All the News on Midtown, New Candidates in Delray

Angelo Bianco (Photo by Aaron Bristol)

At last, we can start to see the new Midtown.

Last week, the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board heard the presentation from city planners on changes that would allow redevelopment of the area east of Town Center Mall and west of Boca Center that until 14 years ago was part of the county. This redevelopment being more like reinvention, it could take a decade or more, but the discussion finally has begun.

The board unanimously approved the two ordinances and one rezoning for Midtown, both of which came from the Development Services Department. The board, though, attached several recommendations in the form of proposed development conditions, any of which the city council would have to approve.

The key condition is that no more than 600 residential units could be built until a Tri-Rail station opens on the eastern side of Midtown. Boca Raton designated Midtown for Planned Mobility Development, meaning that projects should be designed to reduce traffic. After the station opened, more residential units would be allowed. The staff and the property owners have proposed a maximum of 2,500 units.

Board members spent much time discussing potential costs of redeveloping Midtown, such as street improvements and lighting. Since 2,500 units could amount to roughly 4,000 residents, Kerry Koen characterized it as “akin to an annexation.” When the council decides on annexations, the staff prepares a report on how much the annexation would cost and how much new revenue would come to the city. If the revenue number isn’t higher, the council isn’t interested.

So the board proposed a special taxing district for Midtown, with assessments only on those within the district. Boca Raton created a similar district three decades ago to finance downtown improvements.
Another issue was the minimum size of the residential units, all of which are envisioned as rentals. The proposed ordinances recommended 500 square feet, aligned with the trend toward micro-units in buildings with lots of common areas. The board preferred 700 square feet.

Still another issue was building height. Midtown is in the flight path to Boca Raton Airport. Nevertheless, some office buildings are 145 feet tall. Should new buildings be that high, top out at 105 feet or be lower?

Airport Authority Executive Director Clara Bennett said the Federal Aviation Administration is “reevaluating” the flight pattern. That review, Bennett said, could result in a “narrowing” of the flight path that would keep planes more directly over Midtown. It could be “a little bit startling” for apartment dwellers to hear private jets as low as 100 feet over their homes.

But Attorney Michael Marshall, representing Crocker Partners—Midtown’s main property owner—argued that higher buildings would “help the ground.” Marshall said developers would have more room for amenities to make Midtown amenable to pedestrians and cyclists.

Though the landowners generally support the changes, there are differences among them. Attorney Bonnie Miskel represents Simon Property Group, which owns Town Center Mall on the western edge of Midtown. Miskel wants the city to allocate residential units within Midtown, rather than have Simon “compete for the same pool.” The board recommended that areas nearer the mall get 10 units per acre rather than the staff’s choice of eight. Areas nearer to proposed sites for the Tri-Rail station would get 20 units per acre.

Board member Larry Cellon spoke for Midtown’s critics when he said, “Everything we give (the landowners) is a gift. What we’re getting back is congestion.” I’d be more optimistic than that.

No serious money has gone into Midtown for almost 30 years. The potential is for a new neighborhood that Angelo Bianco (pictured above) of Crocker Partners envisions as a “jewel.”

Getting there will take work and planning. Midtown is different from two other PMD areas—the northwest, around the Park at Broken Sound, and University Village. In the northwest, the goal was to connect existing uses. The 80 acres of University Village, northeast of the airport, are vacant. As noted, Midtown is a reinvention project that will affect surrounding neighborhoods.

Still, Midtown is ambitious. Boca Raton residents like to say that they live in a “world-class city.” Cities that fear ambition aren’t world-class.

Special taxing district

Development Services Director Brandon Schaad must craft and steer the Midtown ordinances and rezoning through city review. I asked for his thoughts on a special taxing district.

In an email, Schaad said the city could ask the developer of each project to make improvements to the street “immediately abutting” the project. The ordinance calls for this to be done intersection to intersection, even if that footage is greater than the property’s footage.

“The advantage here,” Schaad said, “is that the cost and the burden of actually doing the work is on the property owner, not the city. The disadvantage is that the upgrades may not proceed in a logical fashion, because the landowners will come in for further approvals when they decide to, if at all. So it could be some time before the street system is completely upgraded to the new standards, or possibly never.

“Alternatively, the city could decide to make those upgrades, and presumably would do so in a logical fashion so that the street system doesn’t become disjointed (i.e. improved segments interrupted by unimproved segments). If that option is pursued, the taxing district would be one potential funding mechanism, and of course the advantage of that funding mechanism is that it would be the landowners in that particular area of the city (those with the direct benefits of the upgrades) bearing the costs, rather than the taxpayers of the city as a whole.”

As managing partner of Crocker Partners, Bianco has been the public face of the push to redevelop Midtown. He said, “The idea of a special taxing district is interesting and could be beneficial to both the City and property owners if enacted properly.

