Mizner on the Green

First, there was New Mizner on the Green. Then came a new version of New Mizner on the Green. For now, though, the new version is faring no better with the Boca Raton City Council than the old version.

A year ago, Broward County-based Elad Properties proposed a four-tower luxury condominium project that would displace the New Mizner on the Green rental community on Mizner Boulevard across from Royal Palm Place. Elad offered to move any remaining tenants to one of the company’s other rental projects in the city. In an area where Boca restricts buildings to 100 feet in height, New Mizner’s towers would have averaged about 300 feet. Elad hired Daniel Libeskind, designer of the new World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan, and billed the project as offering “extraordinary architecture that further elevates Boca Raton’s stature as a world-class city.”

No council member, however, was willing to sponsor the amendment needed for the city to hold even a workshop, much less take a vote. So the project lingered, even after Elad brought Libeskind to address—and impress—Boca Raton Museum of Art patrons.

Elad finally offered a smaller project, Sol-A-Mar, with buildings that would be 140 feet tall and were not Libeskind-designed but were intended to meet the city’s Interim Design Guidelines for downtown. Projects that follow the guidelines can get 40 feet extra in height.

The Elad project, however, would be just outside the downtown boundary. To consider the added height, the council would have to expand the boundary. That would be a controversy in top of a controversy.

Still, the discussion had been scheduled for last Tuesday’s city council workshop. City Manager Leif Ahnell informed the council that the item was on the agenda at the request of Councilman Robert Weinroth. Deputy City Manager George Brown had informed attorney Charles Siemon, who represents Elad, that the discussion would focus solely on the developers’ request to expand the downtown boundary to accommodate Sol-A-Mar and to increase the permitted number of stories from 12 to 13, with no increase in height beyond 140 feet. There would be no talk about the project itself.

The discussion never happened. Merely scheduling the Sol-A-Mar item had generated hostile public reaction. Weinroth told me that he proposed it as a way to gauge sentiment before a full-blown presentation. “If there’s no consensus,” he said, “there’s no point in wasting the resources of the developer and the city.”

Weinroth said he pulled the item because not all of Elad’s officials would have been “in place to make a presentation,” but he also acknowledged that there are “at best one or two” council members “who are willing to even talk about it.” Mayor Susan Haynie said the city still is reviewing the design guidelines themselves, given general dislike of The Mark at Cityscape, the first project under the guidelines to have been completed. She suggested, with good reason, that until the city agrees on changes to the guidelines, no one wants to talk about expanding the area where the guidelines are in place.

The timing may not have been good, but the council probably will have to deal with Elad at some point. Elad’s parent company is the Israel-based Tshuva Group, named for Isaac Tshuva. He also controls the Delek Group, which in the last six years developed two massive natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Tshuva is worth an estimated $2 billion. For all of Tshuva’s accomplishments, however, Elad misread the city from the start on this project. Where do things go now? ‘I don’t know,” said Siemon on Monday from California. “I imagine we’ll deal with that in the latter part of the week.”

Board members or power grab?

Boca Raton Deputy City Manager George Brown and Councilman Robert Weinroth take their seats today as new members of the Boca Raton Airport Authority Board. They can assume that their board colleagues and the airport staff will be both welcoming and skeptical.

Though the airport is independent of the city, the city council appoints five of the seven board members. The county commission appoints the other two. Until last month, those council appointments had been, if not routine, far from controversial.

That changed when the council passed over incumbents Bruce Benefield and Mitchell Fogel for Brown and Weinroth. Merely naming a top city administrator would have been news. Also naming a council member has given rise to speculation that the city seeks to take over the airport. While the vote for Brown was unanimous, the council approved Weinroth—who nominated himself—just 3-2. Susan Haynie and Jeremy Rodgers agreed. Mike Mullaugh and Scott Singer dissented.

At last month’s goal-setting session, council members said the city should be more closely involved with the airport. Benefield, for once, had no idea just how much closer they meant. “I was surprised and disappointed” by not being reappointed,” he told me Monday.

No council member has specified what changes the airport should make. Weinroth claimed that he would not be on the board “as a council member,” but it’s hard to see the move as anything else. “It could be read as a message,” he said. “That is not an incorrect interpretation.”

Atlantic Crossing discussion postponed

Tonight, the Delray Beach City Commission had been scheduled to hold a special meeting on the Atlantic Crossing site plan. Mayor Cary Glickstein has moved the meeting to June 16.

Glickstein has been negotiating with Atlantic Crossings’ principals on having them return Atlantic Court to the plan. The road, which would provide access to the mixed-use project from Federal Highway to the west, was in the first site plan. It was not in the site plan the commission approved in January 2014, though it was not clear from meeting documents that the plan was at issue. Neighbors of Atlantic Crossing and city commissioners believe that returning the road would help with traffic.

In an email, Glickstein said the delay was partly to better organize the meeting but also because the city’s engineering department “just got the conceptual plans” and “needed more time to weigh in.” The delay also will allow the city to “present better to the general public,” since the exhibits will involve such things as traffic animation.

The commission will take no vote in two weeks, but Glickstein expects “a consensus vote on which of the site plans the commission prefers. I still hope to avoid litigation and allow (Atlantic Crossing) to proceed to (the Planning and Zoning Board) and then the commission for final plat approval and approval of a new developer agreement tied to the preferred site plan.”

But Center for the Arts is on

Despite that delay, the city commission won’t have a dull night. There’s a presentation on the future of the Delray Beach Center for the Arts at Old School Square and the evaluation of the city manager and city attorney. Expect City Manager Don Cooper to get lots of praise for his first roughly six months. Expect City Attorney Noel Pfeffer, on the job for about a year, to get mostly the same.

Web site sends message

Delray Beach has made a small but significant change to the city’s website.

High enough that viewers see them when the page opens are links to Palm Beach County’s Office of Inspector General and Commission on Ethics. The county commission created both in 2009 as part of the anti-corruption effort.

The city added the links after news broke two weeks ago of investigations by the Office of Inspector General and the State Attorney’s Office into allegations of what City Manager Don Cooper called “numerous purchasing violations.” The investigation has targeted nearly a dozen employees. The allegations go back a decade.

Though Delray Beach’s auditor flagged this problem, employees and citizens can report complaints to the Office of Inspector General and Commission on Ethics. To do so, they just have to click on the links. If the inspector general’s office determines that the action could be criminal, it refers the case to the State Attorney’s Office while continuing to investigate matters within the inspector general’s jurisdiction.

The county also displays the two links prominently on its website. Delray Beach recently withdrew from the lawsuit by cities challenging the method of paying for the inspector general. Boca Raton remains in the lawsuit. The links to the inspector general and the state attorney are not on the city’s website.

Correction

In my post last Thursday about the Boca Raton City Council’s approval of added height for the Chabad East Boca project, I wrote that the city “prohibits” the added height unless it is “injurious” to the neighborhood. Obviously, I meant to say that the city “allows” the extra 10 feet of height.

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.