Mizner 200’s prospects before P&Z Board look favorable
Mizner 200 will go before the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board tonight with a favorable recommendation from the city’s community appearance board. The vote Tuesday night was 5-2.
Approval came with two amendments. The board asked if the developer, Elad Properties, could put canopy trees—such as oaks—along the sidewalk, not just farther back near the building and around the main entrance in the center. One member also didn’t like the trellis-like structures on the north and south ends that the architect added in the most recent rendering.
Bonnie Miskel, the attorney who represents Mizner 200, said the developer also would prefer to use something besides palm trees. The problem, Miskel said, is that canopy tree root systems can damage utility connections that run under the sidewalks. The root systems of palm trees are much shallower. Miskel also said Boca Raton has made palms “its tree of choice.” For those reasons, city staff might not share the board’s sentiment.
Tonight, however, the focus will be on what critics call Mizner 200’s “massing.” The 384-unit condo would front onto nearly 900 feet of Southeast Mizner Boulevard across from Royal Palm Place. Some residents of Townsend Place, the condo to the south, would lose their views and will ask the board to demand greater setbacks. There will be lots of discussion about whether Mizner 200’s three buildings would be compatible enough on those nearly nine acres. Though there would be three driveways, residents would enter only through that central portal.
Whatever criticism Mizner 200 draws, rejecting it would be a tough call for the planning and zoning board and eventually for the city council, acting as the board of the community redevelopment agency. The staff recommendation is for approval. The backup material notes that the projects meets or exceeds all requirements of Ordinance 4035, which governs downtown development. Mizner 200 also secured a favorable recommendation from the city’s architecture consultant.
Whatever the outcome, Mizner 200 is the last major residential project in the downtown pipeline. Boca Raton’s focus is shifting toward unifying the downtown elements and developing the 30 acres of city property across Dixie Highway and the FEC tracks from the heart of downtown. There isn’t much land left, but there does remain a lot of work to complete downtown Boca Raton.
Delray CRA dodged commission takeover but is still under scrutiny
Delray Beach City Commissioner Jim Chard called Tuesday night’s debate over a takeover of the community redevelopment agency “very exciting. It was like leaving a movie theater and looking at your watch, and it’s been four hours and you thought it was too short.”
Chard acknowledges being a “government nerd.” Still, all 30 speakers and all five commissioners did speak articulately and passionately. As I had forecast in earlier posts, Chard sided with Mayor Cary Glickstein and Commissioner Shirley Ervin Johnson against the takeover. Mitch Katz and Shelly Petrolia voted for it.
It would be a mistake, though, for the CRA board members consider the vote a reprieve. Commissioners expressed a collective frustration with a board that they believe too often doesn’t align its priorities with those of the wider city and its elected leaders. In her closing argument, Petrolia referred to “too little on West Atlantic (Avenue) and too little accountability.” Petrolia and others want “seamless” redevelopment from Interstate 95 to A1A, and blame the CRA for failing to create enough of it east of Swinton Avenue.
Then there’s the money issue. The commission wants the CRA to spend more of its money for work inside its boundaries, freeing more money for the other 80 percent of Delray Beach. Glickstein cited a South Florida Sun Sentinel article about the potential failure of Fort Lauderdale’s water and sewer system that could cost the city $1.4 billion. In Delray Beach, Glickstein said, “We have to fix what we can’t see.”
What now? In July, the terms of CRA board members Reggie Cox—the chairman—Joseph Bernadel, Herman Stevens and Paul Zachs are up. That’s a majority. Commissioners make rotating appointments to the board. Katz has the first, with another going to everyone but Chard. His predecessor, Al Jacquet, had the last one.
Normally, a commissioner offers the name of his or her chosen applicant and the full commission votes it up or down. Katz wants the commission to hold public interviews of the applicants, as Boca Raton does for all board appointments. That could be a good idea. Though not all the commissioners favored the takeover, all favor a shift in board policy. How can that happen without hearing directly from those who want to set the policy?
Chard said he wants to attend “as many CRA meetings as possible” and speak to the board members. He and Katz want to recruit people for the positions. Katz is skeptical that the close vote alone will change policy. “We warned (the CRA) two years ago, and here we are.” Perhaps this stronger warning will mean a new ending to this movie.
iPic finally has a place to rest its head
If Tuesday night was uncomfortable for the Delray Beach CRA, some good news came earlier in the day.
The CRA and iPic finally closed on the sale of three-plus acres the CRA assembled for Fourth and Fifth Delray. The developer picked up the permits, having reached agreement last week with the city on a plan to provide public parking during construction.
