Sunday, September 24, 2023

Mizner Arts Center Deal Moves Forward and Boca Addresses ALFs

The lease of land for a performing arts center in Mizner Park is one step from approval.

At last week’s meeting, the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board recommended 4-1 that the city council—acting as the community redevelopment agency—allow the Boca Raton Arts District Exploratory Corporation (BRADEC) to lease the vacant property next to the Mizner Park Amphitheater. BRADEC envisions a separate new venue and a renovated amphitheater that the organization also would operate.

Board Chairman Arnold Sevell was the only dissenter. He asked how many other such facilities BRADEC has built. The answer is none. He asked whether the city had hired a consultant to evaluate the potential economic benefits to the city. The city used projections from BRADEC’s consultant. He wondered why the city had not asked for bids, to see if other, more established groups wanted to build such a project.

In fact, the city did issue a request for proposals. Though BRADEC approached Boca Raton with the idea and asked about that site, state law requires local governments to open up the competition. Though two other groups responded, it was clear that BRADEC was the favorite.

As President Andrea Virgin noted, BRADEC also is invested in the project. Virgin estimated that BRADEC has spent between $2 million and $3 million working up its proposal, some of the money for those consultants. She also told the board members that this center would be different from the Kravis in West Palm Beach because its main goal is to provide a better home for local arts groups. Thus the goal of at most a 1,000-seat main venue, half the size of Kravis’ main stage.

BRADEC would have to raise 75 percent of construction costs, or about $55 million, within three years of the city approving the lease. The group would have to raise all the money before obtaining a building permit and create an endowment toward operating costs. Those conditions are to prevent Boca Raton from having to take over the facility.

Deputy City Manager George Brown said BRADEC also would have to cover contingency costs and pay permitting fees. Board member Larry Cellon congratulated Brown on a “fantastic job” of negotiating the proposed agreements. Cellon proposed that the city waive those permitting fees. The board unanimously sent the council that recommendation.

Barring unexpected developments, the lease would go to the council at its July 26 meeting and then at the Aug. 23 meeting for final approval. A BRADEC representative said City Manager Leif Ahnell could execute the lease on Sept. 2.

Boca files to dismiss ALF lawsuit

boca square
Proposed ALF Property in Boca Square

Boca Raton has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit by the owner of land on which a developer would like to build an adult living facility.

The site is the closed church near Addison Mizner School. Whelchel Partners has a contract to buy the 3.7-acre site if the city approves the 128-bed, three-story project. Residents of the Boca Square neighborhood strongly oppose the ALF, called Park Square, believing that it would overwhelm the area.

Whelchel Partners filed its application last year. Because current zoning does not permit an ALF, the project would need an amendment to land-use regulations. Councilwoman Monica Mayotte agreed to sponsor the amendment.

To allow the ALF, the amendment also would have to allow such facilities in other single-family neighborhoods. Opponents have stressed this point, saying that Park Square would be a dangerous precedent.

In a March 1 letter to the developer’s attorney, the city said the application had been “abandoned” because of “deficiencies.” The letter said the project was “inconsistent” with the city’s comprehensive plan.

The landowner then sued, alleging that the city first had told the developer that the project would not require a plan amendment and then reversed itself. The lawsuit asked the city to begin processing the application.

In its motion, the city alleges that the developer seeks to get around the zoning code and usurp the authority of the planning and zoning board and the city council to review Park Square. Doing so, the city argues, would wind up “impacting many inviduals” outside Boca Square because developers then could seek to build ALFs in similar neighborhoods.

Finally, the city claims that the property owner does not have standing because the application was rejected. As a result, there is no “pending controversy” for a judge to settle.

Boca approves ALF and hotel ordinance

In a related development, the city council at its May 24 meeting gave initial approval to an ordinance that would clarify where ALFs and other facilities—such as hotels— can be built and how much density they can receive.

Because it applies to the comprehensive plan, the proposal must go to the state for review before the council makes a final decision. The council voted 4-1 to transmit the proposal. Mayotte was the dissenter. She wanted to delay action until the Park Square lawsuit is resolved.

Though the staff labeled the ordinance as a clarification, it seemed linked directly to the Park Square controversy. Brian Stenberg, who lives in Boca Square and challenged Mayotte in last year’s election, believes that Whelchel Partners relied on language in the comprehensive plan to justify its application. The proposed change would remove that language and, Stenberg said, seek to protect other single-family neighborhoods.

Councilman Andy Thomson seemed to address Park Square when he said that the proposal was not an attempt to “change the rules of the game halfway through.” Don’t be surprised, though, if the ordinance comes up during the lawsuit.

DeSantis vetoes controversial bill

Gov. DeSantis last week vetoed Senate Bill 620, the controversial “Local Business Protection Act” that Boca Raton and Delray Beach had opposed.

The bill would have allowed businesses to sue cities and counties if any local regulation reduced the company’s profit at least 15 percent. Critics charged that the legislation would have discouraged almost all regulation, despite its civic benefit.

In his veto message, DeSantis took another shot at cities and counties for imposing COVID-19 mitigation policies that he said ranged “from the merely misguided to the politically motivated.” He stated that he opposed SB 620 in part because it exempted regulations that stem from “emergency” orders.

More to the point, DeSantis said, “The broad and ambiguous language of the bill will lead to unintended and unforeseen consequences and costly litigation.” Correct.

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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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