“The idea of having all of the infrastructure changes completed at the beginning of the redevelopment is attractive, but we need to be careful about what costs are allocated to the property owners and what costs should remain with the city and the county. Further, the tax burden allocation between existing property owners and new developments needs to be carefully analyzed to make sure that no unintended consequences occur.”

Overall, though, Bianco said he is “optimistic. There’s still some wood to chop and we will be working with staff.” There is no date for when the ordinances and rezoning might get to the city council. City Manager Leif Ahnell said the staff will need “time to analyze” the planning and zoning board’s recommendations. The changes could go back to the board before reaching the council.

Legal warning?

To the annoyance of some planning and zoning board members, Crocker Partners fired a legal shot during the Midtown discussion.

In a letter to the board, the law firm of ShubinBass argued that some of the provisions in the proposed ordinance were “unconstitutional.” The letter singled out what had been a restriction on any building permits until the Tri-Rail station was built. As noted, the board recommendation is to allow 600 units before the station would open and more after that.

The lawyers also expressed concerns about building height and improvements to Military Trail, among other items. Attorney Deana Falce of ShubinBass spoke at the meeting. Bianco said he contacted the attorney “simply to preserve our rights as property owners.” The city designated Midtown as a planned mobility district in 2010. Under state law, the city should have crafted the ordinances and rezoning a year later.

More on the Delray ballot

More candidates have filed paperwork for the Delray Beach election.

Eric Camacho has declared his intention to challenge former City Commissioner Adam Frankel in Seat 1, which Shelly Petrolia is leaving to run for mayor. Camacho, an information technology specialist for a cruise ship company, said he decided to run because of what he perceived as “a lack of civic engagement” in the city. He also wants to “put the civil back in civility” and “deal with issues,” not personal agendas.

Why Seat 1? Camacho said he considers Katz a friend. He feels the same way about William Bathurst, who is running for Seat 2, which Jim Chard is leaving to challenge Petrolia. Having no background at all with Frankel, Camacho told me, he settled on Seat 1.

Meanwhile, Richard Alteus has declared for Seat 3. Incumbent Mitch Katz already faces a challenge from Ryan Boylston, founder of Woo Creative. Alteus ran in Seat 2 last March, but skipped most campaign events. He didn’t attend the endorsement interview at the Sun Sentinel. Alteus finished last in the four-candidate race.

Mayoral numbers

In the Delray Beach mayor’s race, Petrolia is her own best contributor.

Petrolia previously had loaned herself $25,000. Her September campaign finance report shows another loan, this time for $11,000. So of Petrolia’s roughly $72,000 total, roughly half comes from loans. Her recent donations include $1,000 from Ken MacNamee, a self-proclaimed city financial watchdog whom Petrolia has acknowledged she consults with, and $1,000 from Samar Hospitality, developer of the Aloft Hotel.

Katz also received $1,000 from Samar Hospitality, half of his fundraising total for September. Katz has raised about $27,500

And in the Boca race

Monica Mayotte is challenging incumbent Robert Weinroth for Seat D on the Boca Raton City Council. Mayotte’s report for October—her first—lists one contributor: Herself.

Mayotte wrote her campaign a check for $25,000. Weinroth raised another $13,000 in October, bringing his total to about $88,000. Weinroth’s October numbers include $3,000 from principals and entities of the Ouzo Bay restaurant and $3,000 from entities associated with a proposed “concierge” senior living facility near the Boca Raton Resort & Club.

And the Haynie update

As Tuesday night’s Boca Raton City Council meeting spilled into Wednesday morning, there was another nearly hour-long discussion of Mayor Haynie and her husband’s contract with a condo association in a Broward County community where James and Marta Batmasian own 80 percent of the units.

Basically, the council agreed that staff would draft an ordinance containing several proposals to increase disclosure requirements when an elected or appointed official seeks an advisory ethics opinion. The council also decided to have an “expert”—no names yet—provide the council additional ethics training.

Finally, the council decided to ask the county ethics commission to review the 2013 opinion Haynie received saying that she could vote on matters related to the Batmasians. This move seems unnecessary for two reasons:

On Monday, City Attorney Diana Frieser explained the discussion between her office and the ethics commission, complete with timetable. Also, since anyone can send a complaint to the commission about an opinion, BocaWatch Publisher Al Zucaro likely will do so.

Zucaro was behind the recent Palm Beach Post story that started this controversy, and he has demanded that the council order an investigation of Haynie. He has filed a complaint with the state elections office about Haynie’s financial disclosure forms not listing income from her husband’s company. Haynie said the forms didn’t require the information.

Haynie said Tuesday/Wednesday that she is “fine” with a review of the opinion by the ethics staff.

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