Even with the best plan, however, there probably will be complaints. In Boca Raton, iPic redid existing space in Mizner Park. In Delray Beach, iPic is building the whole project. The immediate hope is that if work can start soon, any disruption will affect just one full tourist season, with the project opening in late 2018. The long-term hope is that Fourth and Fifth Delray so complements downtown Delray Beach that the only complaint in five years is the difficulty in buying a ticket.
Delray’s goal-setting meeting sought to accomplish old ones
At Delray Beach’s goal-setting session last week, members of the public who attended got bacon and eggs with their coffee. A week earlier, Boca Raton had provided breakfast bars and trail mix. Score one for Delray.
In terms of substance, though, Delray Beach had the more limited menu. There was no talk of grandiose new projects. The discussion focused on getting right the basics of municipal government, a goal the city commission has been pursuing since 2013. Frustration was evident as Assistant City Manager Caryn Gardner-Young explained the ongoing problems with a $3 million IT upgrade. The original 18-month timetable, she said, is “not reasonable.” Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus said, “A lot of money and time has been invested and lost.” What will it cost and when will it be completed? “We don’t know.” The IT project predates de Jesus and Gardner-Young.
For commissioners, the consolation seemed to be that de Jesus and his assistants—Gardner-Young and Dale Sugerman—are getting a handle on where things stand, even though all have been in their current positions less than a year. Gardner-Young was hired in March. She promised to tell commissioners “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” There also continues to be general satisfaction with the police department under Chief Jeffrey Goldman and the fire department under Interim Chief Keith Tomey. If de Jesus does not become the permanent manager, he will go back to the fire chief’s position.
Mayor Glickstein called it the best of the five such session he has attended: “Concise and fact-based, matching critical needs with finite dollars for this year and next.” De Jesus focused on realistic expectations. Commissioner Johnson, who was elected in March, said the tendency is “for newcomers to want to impose their ideas onto an already established agenda or to set new directions, establish new programs, project different ideas onto an already full plate of the same. Resolving these two processes takes time and often produces friction. We need to stabilize our city personnel, complete many of the projects that have been pushed forward—infrastructure, building projects—and just work towards those forgotten goals while allowing for emergency unexpected events (crumbling water and sewer pipes).
Chard was frustrated that there was no talk of “sober homes, sea level rise, affordable housing or mobility beyond what each department was doing.” The focus was more on finishing current projects than scheduling new ones. Chard acknowledged that “while this may not have incorporated all issues, it is a good step forward.”
In an email, de Jesus said, “Clearly, as shown in their support, the commission understands the situation that we are in and the need to catch up so that we can start doing things better. We will focus on doing just that, and having the commission’s support is paramount to our success.”
Student district proposals already underway
Progress toward a student district near Florida Atlantic University is happening even before Boca Raton writes rules for the area.
Before the planning and zoning board tonight is a proposal from Tottenham Investments for a roughly 10,000-square-foot building at Plum Park, on 20th Street between Boca Raton Boulevard and Dixie Highway. Eight warehouses first went on the property 30 years ago. This project would include medical, retail, fast food and restaurant uses.
Staff recommends approval, noting that the property already is becoming more of a “typical commercial shopping plaza.” That change aligns with the city’s goal of creating a residential, commercial and entertainment cluster for students at FAU and Lynn University. Coincidentally, at Monday’s city council workshop meeting the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council will present its final report from last December’s “visioning summit” on the new district.
Zoning change for Wildflower property up for approval next week
I reported recently that Boca Raton intended to change the zoning on the Wildflower property and thus rebuff a lawsuit over the waterfront ordinance voters approved last November. The change from commercial to recreation/open space is before the planning and zoning board tonight. It won’t be controversial, and already is on the city council agenda for approval Tuesday night.
Because the ordinance blocked the attempt to lease the land for a revenue-generating restaurant, the new plan is to link Wildflower with Silver Palm Park to create a public promenade with whatever activities the ordinance might permit. Silver Palm is on the other side of the Palmetto Park Road Bridge. That’s a county facility, so the county owns the strip of land under the bridge.
According to a city spokeswoman, discussions between the respective staffs concluded that the city would need only a permit from the county to link the two sites. The city’s consultant on the waterfront master plan will help determine what might go on the roughly eight acres.
Missed the last City Watch?
Visit our City Watch page and also sign up for our City Watch e-newsletter, where you’ll get the latest column delivered directly to your inbox.