Friday, May 17, 2024

New Ideas for Wildflower, Uptown Update & More News of Note from Boca and Delray

Wildflower visions bloom

A collision looms in Boca Raton over the controversial Wildflower property.

Last year, residents who live across the Intracoastal Waterway from the site organized a petition drive against plans to lease the property for a full-service restaurant. They portrayed the ordinance as necessary to protect waterfront parks from development.

In fact, the Wildflower was not a park. Nor did the city want to develop any of the actual waterfront parks. Yet voters approved the ordinance, which limits city-owned waterfront to four “public” uses.

The city responded by planning the Wildflower as a park, which is what the ordinance supporters claimed to have wanted. This year’s and next year’s budgets include $4.3 million to “complete construction of passive park elements” on the Wildflower. Budget projections for 2019-20 include roughly $100,000 in new operating expenses, such as a full-time groundskeeper, for the Wildflower.

But at the city council workshop meeting on Sept. 25, Margaret Fitzsimons laid out a very different future for the Wildflower. Fitzsimons, who chairs the Green Living Advisory Board, made her presentation at the request of Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke, whose campaign last March highlighted her opposition to the Hillstone restaurant on the Wildflower.

Introducing Fitzsimons, O’Rourke said she had heard from “residents” that the city’s waterfront consultant—Fort Lauderdale-based EDSA—hadn’t shown enough “creativity” toward the Wildflower. In fact, EDSA offered two proposals. One had fewer parking spaces, but both aligned with the idea of the Wildflower as a park that also would serve as an event venue—in the spirit of the voter-approved ordinance.

Fitzsimons, however, is thinking much bigger. EDSA, she said during her presentation, “missed the boat.” The city should join the Wildflower and Silver Palm Park on the other side of Palmetto Park Road to create something that might be similar to Rodeo Drive, the ultra-expensive shopping street in Beverly Hills. The Wildflower and Silver Palm Park compromise all of about 6.5 acres.

To make this happen, Fitzsimons suggested that the city should assume acquisition of the vacant lot where Maxwell’s Chop House stood. That site is only about two-thirds of an acre. More important, the owner has repeatedly proposed a price that the city considers way too high.

The boat launch at Silver Palm Park. Photo by Randy Schultz.
The boat launch at Silver Palm Park. Photo by Randy Schultz.

To maximize use of Silver Palm Park, Fitzsimons said the city should consider moving all motorized boat launches within Boca Raton to Lake Wyman/Rutherford Park. “The boaters are open to moving.” In fact, Marine Advisory Board Chairman Gene Folden told me that such a proposal would cause “an uprising” among boaters. When the plan was for a restaurant, the council promised boaters that they would not lose parking spaces to diners.

Preliminary plans for Lake Wyman/Rutherford do envision some motorized launches. Folden, though, said the move would be to “alleviate” demand at Silver Palm, which at busy times on weekends and holidays runs out of parking for boaters. Folden, who met with Fitzsimons last week, said boaters would be “against” any complete move from Silver Palm, which is close to the Boca Raton Inlet.

Fitzsimons wasn’t done. There could be a restaurant on the Wildflower. Local chefs could rotate in, preparing food aligned with the season. The restaurant could pay the city rent. (Wow. Why didn’t someone think of a rent-paying restaurant on the Wildflower before?)

Here’s the best part. After paying $7.5 million for the property itself and millions more to fix it up, residents wouldn’t be able to park at the Wildflower, Fitzsimons said. You could get there only by water taxi.

The underpass at Silver Palm Park. Photo by Randy Schultz.
The underpass at Silver Palm Park. Photo by Randy Schultz.

Fitzsimons went on for roughly 40 minutes, which is twice as long as presenters get during public hearings. As the afternoon got later, Mayor Susan Haynie finally interjected to ask Fitzsimons if she knew that the council had a budget meeting at 6 p.m.

Fitzsimons calls her campaign Visions 2020 and has named O’Rourke, who referred to Fitzsimons as “a shining light,” council liaison. O’Rourke, who didn’t want a restaurant that could have brought the city $500,000 in rent the first year, now wants the Wildflower to be a dining and retail destination, which would seem to be illegal, given the language of the ordinance she supported.

O’Rourke obviously agrees with Fitzsimons. Scott Singer also seemed to express support, though he didn’t respond to an email question seeking details.

I sent O’Rourke a series of questions about Fitzsimons’ presentation. Among them: Who would build the restaurant? O’Rourke emailed back to say that she had been ready to answer the questions but then read my item about dubious issues she had raised related to the Tri-Rail station for Midtown. O’Rourke said the item amounted to “a cheap shot at me.”

O’Rourke added, “At this time, you have made it clear that it does not behoove me to have further communication. It is not a good feeling to be picked at or misunderstood. I have dedicated way to (sic) many years of my life devoted to this community (sic) to be disrespected over and over again.

“I will end our conversations by saying that I am happy with the progress that is being made on the Wildflower/Silver Palm property. To my knowledge, there is no intention of making any decisions about boat ramps, concessions, designs, etc.  It’s all about public engagement and the greater good of the community at large. I am looking forward to a wonderful placemaking opportunity for our city.”

