There is near-agreement on changes to Mizner 200. If the agreement holds and a revised submittal arrives soon enough, members of the Boca Raton City Council on Aug. 21 can approve the downtown condo and congratulate themselves for improving the project.
Last week’s five-hour-plus, often rancorous Community Redevelopment Agency meeting ended with neither approval nor rejection of the proposed design. Instead, council members asked Elad Properties to work on changes that would make Mizner 200 more compliant with Ordinance 4035, the downtown development document.
On Thursday and Friday, a group gathered at the office of architect Derek Vander Ploeg. Other participants included: Jorge Garcia and Peter Stromberg, Mizner 200’s architects; Elad’s project manager; Doug Mummaw, architect for Investments Limited, which owns Royal Palm Place across Mizner Boulevard from the project; and former CRA Director Jorge Camejo, who at the CRA meeting had criticized the building as too massive.
Vander Ploeg, who is of Dutch descent, joked Monday that his office had been Boca Raton’s equivalent of the world court, which meets in The Hague, Netherlands. In separate interviews, Vander Ploeg and Camejo said Elad had proposed “significant” changes that would make Mizner 200 “less imposing” for residents of Townsend Place to the south and the public in general. “They’ve come a long way,” Vander Ploeg said, adding, “There’s some give and take still going in.”
According to Vander Ploeg, the project would have fewer condos than the 384 that Elad had proposed. “But they will have better units,” Vander Ploeg said.
Basically, the changes would address the sheer mass of the building, which is roughly one million square feet. That amount, Camejo noted, is roughly equal to Town Center Mall before it expanded. Mizner 200 as proposed, Camejo said, “would have been gargantuan,” looming as soon as drivers came onto Mizner Boulevard. “It still will be massive, but there will be visible breaks” to improve the sight lines. Vander Ploeg said views east from Townsend Place would be better.
Elad surely sensed the council’s mood. Though the staff report recommended approval, the council heard from critics—not just Townsend Place residents—who worried that the design could harm all of downtown. Still, Camejo and Vander Ploeg praised the Elad representatives. “They were totally cooperative,” Camejo said. “Both sides,” Vander Ploeg said, “gave and got something.”
The company would have to submit a modification of the site plan, which then would require city review. To have that happen in time for the Aug. 21 meeting, a city spokeswoman said, Elad would need to act “quickly.”
CRA rules of engagement
Preceding this newfound cooperation on Mizner 200, of course, was that tempestuous CRA meeting. Speakers regularly went over their five-minute limit. During cross-examination, lawyers for Elad and Townsend Place acted as though the council chambers was a sandbox.
As chairman, Councilman Scott Singer runs the CRA meetings. Singer acknowledged that he “gave a great deal of deference” to all the lawyers, to protect the city. Whatever the outcome, the loser, Singer said, “might decide to sue.” Though two advisory boards, city planners and the city’s architectural consultant had recommended approval, representatives for Investments Limited and Townsend Place contended that Mizner 200 didn’t meet downtown design guidelines.
Fair enough on that point. The city wouldn’t want a litigant to claim that it didn’t get a fair hearing. That explains why Singer allowed Investment Limited architect Doug Mummaw 20 minutes to essentially present the case against Mizner 200. One wonders why Investments Limited didn’t just file as an opposing entity. That would have given the company at least the same 20 minutes as Elad and the chance for its own cross-examination.
More problematic, though, is the insistence of some speakers on going beyond five minutes. The policy is overly generous anyway; Delray limits speakers to three minutes. Yet when Singer asked one anti-Mizner 200 speaker to stick to the time limit, the man said, “I can’t.”
Failing to enforce that limit needlessly drags out meetings. Several residents who had filled out cards to speak left before their turn because the meeting dragged on. Whether it’s a CRA meeting or a council meeting, when that clock hits five minutes, the mayor or the chairman should ask the speaker to close. Quickly.
Festivus goes down
Speaking of people who take themselves far too seriously in public places, Boca Raton has begun the process of removing Sanborn Square as a sanctuary for Christmas/Hanukkah grandstanders.
Last year, a high school teacher erected a pentagram alongside the usual Nativity scene and menorah. The teacher said, “This monument to Satan … serves as a sacred memorial for the countless freethinking heretics, heroic heathens and brave blasphemers brutally burned alive at the stake in city squares by righteous believers not long ago. Love trumps hate.” That prompted the Boca Raton Interfaith Clergy Association to post a banner reading, “The use of satanic symbols is offensive and harmful to our community’s well-being. We find it a shameful and hypocritical way to advocate for freedom from religion.”
