Saturday, October 1, 2022

Midtown Rules, New Delray City Manager, Election Updates from Delray and Boca and More

Midtown update

Proposals to redevelop Boca Raton’s Midtown neighborhood will go before the planning and zoning board next week with a staff recommendation to approve them.

The board twice considered the Midtown changes, in December 2016 and last April. The city council discussed them during a July workshop. Since then, Crocker Partners—one of the major property owners in Midtown—and the city have gone back and forth over Crocker’s study of how residential units—currently not allowed—would affect traffic in and around Midtown, which comprises the 215 acres between Town Center Mall and Boca Center (pictured above) with Glades Road on the north side.

As before, the changes would allow up to 2,500 apartments, apportioned within Midtown. More would be on the east side, nearer the proposed Tri-Rail station just north of Boca Center. The station could be on land Crocker owns. All four property owners—Crocker, Simon (the mall), Landmark (Glades Plaza) and Cypress Realty (the strikes bowling center and the former Nipper’s)— would get some residential units.

Seven years ago, Boca Raton designated Midtown as one of five Planned Mobility Development districts. The city actually is six years late in writing the rules for Midtown. In keeping with the PMD designation, the rules are supposed to discourage the use of cars and encourage walking and the use of transit.

According to the staff report, streets within Midtown would have three classifications in terms of being pedestrian-friendly. Northwest 19th Avenue and Renaissance Way would be the most walkable, with Military Trail and Glades Road the least. In the middle would be Butts Road and others. “It should be emphasized, though,” the report, notes, “that the intent is that all streets become more walkable than they currently are.” The report notes the “issue” of Military Trail, which lies between the station site and where most people would live.

In addition to housing, the other key changes involve what retail development the city will allow in Midtown. The goal is to make the area not just more compatible with those who live in it but also with those who live near it. Neighbors don’t want another Blue Martini or Nipper’s.

To that end, the proposed rules say “bars, nightclubs and drinking establishments” would be a permitted use—no city council approval needed—except if they were east of Butts Road and within 300 feet of homes that aren’t in the PMD district. In those cases, they would be a conditional use—council approval needed.

Similarly, restaurants would be a permitted use unless they had “amplified music with outdoor seating and window walls.” No gas stations would be allowed. There could be no freestanding retail kiosks, as opposed to those within the mall. The permitted “hotel/motel” use would change to “hotel” only. Dry cleaners would be allowed. So would classes in “gymnastics, martial arts, music, cooking and similar types of uses.” Any school at any level also would be a conditional use. The rules would allow veterinary hospitals.

Restaurants would need council approval for any drive-through or drive-in service. “Outdoor seating, window walls, or other outdoor entertainment activity” at restaurants also would be conditional uses. There could be no outdoor entertainment west of Butts Road.

The clear effort is to create a new neighborhood that also will draw people from outside the neighborhood. Crocker would like to transform Boca Center into a food-centered destination. The changes are contained in two ordinances and one rezoning. I will have more in advance of the planning and zoning board meeting.

Mark Lauzier

Technically, Mark Lauzier doesn’t become Delray Beach’s new city manager until Monday. In practical terms, he’s already started.

As of Wednesday morning, Lauzier had had a 90-minute sit-down with Commissioner Mitch Katz and had been speaking regularly by phone with the rest of the commissioners. On Wednesday afternoon, Lauzier told me that he expects to have had similar face-to-face meetings with all commissioners by the end of the week. He was set to meet later Wednesday with Jim Chard.

Though Lauzier spoke at length with the commissioners when they interviewed him, he said these conversations have been “at a higher level” now that Lauzier has gone from applicant to manager-in-waiting. The talks generally have “aligned” with the earlier discussions but now also focus on what commissioners believe should be Lauzier’s early priorities.

Katz, for example, wants the new manager to “bring stability and bring up morale in City Hall. I’d like to see a few more smiles.” Katz also wants Lauzier to “take care of some of the low-hanging fruit,” such as completing the beachfront makeover that some property owners tell Katz has had “a few hiccups.”

Finally, Katz would like Lauzier soon to look at the budget and determine if the commission can make a mid-year adjustment. Specifically, could the city do more work than is budgeted now on, say, improving the northwest and southwest neighborhoods.

Chard’s priority is to “fix the approval process” for building approvals at all levels. Chard believes that the current systems delays and even discourages everyone from potential business investors to homeowners.

In addition, Chard would like Lauzier to fill key vacancies, notably the second assistant city manager position and the chief financial officer. Chard said departments such as planning and zoning and public works have several lower-level vacancies that are causing projects to languish.