Robert Weinroth had a different take. “This has the potential of becoming the most expensive park—on a per-capita basis—that nobody will be able to use due to its inaccessibility, especially if we are now going to consider acquiring the vacant lot previously home to Maxwell’s.”

We will hear next about the Wildflower at the Nov. 13 city council workshop meeting. EDSA is scheduled to present its latest update.

Who is Margaret Fitzsimons?

The woman who wants the Wildflower to be Boca Raton’s park priority told me in an email that she moved here in 2014 from California “to be back near family and friends.” In May 2015, the city council appointed Fitzsimons to the Green Living Advisory Board. She was the only applicant for a vacancy.

Unless the city council makes an exception, advisory board members must live in the city or own a business within the city. On her applications and during council meetings, Fitzsimons has given three addresses. One is a UPS store near Mizner Park. Another is a home in Lake Floresta Park owned by a couple whose name is not Fitzsimons. Still another, which Fitzsimons listed as “confidential,” doesn’t exist.

When I asked about this, Fitzsimons responded that she “rents an apartment in East Boca” and considers the UPS store her mailing address. “For security reasons,” Fitzsimons said, “my family does not authorize your listing the residence address in your publication.”

But I hadn’t wanted to list the address. I had wanted to verify Fitzsimons’ residency. I asked Fitzsimons to explain those “security reasons” and why she listed an address that doesn’t exist. She didn’t respond.

Similarly, Fitzsimons listed her business as Sustainable Design for the Built Environment, but records show no company of that name in Florida. Fitzsimons said her company was incorporated nine years ago in California “and remains as such. All work performed under my company’s name while I’ve lived in Florida has been on a volunteer basis, in an effort to give back to our community, and to work together to unify our community around (the Wildflower and Silver Palm Park) in a positive way.”

It seems a stretch, though, to believe that Fitzsimons owns a “business located within the city.” Also, the California Secretary of State’s office shows no listing for Sustainable Design for the Built Environment. Though Fitzsimons has degrees in architecture and has worked for architectural firms, she holds no professional licenses in Florida. I did confirm that Fitzsimons works for The Spinnaker Group, a Broward County company that helps to design “green” buildings.

Fitzsimons and her supporters would argue that these questions matter less than her ideas. But Fitzsimons, who acknowledged that she doesn’t pay property taxes, has assumed a lead role in a major policy debate that could have big implications for Boca Raton taxpayers. With O’Rourke, BocaWatch is praising Fitzsimons.

Responding to my questions, Fitzsimons claimed only to be offering “a combination of strategies” for the Wildflower and “innovative ideas,” among them a restaurant. But O’Rourke said she wants Boca Raton to spend “the lion’s share” of waterfront money on the Wildflower and Silver Palm Park. She also wants an “impact study.” Mayor Haynie asked, with evident skepticism, “What’s an impact study going to tell us?”

Fitzsimons is asking the city council to believe her as the expert on waterfront policy, not the city’s consultant. So her credibility matters as this debate goes on.

Camino Square update

Some of the last remaining space for downtown development in Boca Raton is the shopping plaza on Camino Real west of Dixie Highway. A Winn-Dixie once anchored it.

Property records list Kimco as the owner of the roughly nine-acre site, but last year Kimco signed a ground lease for part of the site with Florida Crystals. A subsidiary of the West Palm Beach-based company, which is one of the two dominant sugar growers in the Everglades, has been part of several real estate ventures in South Florida.

The proposed Camino Square project would have 350 rental apartments in two eight-story towers. FCI Camino, the Florida Crystals entity, would build the apartments. The rest of the project would be retail space, possibly including a grocery store, and Kimco would build that portion. A Fresh Market is on the south side of Camino Real, and a Publix is another block east.

A representative of the developer will discuss the project at 8:30 a.m. next Tuesday before the Federation of Boca Raton Homeowner Associations. Camino Square does not have a date before any city review boards. Florida Crystals gave $1,000 to Mayor Haynie’s reelection campaign last March and has donated $1,000 to Councilman Robert Weinroth’s reelection bid.

Uptown Publix update

I wrote recently that the Delray Beach City Commission had approved waivers for a proposed Publix on part of what was to have been Uptown Atlantic. Here’s an update:

The community redevelopment agency owns the site. Last week, the CRA board approved the second amendment to the purchase agreement with Pasadena Capital for the roughly three acres on West Atlantic Avenue. Pasadena would build the Publix.

The amendment pushes back by several months all dates related to the closing. CRA Executive Director Jeff Costello told me last week that the Publix real estate committee will meet in November to review the proposal for the Delray Beach store now that the city commission has approved the waivers. If the committee signs off, the coveted chain grocery store on West Atlantic almost certainly will get built.

Old School Square headed for National Register designation?

Delray Beach’s application to have the Old School Square Historic District (OSSHD) listed in the National Register of Historic Places is in the pipeline.

On Oct. 2, the CRA received a letter from the Florida Department of State saying that a review board will hear the application on Nov. 30 in Tallahassee. If the board believes that OSSHD qualified, the application will go to Washington for federal review.

The Delray Beach Preservation Trust proposed the idea in 2015 as a way to secure federal grants for the area, within which would be the Swinton Commons project. The letter from the state notes that property owners could face added review of “future use or redevelopment” if the area received the designation. Anyone can comment on the proposal by contacting the Department of State.

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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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