Saturday, May 25, 2024

More Chick-fil-A Drama & Term Limits on Boca’s Agenda

It’s just one Chick-fil-A restaurant, but it’s become a time sink for Boca Raton city staff members.

Back in July, the planning and zoning board approved a project to replace the Best Western Plus University Inn at 2700 North Federal Highway. It would include an Aspen Dental, a bank branch—and the Chick-fil-A, which has become the point of contention for residents east of the site.

In October, the developer seemed to have resolved the two issues holding up city council approval. The developer had reached agreement with the homeowners’ association of that adjoining neighborhood, Harbour East, regarding concerns about traffic. The HOA withdrew its appeal. Representatives of the developer and the city also had agreed that the developer would not have to bury power lines on residential streets.

Though council approval seemed teed up for the Oct. 12 meeting, there was “substantial public comment,” as the staff memo put it. Apparently, based on my conversations, many neighbors opposed the HOA’s deal or didn’t vote on it. They worried that traffic at the Chick-fil-A drive-through would back up onto the streets and wall off Harbour East at peak times.

After some confusing discussion, the council—most prominently Andrea O’Rourke—essentially asked the staff to start over on its review of the application. So there will be a full-blown hearing at tonight’s council meeting.

In his memo, City Manager Leif Ahnell notes that the staff investigated eight points the neighbors had raised. They are:

  • • Whether to move a median on North Federal Highway to what would be the south driveway of the project and add a traffic light on that stretch of the road. According to the memo, the question of the light could be studied after the project is complete. Moving the median would cause “significant traffic operation challenges.”
  • • Whether the site could handle all the traffic. The staff seems to believe that it could.
  • • The condition of light poles along Northeast 26th Street and who might replace them. According to the memo, the homeowners’ association would be responsible.
  • • Installing a “No Thru Traffic” sign on Northeast Sixth Drive, between the project and the neighborhood. Doing so apparently would be no problem.
  • • The accident record on that portion of North Federal Highway. According to the police department, there have been two this year. There have been none on Sixth Drive.
  • • Removing the “No U-Turn” sign on North Federal. This would become a condition of approval.
  • • Studying the impact of Chick-fil-A drive-throughs in 14 Florida cities. Many have taken steps to guard against traffic backups onto main roads and neighborhoods.
  • • How the city might respond if the drive-through caused problems. This item generated the most staff discussion.

As a result, the city has crafted a new and notable condition if the council approved the project. If traffic spilled over consistently and caused problems, the city manager could suspend drive-through operations.

The drive-through could reopen only after the developer and/or Chick-fil-A presented a plan satisfying the city that problems wouldn’t happen again. That plan first would need approval from the planning and zoning board.

Staff members tried to add this requirement when Chick-fil-A got approval for its restaurant at the Palmetto Park Square shopping center. Planning and zoning board members refused.

The memo recommends that the council approve the project with this and the other conditions. That might please the residents. It may not please Chick-fil-A, which opposed the requirement at that other location.

I’ll have a report after the meeting.

Boca City Council to discuss term limit proposal

Also at tonight’s meeting, council members will discuss a proposal from Mayor Scott Singer to lengthen terms for the mayor and council from three years to four years. It has been 16 years since voters increased the terms from two years to three.

On the one hand, fewer elections would mean less money. On the other, it would take much longer to replace a council member who had become problematic—but not problematic enough to justify suspension or removal by the governor.

I asked Singer why he wants the change, which voters again would have to approve in the March election. Here is his response, which I have edited for length.

The previous change, Singer said, “was to focus more on policy and less on constant politicking with elections every year.” Going to four years, he said, “would reduce potential impacts of special interests, especially with campaign cycles lasting longer and longer.”

In every city where terms have gotten longer, supporters have noted that it can take newly elected officials time to understand the issues. After eight years on the council and as mayor, Singer said, “I have experienced first-hand how time on the dais and seasoned relationships with residents and neighborhoods has helped me and others be more effective public servants.”

Singer noted that of the state’s 25 most populous cities, only Boca Raton does not have four-year terms. County commissioners and school board members have four-year terms, as do state senators. State representatives serve two years.

Singer added that the mayor and council members still could serve no more than two consecutive terms. “Now is an especially appropriate time to ensure more long-term stability on the city council with the city manager due to retire in just over a year, and the city attorney soon thereafter. Both have been on the job for more than two decades.”

Brightline item on tonight’s agenda

Rendering of Boca Raton’s Brightline station

As Brightline rushes to complete its Boca Raton station and parking garage by the end of the year, the company has a finishing-up item on tonight’s city council agenda.

Under the company’s lease of land near the downtown library, Brightline could complete improvements such as landscaping and underground power lines to the site. The changes will affect Northeast Fourth Street, the main entrance to the station, and Northwest First Avenue, which will be the approach to the station. It is currently closed.

Council to discuss Dixie Manor and zoning laws

Dixie Manor; photo by Randy Schultz

Also on tonight’s council agenda are two items linked to topics that I have written about recently.

One would approve a $640,000 loan toward the demolition of Dixie Manor and construction of a new subsidized housing complex on Dixie Highway just north of Glades Road. Atlantic Pacific Communities is the developer and will pay the city to lease the property.

The other would finalize changes to the city’s zoning laws and allow staff—not the council—to approve small development projects. According to the staff, the changes would make the system quicker and more efficient. The process for projects that would increase residential density would not change.

OSS removed from Delray agenda

old school square
The Crest Theater at Old School Square, photo by Carl Dawson Photography courtesy of the Delray Beach DDA

Old School Square had been on the agenda for today’s Delray Beach City Commission meeting. Now, it’s not.

Because the commission has agreed that the Downtown Development Authority will operate Old School Square, the commission must approve money for the DDA that isn’t in the current budget. In addition, the commission and DDA must agree on how DDA will run Old School Square.

City Manager Terrence Moore told me Monday that the two sides are still “working over some matters.” The delay thus “made sense.” This first budget amendment will cover only operation of the Cornell Museum. DDA officials have said they will need more when they open the Crest Theater and assume more of the center’s operations.

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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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