Like Katz, Chard hopes that Lauzier can speed up delayed projects. For Chard, those would include selling the former train station along Interstate 95 west of Atlantic Avenue and rezoning of South Federal Highway to encourage redevelopment.

Mayor Cary Glickstein told Lauzier that he is lucky enough to have “two Tom Bradys” in Police Chief Jeffrey Goldman and Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus, who will return to his previous job as fire chief. Public safety consumes more than half of Delray Beach’s budget.

So Glickstein wants Lauzier to focus on “City Hall processes.” He points out that most of the preliminary work for the hires Katz highlighted and others has been done. “(Lauzier) just has to green-light them.”

As for his own priorities, Lauzier said, “I’m still gathering information. I want to get everyone’s thoughts and ideas.” He then will decide which of the many things commissioners want done yesterday can get done soon.

Katz is optimistic because Lauzier and City Attorney Max Lohman—the commission’s most important hires—“are still rising in their careers.” Glickstein agreed. “Both of them have a lot left in the tank. I think the stars are aligning for Delray Beach.”

And on the home front

Lauzier will start work with a symbolic boost. He has an offer under contract for a house in Delray Beach.

Not since David Harden retired at the end of 2012 has the city manager lived in Delray Beach. Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus, who will return Monday to his former position as fire chief, lives in Broward County. Chard said relatively few department heads live in Delray.

By being a resident, Lauzier will hear the same praise and complaints his bosses hear. And when he proposes a budget, it will be one that affects him.

Who’s running, who’s staying

New city managers want political stability. They’d like to know that the people who hired them would be around to evaluate them.

Lauzier will get something less than that.

Of the five commission seats, four will be on the March ballot, including the mayor’s position. Two of three candidates for mayor—Chard and Shelly Petrolia—aren’t just sitting commissioners. They sit next to each other on the commission dais. Katz has drawn a challenge.

Former Commissioner Adam Frankel is thus far unopposed for Petrolia’s Seat 1. On Wednesday, Bill Bathurst filed paperwork for Chard’s Seat 2.

Bathurst is the managing broker of Golden Bear Realty. His family has lived in the city for more than a century. “There’s no one on the commission,” Bathurst said, “who’s ‘Old Delray.’ We have a lot of decisions to make, and I want make sure that all voices are heard.”

And another candidate heard from

As I mentioned, a third candidate has filed in Delray Beach to run for mayor. His name is Michael Wind. His candidacy is. . .unusual.

In Delray Beach, most candidates tout their service on city or civic boards. Not Wind. During our conversation on Wednesday, he practically bragged that he has had no involvement in Delray Beach beyond coming here roughly six years ago to care for his mother.

Nevertheless, Wind calls himself ready for the job. He spent Wednesday morning at City Hall and declared that the place “is in crisis. No one is working.” He even compared City Hall to Syria? “A war zone?” I asked. Yes, Wind said. A war zone. Yet Wind also praised the fire department’s “phenomenal” response time.

Wind said he ran a Cadillac dealership in Queens. “People love me.” We’ll see.

Boca election season update

Meanwhile in Boca Raton, Councilman Robert Weinroth rolls along raising money for his Seat D reelection campaign.

In September, Weinroth raised another $13,800, bringing his total to almost $75,000. The recent contributions included $1,000 from Group P6, which wants to build a 122-bed assisted living facility two blocks north of Trader Joe’s downtown. The same developer is completing construction of the 327 condo near the Boca Raton Resort & Club. Weinroth also got $500 from attorney Howard Weiss. Monica Mayotte, who serves on the green living advisory board, is challenging Weinroth.

Jamie Rodgers, who is seeking reelection to Seat C, raised just $1,750 in September. His total is roughly $21,000. Rodgers is thus far unopposed.

Delray’s south county complex update

Delray Beach long has hoped that the south county government complex could help catalyze redevelopment of the Congress Avenue Corridor. Now there is movement toward that goal.

County Commissioner Steven Abrams and County Administrator Verdenia Baker met recently with Mayor Cary Glickstein. The complex, on Congress just south of Atlantic Avenue, actually is just outside Abrams’ district. But he represents most of Delray Beach and spends more time at the complex—commuting to the nearby Tri-Rail station—than his six colleagues.

The goal, Abrams said, would be to attract private investment, ideally in two forms. County-owned outparcels could be suitable for restaurants, which would serve not just residents but also the employees at the several county offices. In addition, a developer could assemble some adjoining properties and build workforce housing in a transit-oriented development near the station.

Nothing will happen soon. Any change would have to take into account the many county offices. But Abrams said county staff would study the idea of redevelopment, which is where anything has to start. Glickstein sounded encouraged when he discussed the topic at a recent commission meeting. If Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie succeeds Abrams, she has the same transportation background to take over the effort.

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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