dramatic increases in opioid-related overdoses to an unregulated and largely unsuccessful ‘recovery’ industry, in general, and sober homes, specifically.”

Though targeting the traffickers will help, Glickstein said, “We cannot arrest or regulate our way out of this problem.” To head off addiction, he favors spending on mental health and early education initiatives. He notes that there are only 29 public beds for drug treatment in Palm Beach County, nine of which are for children. Government also must target the drug companies for oversupply of opioids and doctors for overuse.

Bondi is thus correct to call this a national crisis, not just a Florida crisis. But she and Scott still look far more reactive than proactive. Bondi saw the Affordable Care Act as such a threat to Florida that she sued to block it. Opioids represent a true threat.

Trump’s cost to Boca

I was surprised to read Wednesday in the Sun Sentinel that Boca Raton incurs cost when President Trump visits Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. Why would Boca be involved?

A police department spokesman said Boca Raton sends two motorcycle officers for the motorcade that escorts Trump to and from Palm Beach International Airport to the former Marjorie Merriweather Post estate.

What to do with the one-cent sales tax dollars

Boca Raton and Delray Beach are taking different approaches to money the cities will receive from the one-cent increase in the county sales tax.

Boca will put the money into a separate infrastructure fund. Cities can use the new revenue only for such projects, not recurring or operating expenses. Boca’s share for January—when the tax took effect—was roughly $450,000. That is on the low end of projections that Boca Raton would receive between $52 million and $61.5 million over the 10 years of the plan.

Unlike most of the county’s other 37 cities, Boca Raton had no plan for the money because officials say the city has no infrastructure backlog. So the money will accrue until the council decides how to spend it. A city spokeswoman said Wednesday that roadwork has been the most requested use from residents. The city’s financial advisory will oversee the spending, but won’t set policy.

In Delray Beach, officials plan to leverage the money for a 10-year bond issue at which Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus believes would be rates of between 2.5 percent and 3 percent. The city is estimating $36 million in sales tax revenue, which is very conservative. Projections are that Delray Beach will get between $37.7 million and $44.5 million.

Delray did compile a roughly $40 million list of projects, $18 million of them for roadwork. De Jesus said administrators will compile a new list for the commission’s review. Some projects from the first list are underway through the existing capital improvement plan, de Jesus said, and others may have become higher priorities. He expects to present the list to the commission at least by the goal-setting session on May 11 and perhaps before.

Mysteriy(-ish) money funded anti-Zucaro mailers

We know the source of money behind the many anti-Al Zucaro mailers in Boca Raton’s mayoral election.

Sort of.

The mailers came from a political action committee called GoBoca. State records show that $127,000 of the $137,500 GoBoca raised in February and March came from ForBoca, the non-profit that was started as a counterweight to BocaWatch. Another came from a non-profit company called Taxpayers for American Jobs. It has the same address as Mayor Susan Haynie, who defeated Zucaro on March 14 by a vote of 55 percent to 45 percent. The other $2,500 came from Kolter, the West Palm Beach developer of the new Hyatt Place Hotel.

Mark Guzzetta, a co-developer of Archstone—now Palmetto Promenade—and a longtime Republican fundraiser on the local, state and national levels, acknowledged being one of the contributors to ForBoca, and thus to GoBoca. He does not have to reveal the names of other contributors, and he declined to do so. He said only that ForBoca exists to “protect private property, whether it’s Al Zucaro’s or anybody else’s. And I’m sure that like-minded people contribute for the same reason.”

Similarly, the BocaWatch-aligned group Boca Beautiful solicits donations and doesn’t have to reveal its donors. Among other things, Boca Beautiful has taken out newspaper ads to criticize the city council.

Such unlimited donations that flow through non-profits are called dark money, because their source can remain secret. It’s the law, but $137,500 is more than Haynie had raised through her March 9 campaign finance report. You’d like to know who financed the anti-Zucaro mailers that helped Haynie’s campaign.

More on the mailers

One of those mailers criticized Zucaro for violations related to BocaWatch’s political action committee. On March 20, the state fined GoBoca $3,150 for not filing a financial report on time.

Missed the last City Watch? Visit our Community/City Watch page for the most recent posts, and subscribe to the magazine for the best coverage of Boca and beyond. 

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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