Enough already. Bad enough to hear each year about a supposed “war on Christmas.” So last week the city council introduced an ordinance that would close the square to private holiday displays, and thus would end a policy that has been in place since 1990. The city, Mayor Susan Haynie said, would put up a Nativity scene, a menorah, a Christmas tree, a snowman and snowflakes. All the religious displays would be of similar size.
Haynie said the city’s legal staff believes that the policy wouldn’t violate the First Amendment when it comes to expression of religion. Private citizens still could hold rallies at the square, make speeches and carry portable signs, as long as the displays weren’t permanent.
The council should approve this change without a second thought. Consider it an early gift to the vast majority of residents who don’t see the holidays as a political battlefield.
The texting bill
Last week, the Boca Raton City Council approved a resolution urging the Legislature to make texting while driving a primary offense. Currently, law enforcement can stop these irresponsible drivers only if they are committing another violation, such as not wearing a seat belt.
The request came from state Rep. Emily Slosberg. In February 1996, her twin sister, Dori, and four other teenagers died in a car crash on West Palmetto Park Road. Emily Slosberg was one of seven kids in the back seat. The other of those survivors is paralyzed.
Emily Sloberg’s West Boca district is the one her father represented. Like Irv Slosberg, Emily has made traffic safety her priority. Thus her push for the state to get tougher on texting, which research shows makes drivers more distracted than the effects of five drinks. The Delray Beach City Commission has a similar resolution on Wednesday night’s agenda.
The vote in Boca Raton was unanimous. Now, one hopes, all the Republicans on the council will call their fellow GOP legislators and ask them to support the tougher enforcement. This year, Democrat Slosberg’s bill went nowhere in the House. Right-wing Republicans consider the ban some weird encroachment on drivers’ freedom.
But what about freeing the rest of us from having to worry about being smacked by idiots who can’t put down their phone? Even Alabama, perhaps the least progressive state, this week began primary enforcement of texting while driving. Florida’s continued refusal to protect the public is indefensible.
Delray’s parking plans
The Delray Beach City Commission won’t approve a new parking plan at Wednesday night’s meeting. The agenda item is only for an updated presentation on the commission’s options. The commission, however, needs to make a decision soon.
As I have reported, the city is switching to a metered system to cover all public parking—on streets and in lots and garages. There will be one program for the beach and another for downtown.
The new presentation narrows the options from the previous staff report. If the commission approves the option with the highest rates—topping out at $3.50 per hour on East Atlantic Avenue after 5 p.m. Friday and for the weekend—the city could net $1.2 million the first year and $2 million the second year. The medium-rate plan topping out at $3 on Atlantic Avenue would return $445,000 the first year and $1.3 million the second year. The lowest-rate plan—$2.75 for those Atlantic Avenue spots—would bring the city $354,000 and $1.2 million.
Meanwhile, the beach plan—with a maximum rate of $4 per hour—would net $1.7 million the first year and $1.8 million after that. So by charging the most, Delray Beach could earn nearly $4 million a year, by these estimates.
The commission, however, must balance the many, sometimes competing interests. Businesses with few employees but lots of walk-in customers may like higher rates on Atlantic, to turn the spaces. Businesses with lots of employees and few in-person customers may worry about where workers will park. The Downtown Development Authority has scheduled a meeting for today to discuss the options and possibly recommend one to the commission.
Commissioner Mitch Katz believes that employees “will have to pay for convenience.” He believes that there are no options—such as a shuttle service from the Tri-Rail station—other than those in the presentation.
Mayor Cary Glickstein wants the commission to move quickly. With the “smart” system, Glickstein said, the city could adjust if problems arise. “I’ve talked to 20 mayors in cities that have rolled out smart meters,” Glickstein said, “and none of their fears ever materialized. If we want, we can start conservative and go from there.”
Katz and Glickstein agree that the commission must act in the next month. Any program will have an impact on the budget, and the commission must approve the budget by Sept. 30.
Christmas tree update
Speaking of deadlines in Delray Beach, the city commission on Wednesday will be asked to approve a $180,000 agreement for construction of the foundation that will hold the new, 100-foot metal Christmas tree on the grounds of Old School Square. The designated company is MBR Construction of Fort Lauderdale.
Ag Reserve upheld—for now
I wrote last week about the latest attempt to turn the Agricultural Reserve Area into suburbia. Fortunately, the Palm Beach County Commission rejected a plan that would have allowed workforce housing and commercial development onto 50 acres west of Delray Beach. Unfortunately, the commission allowed the applicant—a Dallas-based developer—to come back in January with a new plan.
One doubts that the developer would have any better luck overcoming the many objections, but the commission has an annoying habit of failing to kill bad ideas. I will have more when the new version comes to the county.