More Details on Brightline, the Big Plans for Glades Road & More

Brightline train

The proposed lease from Virgin Trains USA—aka Brightline—for a station in Boca Raton confirms the company’s desire to delay the controversial issue.

That would be the company’s requested option to purchase two city-owned pieces of land. One would be next to the downtown library, next to the station that would face the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. The other is on the end of the block that is south of the station.

Under the proposal that the city just received, Virgin Trains’ exclusive option would expire on Dec. 31, 2021. The city would “assist” the company in getting approvals—zoning, plan amendments—for Transit Oriented Development (TOD) on those sites. Those approvals would allow residential and office development that current rules do not permit.

As I have written, those changes almost certainly would encourage similar development farther south to Palmetto Park Road and beyond. Even though the station would be stand-alone and not part of a transportation hub—as other Virgin Train stations are—TOD is a trend. Stations in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach are generating development nearby.

But city council members would not know what development might come. They only would know what could come. For property owners, the deal could mean a windfall. Residents of Library Commons, which is north of the library, probably will see things differently.

As the proposed agreement notes, the city long has planned for a transit station on that public land. The plan, though, presumed a station and parking. It did not presume transformational development. The Friends of the Boca Raton Library also have expressed concern about development overwhelming the library.

The agreement calls for a 455-space parking garage. As discussed, the garage would have as many spaces for the library as the garage displaces. The rest would be for train passengers. The station would be “smaller” than those in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach but with all the same amenities and security. Virgin Trains would build the station. The city would finance most of the cost for the garage. The city would pay property taxes for the station and garage.

brightlinetrains.jpg

The lease of the land for the station and garage would be for 50 years, which is long enough that the deal would amount to a sale. Virgin would have four, 10-year options. Virgin agrees to move the Junior League of Boca Raton’s community garden, which the project would displace, but the agreement does not specify how much Virgin would pay.

This is just the start of negotiations. After meetings with city administrators, Virgin obviously wanted to get something in writing and start working on details. The company would like to open the station by the end of next year.

Council members may ask questions at their Oct. 21 workshop meeting. Examples: The agreement states that if a third party sued over the station, garage or “development contemplated” under the agreement, the city would to have to defend the lawsuit and could terminate the deal. What does that mean? And how specific, if it all, would the city and Virgin need to be about a pedestrian bridge over Dixie Highway?

Final action by the council would require approval of complicated implementing ordinances. A city spokeswoman said, “There’s a lot of work to do.”

Addendum 

I wrote Tuesday that City Councilman Monica Mayotte had asked whether Boca Raton could commission an analysis of Virgin Trains’ finances. A spokeswoman said the city has asked a consultant to provide that analysis.

Big plans for Glades Road

If you regularly use Glades Road at Interstate 95, get familiar with the term “Diverging Diamond Interchange,” also known as DDI.

The Florida Department of Transportation plans to create one at the Glades Road interchange as part of the project to widen the interstate and add a pair of toll lanes in each director. The overall project will extend to Linton Boulevard. The current phase involves reinforcing the overpass supports to handle the added weight.

The proposed DDI at Glades Road and I-95, courtesy of FDOT

According to the FDOT, a DDI “allows the two directions of traffic on the crossroad (Glades) to temporarily divide and cross to the opposite side of the road to provide easier left- turns to and from the As FDOT representatives acknowledged during a president last month to the city council, the concept “looks confusing.” But “if presented properly, the public is generally receptive to the design once they fully understand it.”

They’ve got the confusing part right. On paper, it appears that drivers must go in one direction and then the other. The FDOT presentation, though, argued that there would be fewer “conflict points” than in a conventional interchange diamond. The final product would be safer for drivers, cyclists and even pedestrians.

Conventional Diamond vs. Diverging Diamond diagram courtesy of FDOT

As with the Atlantic Avenue interchange in Delray Beach, city officials probably can give input. The project, however, will happen. No one can argue the need for help at the area’s biggest traffic chokepoint.

Delray highlights rising seas

A city spokeswoman said Delray Beach attracted between 400 and 470 people to Rise: A Climate & Art Weekend.

Delray Beach timed the event to coincide with the King Tide, since the goal was to increase awareness of rising seas. Certain parts of the city experience regular tidal flooding. A consultant has concluded that Delray Beach must spend nearly $400 million adapting neighborhood to rising seas.

Several venues hosted events: the Cornell Art Museum, Arts Warehouse, the Hyatt Place Hotel, Sandoway House, the historical society and the library. Saltwater Brewery hosted the closing party. The Friday night Art Walk featured works designed around the theme.

The idea for the weekend came from Ana Puszkin-Chevrin, the city’s former sustainability director.

Schools merging?

The Sun-Sentinel reported this week that the Broward County School District may close and merge schools that are below their capacity. In recent years, the district has lost between 15,000 and 20,000 students to charter schools.

Charters have drawn parents with campuses that include elementary and middle schools. The revived popularity of the K-8 format is one reason that the new Addison Mizner and Verde elementaries will add middle-school grades when they open in 2020 and 2021, respectively. The new elementary school next to Don Estridge Middle—a lottery school—will be designed to allow K-8 expansion.

(Photo by Randy Schultz)

According to the story, the problem especially affects elementary and middle schools because charter operators don’t want the expense of a high school. Private schools are an option in Boca Raton, but their tuitions have been rising and the city’s high schools have good reputations.

The Palm Beach County School District should consider a similar remedy for Delray Beach’s under capacity elementary and middle schools. Switching to a K-8 format and using combined resources to offer new programs could be part of the rebranding that city officials have discussed.

According to the story, the problem especially affects elementary and middle schools because charter operators don’t want the expense of a high school. Private schools are an option in Boca Raton, but their tuitions have been rising and the city’s high schools have good reputations.

The Palm Beach County School District should consider a similar remedy for Delray Beach’s under capacity elementary and middle schools. Switching to a K-8 format and using combined resources to offer new programs could be part of the rebranding that city officials have discussed.

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