Monday, March 20, 2023

New Boca Schools on Schedule, Delray Master Plan Gets a Facelift, and More

The first phase of Boca Raton’s education makeover is picking up speed.

On Monday, the Palm Beach County School District held a meeting to discuss the rebuild and expansion of Addison Mizner Elementary School in the Boca Square neighborhood. Officials have released the first rendering of the campus that will include middle school grades, pictured above.

Meanwhile, the new and expanded Verde Elementary remains on schedule to open this August for the new school year. A district spokeswoman said Verde would add sixth-graders this year, seventh-graders in 2021 and eighth-graders in 2022. That’s the usual phase-in for elementary schools expanding to the K-8 format, which has become increasingly popular with educators and parents and allows traditional public schools to compete with K-8 charters.

verde elementary
Verde Elementary rendering

Traffic has been an issue at Verde, which is between Powerline Road and Town Center Mall. So the city added a turn lane on Verde Trail South.

At 20 acres, though, Verde is a normal-sized elementary school campus. Even after the district bought four lots on Southwest 12th Avenue, planners will have only about 12 acres on which to design the larger Addison Mizner in a way that eases twice-daily bottlenecks.

According to a spokeswoman, the city considered four-laning 12th Avenue but decided against it. So the plan now is for “wider lanes and better sidewalks.” There also will be better bicycle parking. Because Addison Mizner is literally a neighborhood school, many students ride.

The city has received site plans for Addison Mizner, the spokeswoman said. They should start undergoing city review next week. Boca Raton will coordinate underground pipe upgrades with school construction, so the area will get torn up just once.

The temporary school campus for students at Verde and Addison Mizner (Photo by Randy Schultz)

When students return to Verde, Addison Mizner students will take their place at the temporary school next to Don Estridge Middle. Work to convert this temporary school to a permanent elementary school will begin when Addison Mizner is done. District officials have said that it will open early in the 2021-22 academic year.

Together, the three new schools will amount to about a $40 million investment in Boca Raton’s economy. Public schools have become a draw for young homebuyers.

For those hoping that the city also will get a new high school, that would require 40 acres that Boca Raton doesn’t have. More likely, expect boundary changes and other measure to reduce crowding at Boca Raton High School.

Delray master plan

delray beach city hall
Delray Beach City Hall (Photo by Christiana Lilly)

At today’s meeting, the Delray Beach City Commission will approve Always Delray—the update of the city’s master plan.

For several years, the commission has been updating development regulations citywide. This document, which the state requires, will be the latest version of how Delray Beach sees itself over the next 20 years.

The plan has 13 elements grouped into four categories—Live, Work, Play and Grow. Some themes, though, resound throughout. Sustainability, for example, ranges from energy use to updating rules on seawalls. You see it in several categories.

Another priority is economic development. It also is multi-faceted. Delray Beach officials want to expand the city’s property tax base, to raise revenue and bring jobs. At the same time, the city wants to reduce the number of “isolated” young people, training them for jobs out of high school and alerting them to opportunities.

Some elements of Always Delray are predictable, such as working with the Palm Beach County School District to modernize the city’s public schools. Others are more surprising. Officials will study whether to expand the downtown tennis center or consider “repurposing” the facility. There is no definition for “repurposing.”

Deadlines range from 2022, for short-term projects, to 2040. No commissioner will be office when most of these deadlines arrive, and even the best plan can’t assume events such as the financial crisis. But this will be Delray Beach’s best guess. This commission and its successors then will figure out how to pay for it.

Preserving the Agricultural Reserve

Wednesday could be another turning point in the campaign to protect the Palm Beach County Agricultural Reserve Area.

The county commission will consider two changes sought by developers. One would exempt self-storage facilities from limits commercial development within the reserve. The proposal relates to a roughly seven-acre site at Lyons Road and Linton Boulevard. The reserve includes about 20,000 acres west of Delray Beach and Boynton Beach north of Clint Moore Road.

Those limits align with the goal of the 1999 voter-approved bond plan: to protect this unique coastal farm belt. The bonds bought land for preservation. Development restrictions sought to keep suburban-style homes and shops from encroaching into farm areas.

In the last two decades, however, county commissions have changed the rules. Commissioners have described each change as small. Collectively, however, the changes risk letting development past what preservation advocates consider the tipping point toward suburban takeover.

County planners note that self-storage facilities are not retail or office, which were considered the biggest threats to farms. The Land Planning Agency approved the self-storage exception, 10-0. Still, this proposal comes from the developer, not from the planning staff. That alone should make the commission suspicious.

Also before the commission is a request to add a medical office to Delray Marketplace. On the northwest corner of Lyons Road and Atlantic Avenue, the marketplace is one of two commercial centers that the original rules envisioned. In keeping with Ag Reserve rules, 55 of the 92 acres are set aside for preservation.

As always, the developer claims that there’s a need for the medical complex. That’s true only if you accept the inevitability of suburban takeover. The reserve isn’t supposed to look like the usual South Florida community or have all of the same services and amenities.

Though the county’s planning commission approved the proposal, 7-6, county staff recommends denial. The staff also suggests that the commission review all Ag Reserve rules and update them. To ensure compliance with the voters’ will, that might be the best option.

Delray lawsuit settlement


Before today’s regular meeting, the Delray Beach City Commission will meet in executive session to discuss a five-year-old lawsuit.

The plaintiff owns a one-acre warehouse on Depot Avenue that faces Interstate 95 north of Atlantic Avenue. He sued after the city abandoned Depot Avenue to accommodate the massive Delray Station apartment complex that surrounds the warehouse. Abandonment allowed the developer to build a buffer between the apartments and the warehouse.

As a result, the plaintiff complained, semi trucks no longer could get to the warehouse. The abandonment thus amounted to a taking that reduced the property’s value.

Last September, Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Janice Brustares Keyser ruled for the plaintiff. She ordered a trial to determine how much Delray Beach should pay in damages. A follow-up order set the trial for between May and July. Today’s meeting likely is for the commission to discuss a settlement.

Restaurant Row update

I wrote recently about the Boca Raton City Council’s approval of a five-restaurant project at the intersection of Butts and Town Center roads. I did not have a chance to say when the project might open.

Brett Reese is senior vice president of Crocker Partners, which owns the property. Reese said site plan approvals typically could take two months, with construction and move-in taking another 12 months. Reese, though, said the company hopes to beat that timetable.

Remembering Ernie Simon

It’s been a rough stretch for civic legends in Delray Beach.

Last October, the city lost architect Bob Currie. Last week, the bad news came about Ernie Simon. He was 94, and for decades had maintained a law firm in the city to which his family came in 1912. One member of the firm was former Mayor David Schmidt.

Mr. Simon’s resume was stunning. He served in leadership positions for the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club of Delray Beach, the Delray Beach Playhouse—where he performed for nearly half a century—the Drug Abuse Foundation of Palm Beach County, Palm Beach State College, the Mae Volen Senior Center and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Former City Commissioner Jim Chard said Mr. Simon and his brothers “had a big impact on Delray and have passed it on with the next generation.” Niece Laura Simon is executive director of the Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority. Nephew Michael Simon is executive director of the Boynton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency.

Former Mayor Cary Glickstein said, “While the phrase ‘pillar of the community’ is overused, it personified Ernie.” He called Mr. Simon “a kind, generous, deep-thinking man who loved his hometown and everyone else who called it home, whether here for a year or over 100 years, as his family has been.”

Mr. Simon served in the Navy during World War II. “One of my highlights as mayor,” Glickstein said, “was walking with him to lead the St. Patrick’s Day parade down Atlantic Avenue, where he spent his entire life, as part of a World War II Honor Flight contingent. He was so happy, reliving boyhood stories and seeing everyone’s genuine appreciation, and I was so happy for him.

“He was a class act of class acts.”

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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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